Wow, tonight was an amazing night at church and I'd like to share what I have learned. I just never thought of it this way, and maybe my reflections could be of use to others...
Tonight we were examining the line of the Lord's prayer that says "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive out debtors." (Matt 6:12) What blew me away was not the first portion, which is about God's grace towards us, but the second part, which is all about our grudges towards others.
I've got 'em. Or at least, I did before tonight. I was carrying my grudges. I'll not go into the specifics, but I had a couple of people I had not forgiven. How can I tell? Because I already had it rehearsed in my head what I would say if given a chance to give them a piece of my mind. Because I frequently reflected on how wrong they were in what they had done to me. Because I would have taken the opportunity to "out" them in a heartbeat - if someone had offered me a chance to stand up on a rooftop and scream their transgressions I'd have taken it. That's a grudge. You're still mad, you still want to call them out, you still want to punish them.
Here's some things I learned tonight. First, by holding a grudge I reduce God's forgiveness and the power of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. I declare them unforgiven, their crime unforgivable. Nothing can excuse it... and that includes the death of Christ on the cross. I lesson God's ability to forgive. I refuse this person forgiveness, I try to exclude them from God's love and grace. I begrudge them eternal forgiveness, I wish hell on them. How dare I do that? To anyone? What gives me the power? What gives me the right?
Second, by holding a grudge I reduce my ability to show Christ's love in this world. I cannot offer one hand in love while the other is curled in a fist of rage. I cannot serve two masters at once. It's impossible to truly embrace love while nursing rage. We are compared repeatedly to lamps, lights in a dark world. Our lamp is our heart, and a grudge is a dark spot in our hearts. It reduces the light we have to share, robbing others of the joy of the light. How can I shine when my heart harbors hatred?
Third, forgiveness is without qualifiers. In the past I've tried to logic myself out of grudge-holding by saying things like "Well, they're God's children too" or "God made them, so there has to be good in them." These things are rationalization to try to talk myself out of not wanting to forgive them. They make it a matter of my judgement instead of God's grace. It's still all about me, about what I think of that person and their transgressions. I'm still squarely in the judges seat, but I'm pretending to follow God's lead. The reality is that I'm still sitting in judgement, and that's not where I belong. I can judge the action, not the person. And that's what a grudge does, it condemns the person forever based on the action. If I am to truly release a grudge, it has to be without qualifiers. Not because there's good in them to outweigh what they did, but because there's good in GOD, and through my faith in Him that good is in me as well, to let their transgression be let go.
Fourth, how screwed would I be if God forgave me as I forgave others? "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." If God forgave like me, I'd be in a lot of trouble. I'd have no hope.
Most of all I realized that we forgive not because they are God's children, but because WE are God's children. God did not mean us to be petty and full of grudges. In forgiving others, we become what we are meant to be.