(…continued) God has three very important things to say about rules. First of all, he gives the rules for our own benefit and the benefit of others who might be hurt by our bad behavior; and God demands that we obey him. Secondly, when we break the rules, that is to say when we sin, God offers us the opportunity to repent. And then God is more than willing to forgive us, and give us another chance. Third, God expects that we have that same willingness to understand and forgive others when they sin against us. Or, as we pray when we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses AS WE forgive those who trespass against us.”
We can become very good at excusing our own wrongdoing. “I couldn’t help it, I was up against it, I was afraid, I didn’t have time to think, I was having a bad day, and shucks, I’m only human, can’t you give me a break, nobody’s perfect, you know,” and so on. But are we as quick to make allowances for those that hurt us? Do we stop to think what might have been going on in their mind? We are far quicker to understand and excuse our own behavior than the behavior of others.
Frank McCourt’s brilliant idea for that English assignment helped those kids learn about writing, and the same exercise can help us in our life of faith. Think of someone who has wronged you. Then think about what you would say if you had to write their excuse note. The old Indian proverb says, “Don’t judge another until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” It would be good to at least imagine what the other person was thinking. It might surprise you to see that you may begin to understand why they did why they did. This is not to excuse the wrongdoing. There are all sorts of things people do that there is no excuse for and it is just plain wrong. That’s what sin is– a wrong done against someone else, and against God. But making the same allowances for others as you make for yourself, might help you be more willing to forgive them. To forgive someone is not to say it doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t need to be forgiven. But to begin to see that person as a sinner, like yourself, you who have also done wrong, is to take a big step toward forgiveness and reconciliation. When we read the Bible, it becomes clear that God is serious about sin and disobedience. But God is also serious about forgiveness and mercy.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” God’s rules are not made to be broken, they are made to be kept. But God has another rule for when rules are broken, and that rule is this: ‘Forgive as the Lord forgave you.’ Don’t miss the promise that is contained there; AS THE LORD FORGAVE YOU, it says. God doesn’t want our excuses. God wants our repentance, and our determination to change our behavior and obey Him. And God wants us to know we are forgiven. Jesus died on the cross so we may know that, be comforted by that, and then, be willing to forgive others.
Two quotes from C. S. Lewis:
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.
Matthew 7:1-5 — (Jesus said), “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Romans 2:1-4 — You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me…
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.