Forgiveness is a crucial element of The Lord’s Prayer, and it always carries both vertical and horizontal applications. “Forgive us our debts” Jesus said in Matthew 6:12—a vertical, us-to-God appeal. Then he said, “…As we have also forgiven our debtors”—a horizontal, us-to-others commitment.
Jesus emphasized this dual application immediately after ending his prayer, saying, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). That seems to be a lot riding on an attitude of forgiveness! So what does it mean to forgive?
The Greek word translated “forgive” in Matthew 6:12 of our English Bibles is aphiēmi. Its literal meaning is, “to send away.” The image, then, is that of God picking up all the wrongs we’ve done and hurling them into nonexistence. This is something the Old Testament refers to as God sending our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (see Psalm 103:12). It’s as if, when we pray “Forgive us…,” we ask God to perform a miracle, flinging our sins like a cosmic baseball so far away that they cease to exist, therefore absolving us of the required punishment for those sins. And that’s what he does in response to our prayer.
What’s even more amazing about this miracle of forgiveness is its ability to transform everything and everyone it touches.
When God pours his forgiveness over the life of a man or woman, he not only answers the “Forgive us…” plea found in Matthew 6:12, he also empowers that man or woman to fulfill the second part of that verse, “…as we have also forgiven…” We are transformed by the experience of God’s selfless forgiveness, which in turn opens the door for us to be changed again through the act of forgiving others.
What this means for you and I is this: The shackles of our hurtful experiences aren’t ones we have to wear. We can “send away” that pain by seeking God’s forgiveness first—and then gratefully choosing to forgive others in turn.
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