When we read Jesus’ words about forgiveness, it becomes shockingly and frighteningly clear that God’s forgiveness to us and our forgiveness to others are linked. Simply put, my unwillingness to forgive others prevents God from forgiving me. Matthew 6:15 and Matthew 18:21-35 are two prime examples.
This is very confusing to those taught that God can and will forgive us for everything. Apparently, that’s not the case.
NT Wright says the following in a commentary on Matthew 18:21-35:
“Forgiveness is more like the air in your lungs. There’s only room for you to inhale the next lungful when you’ve just breathed out the previous one. If you insist on withholding it, refusing to give someone else the kiss of life they may desperately need, you won’t be able to take any more in yourself, and you will suffocate very quickly. Whatever the spiritual, moral and emotional equivalent of the lungs may be (we sometimes say ‘the heart’, but that of course is a metaphor as well), it’s either open or closed. If it’s open, able and willing to forgive others, it will also be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. But if it’s locked up to the one, it will be locked up to the other.”
This makes complete sense from the “ontological” perspective I discussed in my last post. If you remember, death isn’t the consequence of sin, but the very definition of sin. In other words, sin isn’t the breach of a rule and then death its punishment. Rather, sin is severing communion with God who is true Being and thus the path toward non-being.
In this light, withholding forgiveness from others is not “bad behavior” punishable by God withholding his forgiveness from us, like some cosmic tit-for-tat. Instead, forgiveness is the very air we breathe in our communion with God, the consistent and automatic inhalation and exhalation of God’s Life and Being to us and through us.
The moment we hold our “breath” we suffocate ourselves. But the moment we breathe out, we are able to fill our lungs once again with the sweet life-giving air of God’s forgiveness.