If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven. There are no exceptions to this rule. All must be forgiven—however spiteful, however cruel, however often they are repeated. If we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven.
That said, forgiving and excusing are two different things.
Forgiveness says, “I forgive you completely, without reservation, without concern for retribution even in the slightest, now and forevermore.” Excusing says, “I see that you couldn’t help it, or didn’t mean it, or are not really to blame.” Forgiveness and excusing in this sense are practically opposites.
If you had a perfect set of excuses, then you would not need forgiveness. In most cases, however, there is that which is excusable or that which could perhaps not have been avoided given the limitations in circumstance in those present and there is that which is “left over,” or that which could have been avoided or prevented had you maintained your perspective in the moment by virtue of a clear mind and a supple heart. That which is remains in this sense is that which is in need of forgiveness.
For most, the act of asking God for forgiveness is little more than an effort to plead with God to accept one’s excuses for sin or error. Whether the individual is conscious of it or not, an effort is made to convince God that their rationalizations for the transgression are plausible, if not acceptable, while the core matter over which they did have control is glossed over, if not disregarded completely. For example, those who ask for forgiveness for some act committed in anger often focus on the frustrating elements present in the circumstance. They may say (or pray), “Please excuse me for my anger! I was having a bad day. My alarm did not go off, I went out to a flat tire, and then I got a speeding ticket while trying to get to work on time. My boss was not understanding at all. I didn’t have a choice but to get angry/lash out/withdraw!”
Asking God’s forgiveness is much more than asking God to accept our excuses. There is that which is excusable in most cases there are extenuating circumstances, that is, factors in circumstance which obscure the high road and make the right choice difficult to comprehend. However, asking for forgiveness has little to nothing to do with that which is excusable. Asking God’s forgiveness has more to do with that which is inexcusable (but fortunately not unforgivable).
In asking for forgiveness you are doing more than seeking relief from the pressure or embarrassment of having been caught. Likewise, you are doing more than seeking pardon from having committed the act. Asking God’s forgiveness is an active act of repentance, a realignment of your fundamental, central orientation. It is a rethinking of the orientation behind the motivation. Asking God’s forgiveness in this sense is much more than satisfying ourselves with our own excuses.
We are all too easily satisfied with ourselves!
Remember: God is already aware of your excuses. God is omniscient. If there are real, extenuating circumstances, He will already have known them and made allowances for their presence. In this light we can see that God demands perfection, but not the impossible. He does not expect you to act in a way that exceeds your present capability, Just as a teacher would not expect a kindergarten student to perform differential equations or quote Shakespeare, God does not ask us to act beyond our means in any given situation.
God does not waste time with that which is excusable. He forgives that which must be forgiven. He does so the moment the act occurs, regardless of the severity or degree of intentionality. He cares not whether it is a sign of commission or omission. He forgives, without exception, without hesitation, without prejudice. We see therefore that the act of asking for forgiveness has nothing to do with beseeching a supposedly fickle and easily enraged tyrannical father figure to forgive and not punish us for our sins. Many may have had this experience with their earthly fathers or other oppressively-inclined, capricious authority figures, but this is not true of our Father, who is in heaven.
Asking God’s forgiveness is the process by which we “lift up our hearts.” Put otherwise, asking God’s forgiveness is the means by which that which is profane is brought into the presence of that which is sacred. It is an active act of reorientation or realignment, that begins with letting go of and ends with letting go to. It is a process of letting the forgiveness—that is already present—into yourself, that is may heal and return you to wholeness.
God is not waiting for you to make a case for yourself, neither is He waiting for you to change His mind. Much of what is called “prayer” his little to do with actually asking for forgiveness and more to do with a concerted effort to change God’s mind. It is a fool’s errand, really, if not the height of human arrogance. You might convince yourself that God is missing this factor or that, and if He were to take into consideration the facts that are hidden to Him but visible to you He might see things differently, but this is never, ever the case.
God’s view is more comprehensive than yours, without exception. And to begin with the premise that God’s view is limited compared to yours is blasphemy, foolish nonsense. It is the attitude and approach that led those who first fell to eject themselves from the “Garden planted eastward in Eden” and it is the attitude and approach that will: 1) further insulate you from the experience of oneness with the Father, 2) heighten your sense of shame, and 3) intensify your fears and insecurity. Thinking that you know better than God (i.e. judging good and evil as it was put in the book of Genesis) is the shortcut to the experience of hell on earth.
Hell is not somewhere you go if you do not believe in God the Father or that Jesus died for the remission of your sins. Hell is where you are when you refuse to give and receive forgiveness. Hell is where you live when you deny, betray, or follow afar off from the central, purifying spirit of love—not later, in some incomprehensible afterlife, but here and now. There is no mystery here and anyone who says otherwise is either missing the obvious or deliberately misleading you.
Forgiving others, likewise, does not mean excusing them. Forgiving others means forgiving them. Forgiveness does not imply that you do not watch those you forgive more carefully in the future, but it does require that you relinquish any and all resentment you may hold toward that person, that you let go of any wish for those forgiven to squirm a little (or at lot!), to be humiliated, hurt, or paid back for their trespasses against you.
It could be said that in our own case we accept excuses too easily and in others we do not accept them easily enough. We must learn to be relentless with ourselves, in the sense of not allowing ourselves to be lulled into a sense of complacency by self-deemed, well-crafted excuses that obviate the need for accepting forgiveness, while being unfailingly generous and forgiving with our debtors and trespassers. It is in this practice that we unlock on earth that which God has already set free in heaven.
We do this through forgiveness. As you forgive, you are forgiven. There are no exceptions to this rule. This is not some arbitrary, pedantic requirement of a cruel and volatile patriarch. This is a law of Being, one that God Himself cannot overrule, for God obeys the Laws of Being. So must we if we are to truly live.
Look at your life. Look at your day. The greater need is not for forgiveness in relation to the large and impersonal offenses wrought by the worst in the world, but for meticulous forgiveness in relation to the provocations of daily life.
Have you forgiven your nagging spouse, selfish children, nosy neighbors, annoying coworkers, or your unappreciative boss? Have you forgiven those who have not repaid your kindness, those who kicked you when you when you were down, those who took advantage of you while you were incapable of protecting yourself, those who stood by and watched while you were in need, or those who refused to lend you a hand when they clearly had the resources and means to do so?
Forgiveness must be specific to be meaningful.
Forgiving others requires that you roll up your sleeves and engage with the ugliest elements in your world and yes, the tender or damaged corners of your own heart. It requires that you: 1) relinquish the foolhardy attempt to be “as God,” 2) eschew further judgment and the temptation to act as judge, jury, and executioner for all the injustices wrought against you or others, and 3) finally let the purifying power of love radiate in relation to the world you center, without concern for results…in exactly the same manner that God does for you and the rest of creation.
The world we’ve created for ourselves, with its seemingly inescapable suffering, conflict, and death, would be transformed within a generation were there a sufficient number of people who obeyed and agreed with God on the matter of forgiveness. God does not wish you harm or suffering; God is love. God wishes that you may know the truth of forgiveness so that you may be set free from all that has thwarted the manifestation of heaven on earth in your experience.
If you are intent upon serving justice, on taking an “eye for an eye” or a “tooth for a tooth,” your days will continue to be confusing, painful, repetitive and disappointing. If, however, you let yourself love that which is above more than you disdain that which is inconsistent with love’s nature and if we truly forgive without exception, hesitation, or prejudice, you will be a point through which the “new heavens” create a “new earth.” Isn’t it time that we let this happen? Isn’t it time that you let this happen?
Forgive now, that you may be forgiven.