Barriers to Repentance 1/7
by Shery Abdelmalak
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us
How easy it is for us to pray this daily while being detached from our brothers and sisters. By praying this, God has lowered Himself to our level so that He may elevate us to His.
He won’t forgive until I forgive? The thought of this question once distressed me. I know that my ability to forgive is flawed by my human nature, but My Lord, in His perfection, does not struggle to forgive the way I do. It’s not a matter of CAN He forgive. He can forgive, and He does. Even before you come to Him, He has forgiven you. What is not possible is to be united with God while we are not united with one another. Just as the father of the prodigal son waited earnestly for his son’s return, God waits earnestly for us to accept His forgiveness and to be reconciled and renewed in Him once more through repentance.
If forgiveness equates to love, then a lack of forgiveness equates to hate. Where there is hate, God could never co-exist.
A truly repentant heart does not struggle to forgive others. A repentant heart knows its own sin and knows that although they are not the true imitation of Christ, they strive to be more like Him daily. When you are just a work in progress yourself, you can forgive and pray for the faults you find in others, no matter how hurtful the sin may be. God is working in them, just as He works in you, even if it may seem like some require more work than others.
Often, we can see a fault in a person and this may drive us away from them. But to truly love with the spirit of repentance is to pray for them, to pray that God reveals the riches of His glory to them. To pray that they are strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man. To pray that Christ dwells in their hearts so they may comprehend the width, the length, the height, the depths of the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge (Ephesians 3:16-19). That level of love. Not trust, not a return to what your relationship once was, just Love.
We can love with worldly love but what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them (Luke 6:32). This kind of love is limited to worldly understanding. Anyone can love someone that has given them enough reason to love them. But we strive for Limitless Love that comes only from above. The type of love that suffers long and is kind. That does not envy nor parade itself nor is it puffed up. Does not behave rudely or seek its own. Does not envy. Is not provoked. Does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:4-6) – A Love that would lay down its life for its brethren. A Love like this does not concur with human understanding, but neither does the gift of grace in our salvation through Christ. This is the love that forgives unconditionally. Without it, there is no place for forgiveness.
Our lack of forgiveness generally comes from a good place. You were wronged. You were hurt. You didn’t deserve it. You are a good person and a bad thing happened to you that you couldn’t prevent. But Jesus was a good person, too. Jesus was wronged. Jesus was betrayed. Those that anticipated His coming for their salvation betrayed Jesus. More still, His own friends betrayed Him. Jesus was sacrificed, for a sin you and I committed. Now you want to go to God and tell Him that what was done to you was too much? God, being the kind and compassionate God that He is, surely He would understand that there is no way forgiveness is plausible. After everything Jesus did for you, you can forgive. Not for the sake of the one who harmed you, but for His.
There is a hurt however, that is far beyond my own understanding. I by no means think that you should just get over it because Jesus went through worse. Jesus did go through worse, not so you could feel ashamed when you struggle to forgive, but so you know that no one can offer you empathy and compassion quite like Him. The very fact that you come to Him when you cannot forgive is credited to you. Some wrongs may take weeks or months or years of prayer but do not be disheartened, but rather, put on the whole armour of God that you may stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). Fight to forgive. Don’t pretend like everything is okay, don’t pretend that you were not hurt, don’t pretend that you don’t remember the hurt because you cannot handle coming to terms with what it means to you.
Robert Dean Enright says, “When unjustly hurt by another, we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to the resentment, but by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence and love (2).” Fr David Milad (2015) explains this as forgiveness through an acknowledgement of what was done to you and the conscious decision to positively work through the situation in order to grow spiritually. Compassion, benevolence and love is the goal of repentance. This really is all He ever wanted from us – to spread His love through forgiveness to His children. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.“ (Luke 6: 35)
When struggling to forgive another, it is important not to lose sight of what you can control – your own sins and your own repentance. To repent, in its most basic form of the word, is to say you’re sorry. Even when you are stuck in the hurt of sins committed against you. If so, start by saying you’re sorry. Say you’re sorry for your blind ignorance that is yet to see its own sin. Start small and ask Him to reveal your sin to you. That small step you take toward repentance, is one small step that you have taken toward Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). You will feel His peace the closer you draw to Him, so for that reason, repent.
May we repent so that we can pray in all sincerity, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Glory be to God forever, Amen.