At the very heart of Jesus’ pattern for how we ought to pray is the acknowledgement of our need to receive forgiveness, and our call to hold out forgiveness to others. This prayer is about living in freedom, and setting captives free. It is, again, a conversation in which we experience invitation and challenge...and, again, a conversation that begins in the hidden place but moves into active involvement – God’s, and ours – in the publicly visible place.
Invitation: to living in freedom. Challenge: to setting captives free.
One of the things I observe of urban and Generation Y cultures (and Generation Y is a thoroughly urban culture, though they are clearly not the only urban generation, and for this among other reasons not the only urban culture) is a massive sense of entitlement: I am entitled to something for nothing, and entitled to complain if that thing is taken away, even though I contributed nothing towards it. (I have news for you: in another urban setting, Jonah got there first: Jonah 4:5-11)
‘Entitlement’ blinds us to true justice – which requires something of our participation if it is to flourish – and to true mercy – for mercy is the participation justice requires. As God has said, what is required of us is this: that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
Forgiveness is totally alien to the culture of entitlement. The invitation to receive forgiveness challenges our cherished and unquestioned belief that we are those who are more wronged than guilty of doing wrong. The challenge to extend forgiveness to others invites us to let go of the identity built on that belief, the identity that places ourselves higher than those who serve us, and to be proactive in changing the world. Forgiveness is alien to us: both subversively attractive and downright terrifying.
Receiving forgiveness frees us to forgive others...and forgiving others causes us to realise more fully our own need for forgiveness. Invitation leads to challenge, which in turn challenges us to receive invitation, which leads to further challenge...The more we take hold of the discipline of forgiveness, the greater the freedom we experience, as a degree of freedom frees us to free others, and in so doing to recognise our need for and receive further freedom: it operates as a ‘virtuous circle’ by which the kingdom takes grip of our lives and will not let us go.
This is what we are called to: to live in freedom, and set those held captive – by resentment, by pride, by bitterness, by prejudice, by not being allowed another chance – free. And the extent to which God can bring freedom into our lives is limited only by the extent to which we are willing to go and do likewise. We were made to be free: and for this very reason the accuser has a vested interest in selling a false freedom: a freedom found in consigning those who have wronged us to judgement, while refusing to take responsibility for restitution towards those we ourselves have wronged. Burn your bridges, and keep on running. That is not the road to freedom, but to self-imposed solitary confinement. It does not deliver what it promises, however much it pours into the advertising campaign.
Forgiveness is perhaps the greatest of all expressions of God’s provision.
Forgiveness is the ultimate revenge of the wronged – whether God or human – and the most powerful weapon known to both: on the cross, the fully-God fully-human Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do...”
Where do you seek justice, or mercy? What might God want to say to you about that, about your role in bringing about what you long for?
Or what might God want to say to you about forgiveness?
Do you need to receive forgiveness today?
Do you need to extend forgiveness to someone else today?