Forgiveness consists of more than you seeking forgiveness from God from your sins and God granting it. There is a level, a dynamic, to forgiveness which eats at many like termites on wood. It is the crippling, yet very sinful, idolatry of unforgiveness.
Pope Francis recently addressed unforgiveness, referencing Matthew 18 where Jesus instructs His disciples to forgive others ‘seventy times seven’.
“This is what Jesus teaches about forgiveness: first, asking forgiveness is not a simple apology, it is to be aware of the sin, of the idolatry that I have committed, of the many idolatries; second, God always forgives, always – but He asks me to forgive (others). If I do not forgive, in a sense, I close the door to God’s forgiveness. ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’,” said Pope Francis.
There are some critical keys to understanding, and practicing forgiveness, which will set us free from such a severe sin.
1.) Must be sincere – Whether you are the one seeking forgiveness, or you are the one being asked to grant forgiveness, both sides must be sincere. When you ask an individual to forgive you for actions you have taken which have hurt others, you must be sincere. An ‘apology’ is not the same as seeking forgiveness. Seeking true forgiveness must be recognizing you have sinned against God and seeking forgiveness for a sin, not to apologize because of a ‘mistake’. Sin is never a ‘mistake’. Unforgiveness, likewise, will never be a ‘mistake’, but will remain a sin.
In addition, you must be willing to sincerely forgive an individual who is truly repentant and seeking your forgiveness.
Pope Francis said ‘sin is idolatry: it is to worship the idol, the idol of pride, vanity, money, ‘myself’, my own ‘well-being’.” When looked at through a careful examination, we will see unforgiveness and the refusal to forgive others for wrongs they have done is the direct result of pride and idolatry.
2.) Forgiveness vs. love – Should Christians forgive others for wrong even if those others are not repentant and sorry for their actions which caused pain and hurt. In order to understand forgiveness is different than love, we must view both as God responds to both.
- God himself does not simply forgive others because forgiveness is what we should do. I John 1:9 and II Corinthians 7:10 gives us a clear understanding that forgiveness must be preceded by repentance.
- I John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins”. That gives a requirement. We must confess. We must seek forgiveness and those who have hurt you must seek forgiveness as well.
- II Corinthians 7:10 – “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation”. Again, it is necessary to understand forgiveness is more than an apology. It is truly recognizing one has sinned and the magnitude of the idolatry which accompanies the action.
- On the other hand, we are commanded to love everyone. St. Thomas Aquinas says love is ‘willing the good of the other’ selflessly. God’s love is unconditional. God will continue to love every human being He created, even those in hell, but will not forgive those in hell because they do not seek forgiveness. God’s love is unconditional. His forgiveness is conditional. As a result, we should follow the pattern God has laid out for us and continue in his ways. We should love everyone, down to the poor, homeless, sick and outcasts among us, with unconditional love. But forgiveness comes with the expectation that in order to receive, you must ask.
3.) You are not expected to have divine amnesia – In Isaiah 25:23, God says ‘I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” This is not God saying that He will ‘forget’ and will not be able to remember your sins. God is holy. God is omnipotent. God does not forget. However, God tells us He will choose not to hold those sins against us. Remember the phrase ‘Oh don’t worry. Forget about it.” Have you ever said that to someone who apologizes for a mistake they made? Most all of us, at some point, have said those words “forget about it”. In other words, “I’m not going to bring it up and hold it against you, so neither should you?” That does not mean we will not remember, it means it will not be held against us. If you forgive someone, after there is contrition and true repentance, you must not bring it up again either. That is true forgiveness. “Forget about it”.
We must remember we cannot love unconditionally or forgive fully on our own strength and ability. Apart from Christ, we will never be able to love others as we are commanded to or truly forgive those who have hurt us, but with God ‘all things are possible’. For those who do ask forgiveness, and for those who never ask or come to a point where they are sorry, we must always pray for them.