ernieyip asked a question:
Hi, I have a question about forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, there’s the part that says “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Also, in Matthew 6, Jesus says “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. To me it looks like the verse says that God’s forgiveness is conditional on our own acts of forgiveness, but I don’t think that’s the case. Could you help me better understand this passage? Thanks
Hey my friend, the passage you mentioned definitely scares me too. There are also other similar ones.
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. — Mark 11:25
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. — Luke 6:37
In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” — Matthew 18:34-35
At first glance, all these passages seem conditional, as if God will only forgive when we forgive others.
But as with any Bible passage, we must always balance out singular verses with the rest of the Bible in theme, intent, and the Gospel. Otherwise, we end up with a lopsided theology that might be half-right, but is therefore all wrong.
In one of my favorite Bible stories in Luke 7, a “sinful woman” anoints the feet of Jesus with her tears. Jesus then says,
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
In other words, “Those who know how much they’re forgiven will also forgive. Those who have been loved much will also love much.”
Where did the idea of forgiveness come from? Is it natural to our human flesh? No. We perpetuate cycles of retaliation and vengeance because we believe in justice. Forgiveness is paying off the debt that a wound incurs, and it means we absorb the hurt that was dealt to us. And the original forgiveness comes from God Himself, through His Son, and that forgiveness is a gift for us that we can give to others. It starts with Him and does not originate with us.
As far as I can tell, the Bible languages are suggesting that when we forgive, we are showing we understand the forgiveness we’ve first been given. We are showing we know that it costs something; it cost God the life of His Son. This sort of divine complete forgiveness is not only unconditional, but counter-conditional. Our debt has been wiped clean, which compels us to wipe the debt of others.