Imagine that you go to the bank to pull some cash. You get in line, and when it’s your turn, you tell the teller that you don’t need money. That you cashed a check yesterday. That you already did this week’s shopping. That your wallet’s full. An ATM might not be fazed by all that, but a real flesh and blood bank clerk would probably either recommend that you visit a psychiatrist, or call security. This much is sure: you won’t get any money. Sometimes God feels just like the teller at the bank. He’s waiting for us to just shut up, stop spouting excuses, and let him forgive us. But we don’t.
God can’t forgive us … if we don’t ask him to.
Too often, saying we’re sorry means giving excuses. Did we mess up? Yes. Do we feel bad about it? Yes. Do we ask for forgiveness? No, we give excuses. We often hear phrases like: “I didn’t mean to…” “I didn’t know…” But that’s not the same as “I’m sorry.” Excuses are only in order when it really wasn’t our fault. In other words, when we don’t need forgiveness.
When we do need forgiveness, excuses just don’t cut it. God might want to forgive us, but if we only give excuses, if we don’t recognize our guilt, he can’t.
Let’s go back to the bank (preferably not the same one). You take out five grand, and then you turn around and give them to the lady behind you. That’s right, the stranger you don’t know, and whose humming was getting on your nerves. Why? What has she done to deserve it? Nothing. That’s forgiveness; it’s a gift. In other words, we don’t deserve it … and yet God gives it to us anyway. Horrible crimes exist which no one can forget, but there is no crime so terrible that it can’t be forgiven. That’s what God did on the cross. He forgave the unforgivable. Did his executioners deserve forgiveness? No. However, Christ forgave them anyway.
If we’re not humble enough to recognize our guilt and ask for forgiveness, we won’t be able to forgive others either. If forgiveness is only for the innocent, what happens when someone asks us to forgive the unforgivable? “I’ll never forget what he did to me!” “How can I forgive him for the death of my son?” If forgiving were only about forgetting, they would be right: there are things that can’t be forgiven.
Forgiving others and asking for forgiveness, is about as tough as it gets. Going beyond justice to give the gift of love is divine, not human. Yet, in God’s eyes, when we forgive, we are storing up treasure in heaven. So, in a sense, we have the last word:
He will forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Questions or comments? Please, write
to Fr. Nathan Miller, at firstname.lastname@example.org