To ask for forgiveness is more than once, as becomes clear in everyday life, less difficult than to render forgiveness. We just cannot live with: I will forgive you, but I cannot forget.
It is for us people not so easy to truly render forgiveness, especially if much has been done to us and we are affected by this and we have suffered much because of this.
Asking for Forgiveness
It is quite something to say to God that we are guilty. The Holy Spirit has to do a lot of work in our lives to convince us of sin and to bring us to the point that we without hesitation confess our sins to the Lord and sincerely ask for forgiveness. But through his work we reach that point.
But then, what needs to follow? For if you have harmed others and are guilty over against your neighbour, then you must also ask for forgiveness from your neighbour. And here the struggles begin. For if you go to the other, you must gather a lot of courage.
You do not quite know how to go about it. It demands a constant prayer to God for him to give opportunities, to heartily meet each other and, without beating about the bush, to say, “I acted wrongly, will you please forgive me?”
In the marriage and in the family you will see more than once a hesitation to get to this point. Why is there this reservedness to confess sins and to ask for forgiveness? Especially in your own environment, why should you be afraid that forgiveness will not be given?
You can only receive peace from God when you confess to the other what you did or said wrong.
Even when the other does not forgive you or says, “I’ll have to think about it,” you are free before the Lord and it can be that God’s peace descends in your heart, also when your neighbour struggles with forgiving you. In any case, there is nothing that prevents you then to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, for you have sincerely confessed your guilt. You did what was needed to ask for forgiveness, however difficult this may have been for you.
You can offer excuses for carelessness or imperfections, but when it relates to concrete sins, we are called to ask for complete forgiveness. Now the conscience of the one can be entirely different than the conscience of someone else. And some people can struggle with asking for forgiveness and they will say no more than “sorry.” If more is needed than just this one word, it is important to find out, for yourself and for the other, if this is sufficient. For if things really are to be straightened out, then nothing less is required than to ask forgiveness, with the openly naming of the sin that you have committed. If you do not know that you have sinned, it is hard to ask for forgiveness. Then this must be brought to your attention. It is a blessing when this happens, so that you can make things right with the other person.
A Willingness to Forgive
More than once it happens that people have wronged you and that they, so it seems, can easily live with that. In church we sadly meet those who cannot bring themselves to a sincere confession of sins. They don’t want to lose face. And, if God does not prevent it, they “just” celebrate the Lord’s Supper, as if nothing has happened. You had expected that in the week of preparation things would be made right, but they continue as usual, without coming back to their own misdeeds. They may even argue that they live under an open heaven, but the Lord does not show his favor to them. He hates sin and he also wants true reconciliation between his children.
When you see this sinner every time, it demands much faith to stay focussed in the first place only on the Lord. At times you must pray fervently, “Turn my eyes away from it. For it will hinder me in my relationship with you.” Subsequently, because we are people with our own failings and our own sins, sometimes with hateful feelings arising in your heart, our first calling is to pray for ourselves. First of all, that God will remove this evil from your own heart and that he will grant you much love instead of hate. For if you are in your heart no different than the other, you do not stand upright before God and not upright over against your neighbour.
In the second place, you are to pray then for a willingness to forgive. So that at any time you can openly look the other in the eyes, also with an inner willingness to forgive. This willingness is what matters in the kingdom of God.
If you see how much the Lord must forgive you and that he does this because he is generous in forgiving debt, would you then not approach the other with this same attitude as God? With a sincere willingness and eagerness to forgive the other person’s sins.
If forgiveness is then asked for, be it in personal contact or in well-intentioned writing, then it is not difficult to forgive, and you can even say, “In my heart I have already forgiven you a long time ago. But I am glad that you have done this now. Now it is completely right between you and me. This way we can live and this way we can die.”
It makes you so happy whenever forgiveness is being asked for and no less when you render forgiveness. Then there is something of God in our lives.
No matter how often you must ask for forgiveness and how often you must render forgiveness, the Lord has taught us in his Word that we must go to the extreme.
For who is the Lord? We sing with the words of Psalm 86:
“Lord, in your mercy and compassion you forgive us our transgressions.”
Especially through discovering who the Lord is, makes us to eagerly and sincerely ask for and render forgiveness.
This article was translated by Bram Vegter.