To acknowledge the wound and all its pain, to turn and hand it over infection and all to the pierced hands reaching out to me, to let go, relinquish, give up all ownership along with every need to even up the score, this is what it means to forgive. And if some fungal spore got left behind, if I see new pustules welling up within, if I find myself still fondling the old scars, if my taste buds yearn to savor secret bitterness, I must yank it all out by the roots. This is what it means to forgive. So when I fail, and clutch some stack of grudges, when I’m blind to residue of garbage, when I lack the will to scrub it out and leave it at the cross, leave it for good, be my surgeon, Jesus! Come debride me! Then I will be able to forgive.
When Jesus gave us a model for prayer, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, he included that essential element of asking for our Father in heaven’ forgiveness:
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matt. 6:12 NIV)
Those “debts” are our moral failures. We stumble and fall. So do those around us, and if we expect the Father to forgive us, we need to acknowledge our need to forgive others. But that is not at all easy! I think that is why Jesus chose to underline that one line in the verse that comes right after the prayer, by repeating how essential it is that we be practicing forgiveness of others:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matt. 6:14 NIV)
In other words, our request in the prayer actually includes an implicit petition for help from the Father in this area. We yearn for his forgiveness of our own failures to act rightly, and we know that we need to forgive those who hurt us by their words or actions. But this is not what we broken humans do naturally.
So how do we learn to forgive?
When I wrote the prayer-poem above, I was aware that my heart was full of hurt from things that had been done to me, and although I wanted to be free of the grudge that would pump its way forward when I thought about that person, it was like an abscess inside. My dad, doctor at the hospital in Ferke for so many years, would show pictures of huge abscesses that had developed from an infected wound. When he would make an incision, the pus would begin to ooze out, but it would also take some careful scraping to make sure all was removed. Then antibiotic was needed to kill the microbes that could make it all become infected again.
That was what I knew my heart needed. The festering anger, though not outwardly expressed, needed attention. But it was beyond me to get rid of the resentment, especially when the other person saw no need to be forgiven, unwilling to accept that what they had done was hurtful and wrong. I was desperate for the Surgeon to cleanse me! I needed to let go of it all, to no longer hang onto any desire for the other one to suffer for what had happened. That did not mean that I would not pray for them, and ask the Father to bring them to a place of healing as well. But it would not be up to me to make them pay for it. Extend, I was to live out the unnatural Jesus-way of dealing with someone who opposes me:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!!!! (Matt. 5:44 NIV)
That is what Jesus did on the cross, crying out: ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34 NIV)
And I am supposed to grow to be like him—this is the goal of a true disciple. Peter, his disciple, learned that lesson and made it his purpose to pass it on. In his second epistle he wrote:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Pet. 1:3 NIV)
A godly life is one that is like his. And he has given us the road map to achieve it: knowing him, learning his good character and his promises to hone us to be like him—to the point that we even “participate in the divine nature!”
This requires an intentional pursuit of intimacy with Jesus. The more that we understand how he would act, the more that we experience his compassion for us, the more we will be able to pass that on to others by forgiving even those who have not been willing to admit their wrong. The huge blessing for us is that the abscess is removed. We can move ahead, no longer weighed down by combatting that infection.
Appreciation of the grace of God’s offer of forgiveness to us enables us to take this step. Jesus emphasized the importance of this, underlining it with the explanation given after our petition for forgiveness in the model prayer. Louis A. Barbieri Jr. explains it this way: “Though God’s forgiveness of sin is not based on one’s forgiving others, a Christian’s forgiveness is based on realizing he has been forgiven (cf. Eph. 4:32). Personal fellowship with God is in view in these verses (not salvation from sin). One cannot walk in fellowship with God if he refuses to forgive others.”
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:32 NIV)
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col. 3:1 NIV)
A forgiving spirit characterizes someone who is grateful to God for his forgiveness of his own sins, and longs to be like his Rescuer. Things may not be all worked out as was hoped, but that person is willing to “bear with” the offender, growing in their “participation in the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:3)
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997)262.