“We are given to God to put our faith therein, but to be forgiven, we must first believe in sin.” – Jewel Kilcher
Believing in God is relatively easy, especially if that god turns out to be a creation of your own imagination, or indeed turns out to be yourself. I once said to a friend how I thought true evil was very rare in this world, and that most people simply acted on what they thought was good at the time. She pointed out to me a case of incest where the father had kept his daughter a prisoner for several decades and fathered several children by her. I tried to imagine what this man told himself about the world and his place in it that allowed him to carry out these acts upon his own child over such a long period. How could he ever have considered what he did to be good? Had he made himself inside his mind into a little god of his own universe? Maybe some people are truly evil after all.
In the light of others wrongdoing whether they be small offenses, or such atrocious acts as this example, how does one ever forgive such things? Where on earth does a person find the grace to even go on living after being subjected to true evil? What evidence would you have that you did not deserve such treatment, and that were you to break free, that the very next person might not do the exact same thing?
The elegance of forgiveness is in the fact that it does not need to be reciprocal to exact its power. To forgive is to be given a great gift, but you can be forgiven without ever taking receipt of it, and without ever expressing one ounce of remorse or regret. Likewise, we can forgive one another without ever insisting the subject of our mercy acknowledge the greatness of our gesture. When we do not forgive, it’s seldom the subject of our vitriol who truly suffers – it’s the one who struggles to forgive who feels the pain.
No sinner cares for forgiveness, except the one who has learned the meaning of sin, and of his own capacity for committing it. Indeed, as Jewel sings, to believe in forgiveness, one must know there is such a thing as sin.
Whilst some say that God’s forgiveness only exists where we are able to receive it, I believe that like His love, forgiveness is a part of God’s nature. God’s forgiveness for our trespasses is a standing act. His intent is not just to reconcile us to Himself, although it is that, His intent is to teach us to forgive not simply in cases where contrition is present and forgiveness is deserved, but to forgive because we are His people, and we are people who are forgiving. In the same way His love is meant to teach us not to simply love where love is merited, but to love because we are His people, and His people are people who love.
Forgive us our trespasses – we receive your forgiveness because you are God and you are merciful.
As we forgive those who trespass against us – we bestow your forgiveness, because we are your people, and your people are known for their forgiveness.
If we believe in and acknowledge sin, ours and others, we will also believe in the power of God’s forgiveness to redeem us, and the power of our forgiveness to redeem others.