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There is a powerful link between forgiving others and being forgiven ourselves.

That is essentially the message of this entire article. The rest is written to impress upon you just how powerful that link is.

There are some who would quibble over whether it starts with us forgiving others or with God forgiving us. Obviously, since God created us, he is the origin of all things. He is certainly the one who has taken the first initiative in loving us, even if you consider nothing more than his loving act of creation. But all of God's efforts to love and forgive us are of no avail if we do not accept them. And being able to accept God's love is somehow linked with being able to forgive others.

It's like the question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Both depend on the other. Accepting forgiveness increases our ability to forgive others, and forgiving others increases our ability to accept forgiveness.

In the Lord's Prayer ("Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Matthew 6:12), a picture is given of our forgiveness by God being linked to our forgiveness of others. It's one of the hardest parts of the whole prayer to pray. I usually end up re-phrasing it to something like, "Please help me to be more forgiving today." The reason is because I know that my forgiveness is so terribly imperfect that I fear for my own salvation if God were to forgive me as imperfectly as I forgive others.

Those who argue that there is no connection, that God forgives us totally, perfectly, and unconditionally, whether or not we ever forgive anyone else, are not very convincing when their own lives reveal deep-seated bitterness. How can we continue to despise others who have hurt us when/if we realise how graciously God has forgiven us?

It's the old story of straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. I see Christians who are ready to condemn others to eternity in hell for not having their theology absolutely perfect, and yet they claim that they themselves could live like the devil and still make it to heaven because of some technicality (e.g. that they have said a ritualistic prayer, asking Jesus into their hearts). Blind Freddy could see that something is not right when that sort of thing happens.

Or, to use another analogy from Jesus, there was the man who was forgiven a huge debt which he owed to the King (God), who then went out and had someone else put in jail for a very minor debt owed to himself. The result was that the King (who represented God, remember) actually took back his forgiveness. (Matthew 18:23-35) What an unthinkable act in the eyes of those who teach that God cannot do that. But hey! He is God after all, and if he wants to break the rules as we perceive them, then so be it.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant we have both theological sides represented. The king (God) initiated grace by forgiving the man first. At the same time, the forgiveness was retractable... if the man refused to forgive others, then he lost his own forgiveness.

For those who find that too hard to accept, let me offer another interpretation. Maybe (under closer inspection) the forgiveness offered was never truly accepted in the first place. Maybe the man had to really believe something that he did not, in fact, believe. What I'm suggesting here, is that, for all their talk about the grace of God, maybe the people preaching it don't truly believe it themselves. Maybe they are showing that they haven't accepted it by their ungracious behaviour toward other people.

It has always baffled us how much the people arguing in favour of themselves being able to rape, kill, rob, pillage, and still make it to heaven (because they said the sinner's prayer) are ready to condemn us for trying to obey the teachings of Jesus, and to say that we will actually be kicked out of heaven for having the audacity to do such a thing. Wouldn't a loving and forgiving God have it in his power to forgive us for trying to work our way to heaven (as they so quaintly describe any efforts to obey Jesus)?

But I digress...

For the real purpose of this article is not to debate theology, but to encourage us to look at our human relationships. What about all of the bitterness that we have toward other people who have wronged us?

For years I worked on the assumption that even God himself cannot forgive someone who is not sorry. It became my excuse for keeping tally of who had wronged me. But I was wrong. Jesus prayed, as he was dying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) Stephen prayed a similar prayer as he was being stoned to death. (Acts 7:60) They could have prayed, "Father, make them sorry for what they are doing." But it was within their power to forgive those sins (because they were committed against themselves) even without the sinner asking for forgiveness.

And Jesus has given us that same power. He says, "Whose soever sins you remit on earth, they shall be remitted in heaven." (John 20:23) That's a great promise, but one that most of us are unwilling to cash in on, because we don't really WANT to forgive our enemies.

Whether we do it because we have been forgiven, or in order to be forgiven, we do need to forgive, and to do so unconditionally... for our own spiritual good if not for the good of the people we forgive. They may even be dead now, but still, we need to forgive them, so that we can experience forgiveness ourselves in an even deeper sense than we have already experienced it.

I've seen people, both inside and outside our community, destroy their lives by harbouring bitterness. They defend their right to be bitter, but to me it sounds like someone defending their right to commit suicide. Why defend something that is doing so much damage to yourself? I'm not trying to condemn anyone for being bitter. I'm trying to save them from the horrible cycle that they create for themselves by being bitter.

Do you want to be forgiven? Then let go of your anger and bitterness toward others. Do you want to let go of your anger and bitterness toward others? Then trust God that he has really forgiven you. The more you really believe that God has forgiven you, the more you will be able to forgive others. And the more you forgive others, the more you will experience the forgiving love of God.

Believe me. There is a powerful link between forgiving others and being forgiven ourselves.

(See also Forgiveness, and Unconditional Love?)

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