With good reason John’s Gospel joins Jesus’ giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples with his blunt reminder of their responsibility to forgive sins. Forgiving is an essential and demanding activity of every Christian.
We forgive with no guarantee that the forgiven won’t offend again. We forgive and let go of the anger that we hold toward the offender. Yet anger is often our defense against the humiliation we experience at the disregard shown us. Revenge, even the passive type that denies another our care and respect, is an attempt to prove to ourselves that we can’t be trifled with, ignored or mistreated without consequence. Forgiving is an act of self-confidence, often great self-confidence.
The Spirit assures us that God knows, loves and is faithful to us. That knowledge forges an unshakable sense of our value in us. Deeper than any self-worth rooted in accomplishments or others’ recognition, this gift of knowing God’s commitment to us is undiminished by failure or rejection. The certainty of God’s faithfulness frees us to forgive. And forgiveness of human failure makes God’s future possible.
We mess up. Sometimes we mess up with full knowledge and responsibility, sometimes out of ignorance. Sometimes we mess up out of sheer stupidity; it’s not that we intend to or that we don’t know better, it’s just – well, we mess up. Forgiving isn’t only for technical sins: intentional bad actions. Forgiving is for all our mess ups.
If we’re to keep moving towards the future God has in mind, if we’re to advance in the face of our messes and everyone else’s; we have to know that we are forgiven – by our Creator and by one another. Without that the future we hope for is a fantasy.
Forgiving is our Church’s primary responsibility – not the clergy’s, the whole Church’s: yours and mine. We can’t live lives of forgiving without the sense of being unconditionally loved ourselves; it’s too hard.
The first step in opening our hearts to our messy world is opening our hearts to our accepting God.