Forgiveness in the Psalms
Forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight and usually requires time and healing. But what does Scripture tell us about forgiveness? And, what can we learn about forgiveness in the Psalms?
Forgiveness is a Process
“I’ve given up on forgiving and loving,” the eighty-four-year-old woman claimed as she sat down next to me. I laughed. “I love my family but all this forgiving and loving is work. I’m tired of it.”
Her words resonated with me. I knew what she was talking about. I had been struggling for some time to forgive a wrong done me with little success. Anger still rose within me when anything related to the matter was brought to my attention. A chance encounter, a clip in the newspaper or on-line, all brought back the harsh memories; memories I was seeking to put behind me. I didn’t want to hold onto such feelings yet here they were, creeping back with their unsolicited advice.
Forgiveness, like love, is both a feeling and a choice. I can choose to forgive and act in a forgiving manner even when I feel far from forgiving. But it does take a lot of energy to keep on forgiving. I would like to give up on it at times, or at least take a vacation from all of this loving and forgiving. I would come back renewed and much more ready to love, I tell myself.
“The cut worm forgives the plow,” William Blake tells us in a proverb form. What does this mean? That nature forgives, that suffering is an unavoidable and unintended result of our need to provide sustenance for ourselves and loved ones, some suggest. If nature forgives, we, too, are called to forgive, but this forgiveness of the worm for the plow is much easier than some of the situations we find ourselves in that require forgiveness. There was no malicious intent on the part of the plow; if only that were the case for incidents involving us humans. If only forgiveness were that easy for us humans.
Forgiveness in Scripture
Sirach tells us: “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” (28:2) An interesting concept. You forgive with an expectation of payback. Not necessarily the most Christian reason for forgiving, but very human. I’ve often told others that you forgive, not for the sake of the person who wronged you, but for yourself. Holding onto anger and bitterness hurts us, not the one we are angry with. It’s a way of using human self-centeredness to get the desired result.
But Jesus tells us, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) A variation on the passage in Sirach, with a significant difference. We are asking that as we forgive others, so are we to be forgiven. Meaning if we don’t forgive, then we ask God not to forgive us. We are asking God to hold us accountable. In Sirach we are forgiving with the sole purpose of being forgiven.
Jesus also tells us we are to forgive seventy times seventy, an infinite amount. Jesus sets a new standard for forgiveness. If someone wrongs us, we are to talk to that person, face-to-face, not via twitter or other forms of social media. If they repent, we are to forgive them.
Forgiveness in the Psalms
In the Psalms, we see a different emphasis. We don’t see mention of our need to forgive. Rather we see repeated mention of God’s immense capacity for forgiveness:
- “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12
- “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with you.” Psalm 130:3-4
- “For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon you.” Psalm 86:5
- “You were a forgiving God to them.” Psalm 99:8
- “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases; God redeems your life from destruction and crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies.” Psalm 103:2-4
- “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people, you have covered all their sin. Selah.” Psalm 85:2
And our need for that forgiveness:
- “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32:1
- “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.” Psalm 25:11
- “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your holy spirit from me.” Psalm 51:9-11
- “Look upon my affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.” Psalm 25:18
- “I acknowledged my sin unto you and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.” Psalm 32:5
Without God and God’s great love for us, would human forgiveness even be possible?
God’s forgiveness is rooted in hesed. “Hesed is not merely an emotion or feeling but involves action on behalf of someone who is in need. Hesed describes a sense of love and loyalty that inspires merciful and compassionate behavior toward another person.” (From “What is the Meaning of the Hebrew Word Hesed.”) We are able to forgive because God forgave us first.
God’s incredible love and forgiveness helps us counter our selfish nature. The Psalms teach us about this. Jesus leads us to something even greater, our own sharing of God’s forgiveness.
When we forgive, we are taking part in the forgiveness of God. It may not be easy, but it is worth it.
“I’ve given up on forgiving and loving.” Have you ever felt like that? How has God forgiven you? I’d love to hear from you.
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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