Christianity 201

September 14, 2011

Corporate or Collective Forgiveness

Blogger and pastor Kevin Rogers has been spending several days [here and here] looking at the subject of forgiveness.  This one appeared recently under the title We Forgive You.

Pastor and author Stephen Crosby said, A mature Christian has capacity to absorb the offenses and weaknesses of others, not just demand they perform up to the code of ideals.’  [i]

When we are offended, isn’t it often our inclination to point out how the other has failed to keep the code? Our maturity lies not in being preachers of the ideal, but in acting graciously. Mature people have the capacity to forgive all manners of injustice directed towards them.

Henry Ward Beecher said, ‘Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your back yard, in which to bury the faults of your friends.’ [ii]

Implicit in our asking for God’s forgiveness, is the recognition that we intend to practice forgiveness toward others.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

In one breath we ask God to forgive us. In the next breath we state our practice of forgiving others. The two thoughts are joined as if one does not exist without the other.

Is the Father reluctant to forgive us until we act that way toward others?  There are several accounts of Jesus stating this connection.

After teaching the prayer Jesus said,

Matthew 6:

14 “Forgive people when they sin against you. If you do, your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive people their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.


But, this is not a case of God saying ‘You go first’. This is the Father who waits ready to forgive and absorbs offense before it is acknowledged. He acts out forgiveness and initiates the first step toward us—always. He shows up to deal with offense before we are ready to face the problem.

It is likely that we cannot comprehend forgiving others until we first experience forgiveness ourselves. Forgiveness is a learned behavior.

Lewis B. Smedes said, ‘When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.’ [iii]

As powerful as it is for you to forgive one person, there is added strength in a group of people forgiving an offender. For us to say ‘we forgive you’ opens the door to a community that works as a team. Being restored to one can mean restoration to all.