And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.I chose that passage from Mark to open up with because I was afraid to even think of the Matthew counterpart: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Yikes.
And as scary as it is (now more than ever) to think about my forgiveness of sinners being so intimately connected to God’s forgiveness of me, I might be beginning to understand it (now more than ever). Christ, we must remember, was not talking to people whose greatest trespassers would embezzle their company’s money or ruin their child’s high school career; many of these people would be killed or watch their families being tortured. And until I watched someone destroy a friend’s life, I never realized how offensive forgiveness can sound in that context.
In that context, as I am forced to live in a world where this person exists and in which I may bump into him from time to time, the thought has dawned on me that I don’t want him to be forgiven. I don’t want God to welcome him into the fold with loving arms. I certainly don’t want God to do that if he keeps sinning seventy-times-seven times. I like the thought of the Kingdom of God being built on the forgiveness of the down-and-out, on the lifting of the underdog; but I have a hard time thinking of so much as sharing citizenship with forgiven killers and rapists and scoundrels, at least when it is my loved ones they might have killed.
On the contrary, if those people are ever to be forgiven, I want it be only after they have realized the extent of their sin. I want them to come face-to-face with the realization of their despicable crime. I want them to bear the responsibility for it at the very least as much as those they hurt bear the effects. I want justice.
I suppose I want a place a lot like hell.
“Hell has been broken,” Christ tells me. “Do you want in?” Forgiveness is a “yes” to that new citizenship, a citizenship that puts me beside forgiven evil people. It is mine for the taking.