The human mind may be the most fascinating and befuddling part of human anatomy. For example, our mind stores data for decades. In many cases, we can retrieve that data with minimal effort. At the same time, we may not be able to recall why we walked from one room to another.
I believe our memory is affected by how vital the data or activity is or was to us. I mean, if you walked into your boss’s office to ask for a raise, you would probably have an easier time staying focused than if you walked in to tell him or her the latest joke shared at the watercooler. However, some research shows there may be a scientific reason for the issue.1
Whatever the reality of this phenomenon, it illustrates the nature of the organic computer we call a brain. Which brings up the incident inspiring this piece. How can one read a Bible verse, study it multiple times, and completely miss the implications of the message, when it is as plain as day?
Of course, one answer is God can conceal meaning from us until we’re ready to hear it. Another is our self-worship leads us to believe we understand something when we don’t. That happened to me just the other day.
I have recited the verses we consider the “Lord’s Prayer” hundreds of times. I’ve heard Bible study leaders and pastors talk about them dozens of times. I’ve read articles about the sixteen-year study undertaken by the Catholic Church concerning the true meaning of the phrase “Lead us not into temptation.”2 I know that the true meaning of most passages in the Bible can be and have been debated endlessly.
Still, I was a bit surprised when a thought came to me out of thin air it seemed. You know, you’re trying to remember someone’s name, and work as hard as you can, nada. Then, you are doing nothing, or possibly just drifting off to sleep, and “BINGO,” you remember it! That’s how it was here. Suddenly, I realized I did not understand “… and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us,” completely.
There is a caveat in this phrase I had ignored. Perhaps, that is old news to you, but to me, it was like the cartoon lightbulb just turned on over my head. God may do exactly what the verse says, forgive us, as we forgive others, which may not be what we want.
Forgiveness is hard. In many cases, some of us may not be able to let go of the hurt, anger, whatever that keeps us from forgiving someone. Oh, we may say the words. We may even pray for God to help us forgive or not judge the offender too harshly. Yet, at some level, we secretly desire the yahoo steps off the curb in front of a moving bus or at least gets a taste of his own medicine some day.
What if God does exactly what we ask in that prayer? If we have not fully forgiven the person who wronged us, would it be possible God would not forgive us?
Okay! I can hear the muttering now! Jesus is our sin substitute. He will go to bat for us. In a situation such as this, Jesus will plead our case since we accepted Him as our Savior. He’ll understand why we cannot forgive that person, and He’ll plead the case with the Father. Will he?
Jesus forgave the people who crucified Him. He asked his Heavenly Father to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing. We, on the other hand, have supposedly accepted Jesus as our Savior. That means we are supposed to walk as close to his footsteps as possible. If we cannot forgive those who sinned against us, are we following in His footsteps? If we are not, might we not be left out in the cold when it comes to forgiveness?
I can still hear the mumbling disagreement mounting out there. No! Jesus wouldn’t do that. He paid for our sins with His blood. He wouldn’t abandon us just because we could not forgive those who wronged us so severely. If you believe that you need to read the part of the passage that no one ever recites, verses 14 and 15.
14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (ESV)
I know, that sounds so harsh you want to question if those are the words of Jesus or someone adding to His words at some point. While that is a possibility, there are other verses in the Bible indicating Jesus will “not know” some who claim to follow Him. In fact, He will drive them away. (Luke 13:27)
Of course, I could be wrong on this point. The fact I connected the dots in these verses could be my lack of humility and need to be smarter than others coming into play. I could be attempting to distort these verses to prove myself right. Sadly, that is not the case.
For example, consider this passage from The New American Commentary on Matthew. It states:
“Our plea for continued forgiveness as believers, requesting the restoration of fellowship with God following the alienation that sin produces, is predicated on our having forgiven those who have sinned against us. As v. 15 stresses, without this interpersonal reconciliation on the human level, neither can we be reconciled to God.3
Perhaps, this is old news to you. It was not to me, as I simply never thought of what might happen if I cannot, or will not, forgive someone who hurt me. I assumed, as do many, I suspect, my acceptance of Jesus as my Savior was all I needed. Now, I understand that if forgiveness is not in me, I will not be forgiven. God would not forgive me, because my inability to forgive others shows I lack faith. If I fully accepted Jesus as my Savior, I should follow his example and forgive others as He did.
3Blomberg, C. (1992). The New American Bible Commentary: Vol. 22, Matthew (p. 120). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.
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