If Thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand. But there is forgiveness with Thee.
Forgiveness is a necessary ingredient of any relationship. This is not only because forgiveness is a Christian concept. It is a practical one. I’ve been married now for over 25 years. If I do one thing wrong per week towards my wife (and believe me I do more than one thing wrong per week), that would amount to over 1,300 transgressions against my wife. Could you love someone if they had done over 1,300 things wrong. And that’s being generous. If I do five things wrong per week, that’s over 6,500 transgressions. I’ve been at my current parish for over 16 years. There are 1,200 people who call this parish home. If I do one thing wrong per year per each of them, that’s nearly 20,000 sins committed in my parish, if I only do one wrong thing per person year.
My point is that, in any serious relationship we have, the number of transgressions will pile up quickly. And the only way to stay committed and loving long term towards a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker is forgiveness. Our ability to forgive them. Their ability to forgive us.
Every time we sin, we are also sinning against God. Every private sin, meaning a sinful thought or action committed alone, is a sin against God. Every time we sin against someone else, we are also sinning against God, Who gave us a commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sin is the failure to love. So every sin we commit against someone else, in the moment we commit it, we are failing to love that person, and we are sinning against God as well. Think about how many sins you commit each day, each week, each year. The number of sins we all commit is astronomical. There is no way we can hope for any relationship with God without His forgiveness.
If God marked our iniquities, there is no way anyone could stand before His awesome judgment seat and hope for salvation. The truth is that when we come to God with a repentant heart, asking for His forgiveness and pledging to do better, that God forgives us. If we expect God to forgive us, should we also forgive one another? Because our sins against God are the total of sins we have committed against others, in addition to the private sins we commit that no one knows about. Going back to my example of sinning once against each person in my parish once a year, that’s 16 sins against each person, but nearly 20,000 sins in total against God. And that’s being generous, the total is much higher than 20,000 I’m sure. Now let’s say that a person in my parish has sinned against me 20 times. Shouldn’t I be able to forgive that person, realizing that I need forgiveness for 20,000 sins from God?
I’m reminded of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18: 23-35. A man owed the king 10,000 talents. A talent back then was an amount of money, equal to what a person could earn in 10 years. Let’s say, in modern dollars, a million dollars. So 10,000 talents would equal 10 billion dollars. That’s more money than most of us can conceive of. The servant besought the king to forgive him that amount and the king did. The servant then went out and came upon a man who owed him 100 denarii. A denarius is equivalent to what a person might earn in a day. In contemporary dollars, let’s say that 100 days of work equals $35,000. The servant would not forgive the man $35,000, after the king had forgiven him $10 billion! When people saw this, they told the king, who brought the servant back, and took back his forgiveness and cast the servant into prison. The lesson Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:35 is “So my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
There is no way that we’ve sinned against any person to the degree we’ve sinned against God. Because our sins against God total the sins we have committed against all people, in addition to the private ones no one except God knows about. If we expect God to forgive us, we must learn to forgive one another. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we have to trust someone again, or that they have to be our best friend. It means that we loosen our anger towards someone else, and the byproduct of this is that we lighten our own hearts.
There is a difference between saying “I’m sorry” and “will you forgive me?” The difference is that asking for forgiveness requires a response from the person you are asking. Saying “I’m sorry” does not. Thus, we should learn to ask for forgiveness and to offer forgiveness when it is asked of us. In relationships that matter—marriage, children, long-term friends—forgiveness is essential in order for relationships to be genuine and healthy. It truly is a discipline and almost an “art” to be able to exchange forgiveness with others. I’m glad that before receiving Holy Communion, a priest has to ask forgiveness from the congregation. It is a reminder to me that not a week goes by that I don’t wrong someone in the congregation. It is a reminder to work on my own sinfulness, as well as to ask forgiveness when I’ve wronged someone, and to forgive others who have wronged me.
One more note, which is a liturgical note—the words of Psalm 130 are intoned at every Vespers service, as verses in between the hymns of the day that are sung early in the Vespers service. Those who authored the services of the Church were wise to include this Psalm about forgiveness at the Vespers service, the service that begins the liturgical day, as a reminder that forgiveness should be part of every day, and that is a foundational part of every relationship, with one another, and most especially in our relationship with the Lord.
If we keep a scorebook of sins against others, or they keep one against us, no relationship will survive. If God keeps a record of our sins, there is no hope for salvation. Our hope for any relationship lies in our ability to forgive, as well as in the generosity of others, and of God, to forgive us.
Out of the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord! Lord, hear my voice! Let Thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If Thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plenteous redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all His iniquities. Psalm 130
Be easy to forgive others, just as God is easy to forgive us!