The Afghans have an interesting notion of forgiveness. If a man kills another man, he cannot be forgiven by God unless the family of the man forgives him. That puts a lot of power into human hands. Our hands.
I would discount the theory entirely except that it has a surprising parallel in Scripture. After the resurrection, Jesus met with his disciples. He breathed on them and imparted the Holy Spirit. Immediately afterward, he said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (Jn 20:23)
The verse startles me.
What does our forgiveness give to another?
Really? I have the capacity to forgive sins and if I forgive someone their sin, their sin is forgiven by God, as well? What a huge responsibility – to be agents, ambassadors of God’s forgiveness.
I want to argue. But what about repentance? What about confession? Aren’t these things required?
And then there’s King David. “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” Was her right? I mean, didn’t he sin against Bathsheba?
I certainly think so!
I recognize confusion and turn to Jesus. I see him forgiving sins everywhere he went. Then again, he was God incarnate. On the other hand, he asked us to do the same as he did.
Is it my turn?
That’s a staggering thought. I’ve received the Holy Spirit and with it, the power to forgive the sins of others.
Still, I resist.
What if I don’t really want to? I mean, can’t we just dump the responsibility for punishment onto God and walk away from the whole thing? Isn’t that the way we often understand forgiveness? I forgive and so release a burden. I’m freed. But the other really receives nothing from me. They still carry their sin.
I think I like that idea better. After all, I’ve been hurt.
Still, what if the forgiveness I give confers God’s forgiveness, as well? What if forgiveness isn’t just a matter of keeping my own heart clean, but is also a matter of cleansing the heart of the offender?
Perhaps I wouldn’t offer my forgiveness so easily. After all, I take comfort in believing that the really cruel, inhumane people of the world will be judged by God no matter how many people on earth forgive them.
It all sounds so huge, so powerful. Who are we really? What gifts do we really bring to the world?