The need to be forgiving

Jesus said “If you forgive people their sins, then your Heavenly Father will also forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive people their sins then neither will your Father forgive you your sins.” Matthew Ch6 vs 14-15.

If “sheer greed” is the number one underlying reason why there is so much selfish behaviour in our society today, then a close second is surely people’s “unforgiving spirit”. It is very noticeable how often we hear of people committing actions simply because they want to get their own back at others, or of people who demand their rights, no matter who gets harmed. It is easy to see that many people  today harbour a resentful spirit within them. The crime of road rage is just one example of this.

So why can’t people be more tolerant towards the faults of others? Why can’t they be more forbearing and more forgiving? Clearly one reason is because they never think about all the bad things they themselves have done which in turn means they don’t realise how much they themselves need forgiveness from God. If only individuals reflected more on their own faults rather than the faults of others, then they would be more forgiving and less spiteful.

The following story was written by a 17 year old called Brian Moore, just two months before he was killed in a car accident. It is a profound story and a timely reminder of  just how much we are personally in need of God’s forgiveness. As we read this, resentment at the faults of others should melt away as it brings to mind  our own personal need for forgiveness.

‘Before I fully awoke I found myself in a room. One wall was covered with small card index files like the ones you used to see in libraries. As I drew near to the wall of files the first to catch my attention was one that read “Girls I have liked”. I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realise that I recognised every name. Suddenly I knew where I was. This lifeless room with all its files was the catalogue system of my life on earth! Here were written and recorded the actions of my every moment, big and small. A sense of curiosity and horror stirred within me.

I began opening the files at random. Some brought joy and sweet memories, while others brought a sense of shame. A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I have betrayed”. The titles ranged from the mundane to the weird. “Books I have read”, “Lies I have told”, “Comfort I have given”, “Jokes I have laughed at”, “Things I have done in anger”, “Things I have muttered under my breath at my parents”. I was over whelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived and the exactness of the details recorded. There were millions of cards. When I pulled out the file marked “TV shows I have watched” I realised that after two or three yards I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it ashamed; not so much by the quality of the shows, but more by the vast time I knew that I had wasted.

When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt ashamed that such a moment had been recorded. Leaning my forehead against a wall, letting out a sigh, I suddenly noticed files marked “People I have shared the Gospel with” and “Times I have gone to Bible study”. Both handles were brighter than those around them, newer, almost unused. I pulled out the first one and found the file less than three inches long. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

Then the tears came. I began to weep. I felt so ashamed of my life. The overwhelming shame of it all swept over me like a flood and the worst of it all was that I had always considered myself a “good person”, never having done much wrong. I was appalled.

Suddenly I thought “no one must ever see this room”. In a frenzy I pulled out a file and tried to tear up the cards. To my horror, each card was as strong as steel. Defeated and helpless I sat down in a corner of the room. After a few moments I heard footsteps; someone was coming. The door opened and I saw Him. “Oh no! Not Him, not here. Anyone but Jesus.” He went over to the files and began to read them. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one? Finally He turned to me, held out His pierced hands and said “All this I suffered for you on the Cross, what have you done for Me in your life?” I didn’t have an answer.’

In 2nd Corinthians Ch5 vs 9-11 St Paul wrote “let us make it our aim to be well pleasing to the Lord because we must all appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ to give an account of the things we have done. Knowing the terror of the Lord we plead with people to repent”.

Scripture teaches that the forgiveness of our own sins is conditional upon  us forgiving those who have sinned against us. The more we recognise our own personal faults, the more forgiving and forbearing we will be towards the faults and failings of others.

This was the motive behind the famous example of forgiveness set by the North American Indian Chief called Maskepetoon. As Christian missionaries were opening up the Wild West, this Indian Chief became a devout Christian. As he learnt more about the teachings of the “Everywhere Spirit” and the personal standards of conduct this Spirit required, he was humbled by his own sins and the kind of life he had previously led. On one particular evening the missionaries gave a talk about the Crucifixion. They explained that while hanging on the Cross, Jesus had prayed for His enemies saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Maskepetoon was profoundly moved by this. He realised that if Jesus, Who was sinless, prayed for those who had crucified Him, then how much more so, as a sinful man seeking forgiveness, should he be willing to forgive others who had harmed him.

The account states that the very next day, after hearing this teaching, the Indian Chief was approached by another tribe of Indians, among whom was a former friend who had murdered his son. When the two tribes were within a hundred yards of each other, the Chief spotted the murderer and drawing his tomahawk rode up until they were face to face. What happened next is one of the most amazing examples of forgiveness to come out of this period of Indian history. With his voice full of emotion Maskepetoon said to the man “You deserve to die. I sent my son along with you as a trusted companion, but you betrayed my trust and killed him. You have done me and my tribe the greatest injury possible. But for what I heard from the missionary last night I would have buried this tomahawk in your head. The missionary told us that if expected the Great Spirit to forgive us, we must forgive even the greatest wrong.” With deep emotion he continued, “As\I hope the Great Spirit will forgive me all my sins, I forgive you.” With that the Indian Chief broke down in tears and quietly rode away.

Maskepetoon was like a bright light shining in a dark place. He had refused to repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, and left vengeance and judgement in the Hands of God Himself. He took to heart the great message of Christianity that we are to love those who hate us and pray for those who do us harm. Jesus said that we are “to forgive from the heart”. (Matthew Ch 18v35). When this is done it truly puts an end to escalating violence and hostility. For many years afterwards Maskepetoon continued to live a devoted Christian life. He preached a spirit of forgiveness to others and by his personal example managed to influence many of his own tribe to turn from killing their enemies.

Reflecting on our personal need for forgiveness will inspire us to be forgiving towards the wrongs of others. Let us remember that we are all sinners needing the grace and mercy of Almighty God and that “Judgement will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.” (James Ch 2v 13).