It is not unusual for me to hear this kind of worry: “Uh-oh, I had better forgive or else I will not be forgiven by God and so I am eternally condemned.” Yet, as I have studied this particular belief system to see if I can alleviate that worry, I find that many people misunderstand these issues coming from faith. In reflecting on the religious exhortation to forgive, I am convinced that the kind of thinking described here is incorrect.
Take, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer in the Christian faith, in which people ask to be forgiven only as they forgive. Taken out of context by focusing exclusively on this one theme in the prayer, this idea seems to be a grim and perhaps scary command.
Yet, in its broader context, it is all about love. After all, the one who is praying begins with one of the most intimate and loving set of words by saying, “Our Father.” In other words, the one who prays is saying, “I am in a loving relationship. My loving Father values forgiving. I, too, out of love, want to do the same. As I love my Father, I will forgive and be forgiven.” This is a petition of love to uplift, not a grim obligation to bring a person down. The motivation here is to love God and to show it by forgiving.
For more information, listen to Dr. Enright discuss forgiveness from a religious perspective as a guest on The Drew Mariani Show, a production of Relevant Radio.