When Moses wants to know more of God, his humility makes God’s response possible – and we learn that God is characterized by loving kindness and tender mercy. The two Hebrew words behind those phrases function like twin North stars throughout the rest of the Old Testament, guiding the children of Israel, and anyone reading over their shoulder, to the truth about God. Nowhere does that truth come more into focus than in the person of Jesus – the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. In fact, John says, those same two words provide the sum and substance of Jesus: Grace and Truth.
Those wild and wonderful and challenging words have a life of their own – so God puts them into action, summed up in one word: forgiveness. Forgiveness is grace actualized, truth embodied, kindness embodied, mercy enfleshed… Love with skin on. The Psalmists celebration in Psalm 130 echoes deeply, “If you, oh LORD, kept a record of sins, oh Lord, who could stand? But, with You, there is forgiveness; therefore, you are held in awe.”
Forgiveness is God’s primary orientation to us – He acts to forgive before we know to ask; His acting makes our asking possible – and repentance flows out of the wound of kindness. Jesus naturally prays out of the same heart on the cross – and we are the beneficiaries of His prayer, receiving the forgiveness of the Father.
But forgiveness is not just how God relates to us – it is how He expects us to relate to ourselves, and to those around us. Jesus makes this clear in the Lord’s Prayer by linking our being forgiven with our forgiving, reinforcing it with strength. Forgiveness becomes our primary way of orienting ourselves to people like us – flawed, failing, flailing, wounding others having been wounded ourselves, and suffering the wounds of others wounded. Forgiveness is perfect for people like us – it is the only way to move past the small and great hurts that are inevitable in community.
We are never more like Christ, never more the Image of God, then when we forgive. Forgiving is a fundamental part of learning to Rule in Jesus’ Name – relating to others as Jesus would, were He us. Forgiveness has the property of healing – absorbing the pain and shame of the wounded, isolating and ending the toxic cycle of revenge. To forgive well, we must know who we are, and Whose we are. But then, the sky is the limit!