Psychologists tell us that often when we get on our high horse about someone else’s faults, it’s because we recognise those same failings in ourselves and our ranting and raving at others is a way of exorcising them from our own psyche. As long as we have a target at which we can direct our anger we can push our own imperfections to the back of our mind. So we love to accuse other people of the very things that we know deep down are the same flaws that we have. As a nation we need to be satisfied by demonising certain types of criminals who become our national hate figures. It makes us feel righteous and clean.
To refuse to forgive another person is an extraordinary thing yet one which we often hear from those who feel wronged. It’s tantamount to saying that they have harmed us and we are so perfect that we have never needed forgiveness from another person or from God.
For that’s where forgiveness comes from: God. Our sins deface the beauty of God’s presence in our world and we need to ask forgiveness from God. And it usually happens that someone who is deeply aware of their own defects is also acutely aware of how much they are in need of God’s love and presence, that presence which is stronger than all of our sin. The more we live lives that recognise our dependence on God’s love and forgiveness, the easier we find it to pass on the forgiveness that has first been shown to us. We don’t forgive out of our own store of forgiveness but out of God’s.
When Jesus went out to the Pharisee’s home for a meal he had his feet anointed by a weeping woman who gate-crashed the dinner. She had a reputation in the town and it wasn’t a good one. Jesus cleverly pointed out that the great love she showed him would be impossible if she had not experienced forgiveness in her life. Strangely it was the religious people who had difficulty forgiving her. Maybe they had kept the rules and felt better than her, and in no need of God’s forgiveness?
Our “trespasses” are only forgiven to the same degree that we forgive those of others. How forgiving are you? Your answer will tell you a lot about how much you have experienced God’s love.