A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
If pride is the easiest of all sins, then forgiveness is undoubtedly the hardest of virtues. It is easy to place ourselves before others in our pride. Pride tells us that we are superior to others, that we have our “rights,” and that while others may have their own rights, our own well-being and peace-of-mind ought to come first. Pride tells us that our way is the right way and we don’t need someone else telling us how to live our lives. Pride tells us that what others perceive as sin is really nothing more than just behavioral traits, bad habits, or personal preference – certainly not “sin.” Pride, of course, “goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Proverbs 14:12 (also 16:25)
There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
This is perhaps the harshest condemnation of pride, that our own stubbornness, our unwillingness to follow God’s ways, will lead to death. But that really is the essence of sin, that our prideful rebellion leads to death. And the essence of the gospel of Christ is that God’s forgiveness leads to eternal life. What a huge difference!
44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
I know that it is hard to forgive when our bodies have been violated, when our freedom has been taken from us, when part of who we are has forever been changed by someone else’s violence or unthinking negligence. It is hard enough to forget when someone betrays our trust and hurts us, but even harder for forgive them. It is far more difficult to truly “turn the other cheek” when we believe that will undoubtedly lead to more physical and emotional pain. We don’t deserve to be abused, to be beaten, to have our bodies and hearts violated, to be killed for something we didn’t do. How can we forgive those things?
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.
God knows a thing or two about being violated, about people abusing His Son, about rebellious pride, about the pain and suffering caused by evil men. Jesus knows more about pain than you and I are likely to ever know. And yet He said, “Father, forgive them.” Why? “For they know not what they do.” They don’t realize Jesus is the Son of God. They don’t know that they are fulfilling the very Scriptures they claim they are trying to defend. They don’t comprehend the weight of sin that is bearing down on Christ’s shoulders, held aloft only by three nails in the hands and feet of the Lamb of God. They cannot ever understand forgiveness if they are not first forgiven. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
Forgiveness is the hardest of virtues, and pride is the easiest of sins. In our pride, we withhold our forgiveness, we cling fast to our righteous anger and indignation. We hold on to the pain that drives us from one day to the next. But I can tell you from harsh experience that one day that anger will not be enough fuel for the day, that the pride we fail to notice in ourselves will bring us low. And there we will be, broken and still angry, and it will seem like there is nothing left for us, nothing left of the relationship we could have had with that person who so wronged us. At that point, the Cross beckons us, calls us to remember the Son of Man crucified for the sins of all humanity, once for all. Beaten, abused, and slain for sins He did not commit – all so He could ask His Father to forgive us. How, then, can we not forgive?
Merciful Father, forgive us our sins, our debts to You, the many ways we trespass against You. Teach us, Lord God, how to love so perfectly that we can forgive violence and hatred, just as You have done. Amen.