Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
January 11, 2011
Jared Loughner and the forgiveness of God
Jared Loughner appeared in court yesterday and on front pages around the world this morning. Today’s New York Times reports that he will be held without bail as a “danger to the community.” Meanwhile, CNN tells us that WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange appeared in a London court yesterday regarding his extradition to Sweden. And former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was sentenced yesterday to three years in state prison for conspiracy to launder money, according to today’s Wall Street Journal.
Sin leads the news every day. I can’t do much about what I find in the papers, but I am responsible for what God finds in my heart. That’s why Jesus included in the Model Prayer the petition, “forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). As we learn to begin each day by submitting it to our King, we have sought God’s glory (“hallowed be your name”) and will (“your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”). We have asked for his provision in the present (“give us this day our daily bread”). Now we learn to make peace with the past.
“Debts” can be translated “sins” or “transgressions.” Jesus assumes that we have incurred such debts with the holy God, that we have each sinned and fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23). “Forgive” in the Bible does not mean to excuse behavior or pretend it did not occur. It is to pardon, choosing not to punish, as when a governor pardons a criminal.
God balances holiness and forgiveness. He wants us to hate sin as he does: “Let those who love the Lord hate evil” (Psalm 97:10). We are to be holy in every dimension of life: “Flee from sexual immorality. . . . You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18, 19-20). We are called to holiness in all our attitudes and actions. At the same time, our Father is ready to forgive our failures if we are ready to confess them to him.
But with this caveat: “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12b). I must forgive those who have sinned against me to be forgiven for my sins by God. This is the only phrase in the Model Prayer which receives further commentary by Jesus: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (vs. 14-15).
Is this works-righteousness? Absolutely not. If I will not pardon your sins, I am obviously not in position to receive the pardon which God offers by his grace. A hateful, vengeful spirit will neither offer grace to others nor receive it from the Lord. A closed fist cannot give or receive.
Has someone sinned against you? Have you sinned against God? Then you have business with your gracious Father.