Thursday, 2 April 2009

Please forgive me.

The words are used so easily and usually without even waiting for a response. Forgiveness has become a notional thing, just another way of saying 'I got it wrong'. The Bible concept of forgiveness has little resemblance to current day ideas of forgiveness.

First a question; what is forgiven the sin or the sinner? Our Bible versions frequently speak of 'the forgiveness of sins' but the word is much stronger than 'please forgive me'. It would be, and has been, better translated as remission. Ah, you say, but 'forgiveness' is a much easier word. Well it may be but does it mean the same thing? To 'remit' something, a letter, a disease, a sin... is to let it go. That would make the 'please forgive me' a little longer, 'please let my sin go'. The Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, symbolised the sin of the nation being placed on the 'scapegoat' which was then 'let go' into the wilderness. If I sin against you will you 'let it go' or will you hang on to it? To say "I will forgive but I will never forget" only shows that the speaker has little idea of the Bible truth of remission of sins. You cannot 'remit' and 'hold on' at the same time; the actions are mutually exclusive.

So if sins are remitted what about the sinner? The Bible word here is 'mercy'. The publican who prayed in the Temple used this word; And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; Luke 18:13-14 What the offender needs is 'mercy' not a gesture. He needs to know that you are being merciful to him even if he doesn't deserve it. In fact, if he does deserve it he doesn't need mercy!

To say 'sorry' or 'please forgive me' simply shuffles off the responsibility onto another person whether they are willing to take it or not. To ask for 'mercy' and to request that the sin be 'remitted' is the beginning of a relationship.

Paget Wilkes, the missionary to Japan, used to say that a perfect character consisted of three elements. Gratitude to God, humility towards yourself, and generosity to all others. Then he would add this statement; "all three depend upon a deep personal experience of forgiveness". He was right. Think it through. If I know God has been merciful to me and remitted my sin, I am not going to be proud of anything. If I know God has been merciful to me and remitted my sin then I am going to live my life in gratitude to him. If I know God has been merciful to me and remitted my sin, there is only one way I can behave towards someone who has sinned against me.

So the next time sometime someone steps on your toe, literally, spiritually, emotionally... and says 'please forgive me' just say 'sure' but in your heart be sure you are merciful to them and let that offence go.

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