In an ad promoting a new movie as “the best western since Unforgiven”, I was reminded of the impact Unforgiven had on Jan and me when we first saw it when it came out in 1992. We saw it in the afternoon, and even though it was sunny leaving the theater, we both commented to each other how depressing the story was.
Whether you saw the movie or not, (and I’m not recommending it if you haven’t see it), the title Unforgiven is attention getting, isn’t it? I’m not sure who was forgiven and who was unforgiven in the movie, but I do know forgiveness is important. Forgiveness is a central subject in the Bible in general and specifically in the teaching of Jesus.
Our greatest need is to be forgiven by God. Much of the Old Testament law is about what God wants and expects from his people as well as how to receive his forgiveness. The New Testament is about God’s ultimate provision for our forgiveness through Jesus. That’s why we call him our redeemer and our savior.
If our greatest need is to be forgiven by God, our greatest gift is to receive and have that forgiveness. I think we all agree with David when he declares, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1). And it’s even more than that: God’s promise through Jeremiah is that he “will remember our sins no more” (31:34).
What could be worse than to be described as unforgiven by God?
Every one of us needs to be forgiven by God, and in the New Testament we are called to forgive others. Jesus makes the connection of God’s forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others more than once in his teaching. Perhaps the best known is one of the requests of his model prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). He continues in verses 14 and 15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
My favorite teaching from Jesus about our forgiveness of others is his Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. It’s about a person who was forgiven an impossible debt by his master, who in turn was unwilling to forgive a small debt owed him by a fellow servant. When the master learned of this he reversed his previous kindness. Jesus concludes the teaching: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Is Jesus teaching in these passages that God’s forgiveness of us is contingent upon our forgiveness of others? You can wrestle with that question yourself. He certainly is saying that if we accept and understand God’s forgiveness we should do the same with others. But is our loving and forgiving heavenly father unwilling to forgive the sin of unforgiveness?
Three things I do know: I am grateful to be forgiven by God, I don’t want to be unforgiven by those I have wronged and hurt, and I want to be forgiving of those who have hurt and wronged me.
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