As we look at this very challenging section of the Lord’s Prayer on forgiveness, we need to consider an important point. Do you notice that Jesus does not teach us to pray for the forgiveness of other’s sins? I can grant forgiveness of sins committed against me, but I cannot forgive the sins of someone that were not committed against me. I know this is where we will run into different Christian traditions. If you were raised in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, or some higher church protestant denominations, the priests are given the authority to pronounce absolution on a repentant sinner. The passage of scripture offered as a defense of this practice is found in the Gospel of John when Jesus says to His disciples:
If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. – John 20:23 (NIV)
Now, there is plenty of theological discussions that can be had about the topic that isn’t the purpose of this blog, so we won’t go there, but I also didn’t want to leave anyone with the impression that there isn’t a biblical rationale for this practice. Suffice it to say, I believe I can encourage people to seek the forgiveness of God and others, but I can’t grant it on their behalf. This is where I fall on the debate.
Jesus didn’t teach us to pray a prayer of forgiveness for others; rather, He teaches us to pray for our forgiveness in a manner consistent with our personal practice of forgiveness. This is a not-so-subtle reminder to not be hypocritical in our prayers, as Jesus illustrated in the passage just before teaching us how to pray in Matthew 6.
In a revenge culture, like the one we live in today, this is an especially challenging portion of this prayer. It is laser-focused on our hearts and that pesky and persistent desire to get even. If you doubt that we live in a culture of revenge, just scroll through Twitter sometime or read the comment sections of a news article. We pay insult for insult. We allow the sourness of defeat fuel our desire to see others fail as well. We live it and breathe it, and it is a problem.
Every fall, I notice something that happens to our vehicles. We don’t have a garage, so our cars are parked under our carport every night. As soon as the temperatures begin to drop, I get an indicator light, like this one:
Anyone else ever experience this little light shining on you in the fall? Refilling my tires is fine when the weather is warm, but it is a downright pain when it’s cold, windy, and rainy outside. And yet, every year, you will find me with my little tire pump getting my tires back up to pressure.
This prayer on forgiveness is an indicator light kind of prayer. When we pray each day that God would forgive us ONLY as we have forgiven others, we are checking our pressure. If we are low on our forgiveness pressure, we will realize that this is something wrong in our hearts. If I am unwilling to forgive someone else, what does that say about how I understand God’s forgiveness of me? And Jesus makes it so very practical. There is very little wiggle room, especially when we read the concluding verses to this section of the sermon on the mount:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
As you pray the Lord’s prayer today, maybe you have to take your unforgiving heart to God as the first sin that needs His forgiveness and go from there.