Radical Forgiveness

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This is the line from the Lord’s Prayer as I learned it when I was a little Baptist girl. In the Anglican tradition we say “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” “Debt” is closer to the Greek meaning of the original. A debt is an obligation which must be fulfilled. But we can’t fulfill that obligation to God unless we forgive the debts of others against us. If we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven.

There are no excuses allowed. Forgive, so that you may be forgiven. Leave your gift on the altar, and go be reconciled with your brother, or the gift to God is useless. The Lord requires a broken and contrite heart, a heart of forgiveness, an open heart, not a heart sealed and locked. Broken open, vulnerable.

I have recently read Amish Forgiveness: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher. It was published by Jossey-Bass in the spring of 2007. It is about the radical forgiveness shown by the Amish community of Lancaster County after the Nickel Mines school shooting in early October 2006, in which five young girls were killed and five wounded. All were Amish children, their killer a disturbed “English” neighbour. He took his own life, and his family, coworkers and the whole community were shocked by his actions. Non-Amish asked, “How can the families of the children jump to forgiveness so quickly?”  The authors answer that question with “Because that is how they were raised – to forgive, to answer violence with non-violence and even love.”

It’s not just about being Amish. It’s about being Christian. Christ told us to do this, nothing less. Forgive your enemies, so that God will forgive you. It’s unambiguous, and all the theological and soteriological reasoning in the history of the Church won’t change that.

Please don’t come back with “It’s not that easy to forgive.” Jesus Christ forgave His tormentors and killers as He died on the cross. We have no choice. If we follow Jesus, then we must forgive as He forgave.

I know how hard this is. I could catalog the many sins against me. But it really is time to let them go. It is time to expose the resentments I hold against others to the brilliant Light of Christ, and send them back to the pit from whence they came.

And it’s time to ask forgiveness.

I have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.

In the Orthodox Church they hold “Forgiveness Sunday.” It’s the last Sunday before Lent. Everyone comes to church and asks forgiveness of everyone else. it’s a very public confession of one’s fallenness. It means that the church family can begin the days of abstinence and penance in communion of spirit.

Forgiveness is an ongoing discipline and obedience of the heart. We pray the Lord’s prayer at least once a day in our household. It is the centre of our daily worship, as it is for the Amish and for many other Christians. To quote an Anabaptist martyr of 1572, also quoted in Amish Grace, “We daily need forgiveness, because we are frail.”


One thought on “Radical Forgiveness

  1. I just tag surfed “forgiveness” and I am amazed. There’s a lot of talk out there, some Christian, some sincere, some deeply personal and painful. Oh, and some of it is the opposite of forgiveness, but we won’t even name that. We are hurting. Okay, that’s all right, admit the hurt, but folks, time to put that burden down and move on. There’s work to do out there!

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