Many of us believe in a God so loving that He will forgive anything we do, anything we say, if we only ask it and believe in Him.
Even more, we believe our sin goes so deep in our bones that if we tried to earn His forgiveness, if we tried to deserve His mercy, we could never manage it. We could never accumulate enough good in our hearts to deserve what He offers us for free if we only believe.
And we are grateful for it, grateful for what we call grace. So grateful we can be moved to tears when we pray, when we try to envision the magnitude of the gift our God offers us for the simple act of believing.
But when we have a chance to extend grace to another, when we have a chance to show forgiveness to someone who probably doesn’t deserve it, we almost always fail. We who shed tears of joy at the grace offered us almost always fall short of extending the same kind of grace, the same kind of unconditional forgiveness to those who have wronged us–even to those we imagine have wronged us, or we imagine would wrong us if we gave them the chance.
Instead, we make excuses. We say things like he would never forgive me if I did that to him, or I’m not ready to forgive that, or it’s God’s job to forgive, not mine. We make grace about whether or not the other deserves it, instead of simply offering it for free the way God does.
And small wonder. An infinite, immortal, omnipotent God can forgive anybody He wants without any fear it will come back to bite Him. But you and I have to live in the world–and in this world, people take advantage of us. People turn around after we forgive them and hurt us again. People go back to their old patterns, make the same mistakes over again, whether we forgive them or not. It feels like we waste our energy, or in the worst case condone the kind of behavior that could lead to pain for us.
It’s true that those we forgive will often fail to make themselves better. It’s true that some of the people we forgive will see that forgiveness as a sign of weakness, as an invitation to do wrong again. It’s true that extending grace to another flawed human being is risky.
It’s true that forgiving is an act of courage.
It’s also true that as much as we are grateful for our God’s grace, we crave it from our fellow flawed humans. When we screw up–and if we live with courage, we screw up often–we want nothing more than to hear someone say I understand, and I trust you not to do that again, and I’ll still love you even if you do. We want nothing so much as to hear someone say those three words: I forgive you. Especially when we know we don’t deserve it.
Here’s the secret: if we want to hear it, we must say it. If we want forgiveness, we must forgive.
We can’t earn it. But maybe we can enjoy it, if we have the courage to give it away.