The River of Forgiveness

Some things have been thought to be impossible:

In 1863, while attempting to sell stock in the telephone, Joshua Cockersmith was arrested and charged with trying to extort funds.  The Baltimore County Advocate reported, “Well-informed people know that it is absolutely impossible to transmit the human voice over wires.”

In 1870, Bishop Wright stated, “Man has invented everything that can be invented.  He has done all he can do.  When asked specifically about the possibility of people learning to fly, he countered, “Don’t you know that flight is reserved for angels?”  Thirty three years later, his own sons, Orville and Wilbur Wright, successfully launched their plane off the ground at Kitty Hawk.

In 1889, The Literary Digest reported on the automobile: “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.”

In 1926, Lee De Forest, who is considered by many to be the “Father of the Radio,” stated, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.”

Something else that is often considered to be an impossibility is forgiveness.  Elizabeth O’Conner writes, “Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven.  Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be.”

Because we struggle so much with forgiveness, Jesus instructs us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

There are two parts to this—both of which we struggle with: the forgiveness we receive and the forgiveness we give to others.

The forgiveness we receive: We cannot enjoy God’s peace unless we accept Christ’s forgiveness.  While reflecting on the struggle the “Prodigal Son” had in accepting the mercy of the Father, Henri Nouwen commented, “One of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life is to receive God’s forgiveness.  There is something in us humans that keeps us clinging to our sins and prevents us from letting God erase our past and offer us a completely new beginning.  Sometimes it even seems as though I want to prove to God that my darkness is too great to overcome.  While God wants to restore me to the full dignity of sonship, I keep insisting that I will settle for being a hired servant.”  (The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 53)

In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky writes, “There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant!  Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God.  Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God?”

C.S. Lewis summarizes, “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves.  Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” 

Christ died to forgive us, and we do well to trust that what he did on the cross is sufficient to cover all of our sins.

The forgiveness we give: Commenting on the instruction Jesus gave to us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” Charles Williams remarks, “No word in English carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word ‘as’ in that clause.”

The story is told of Robert Bruce fleeing from English soldiers and their hunting dogs.  He was rescued from capture by reaching a river in the Scottish Borders that carried away his scent.  Christ’s forgiveness is like that river: it carries away the scent of our guilt.  But it only works when we enter the river.  For me not to forgive someone else would be like standing on the bank of the river of forgiveness to block the person’s entrance to the river that would wash away their guilt.  But so long as I am standing on the bank of the river to block their way, I am not in the river of forgiveness.  The only way that I can enjoy forgiveness is to step off the bank and into the river, and when I am in the river I am no longer in position to block their way to forgiveness.  If I want to enjoy forgiveness I must make room for others to enter forgiveness as well.


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