Friday, February 15, 2013

Forgiving Each Day in Prayer

When I was doing my daily quiet time recently in the Book of Numbers, studying Numbers 28, I checked my notes on that chapter that I took a few years ago.  Numbers 28-29 is about the sacrifices that are offered on each day, each Sabbath, each new moon, and each festival.  In my notes on Numbers 28, one thing that I wrote was the following:

"Mark 11:25----forgive others when praying.  Matthew 6:11----prayer is daily.  Maybe God wants us to forgive others each day in prayer.  It is an occurrence----aorist----yet occurs each day."

I don't remember if I came up with that thought myself or learned it from somebody else (such as a renowned Christian commentator of the past, or a modern evangelical preacher, or both).  The connection between this point and Numbers 28 is that both are about honoring God each day.  Numbers 28 commands Israel (probably, more specifically, the priests) to offer sacrifices each day.  And Jesus presents prayer as a daily occurrence, since Matthew 6:11 asks God to give us this day our daily bread.

Forgiveness has long been a thorny subject with me, the reason being that I have a hard time doing it.  One time, in an evangelical small group, some students and I were talking about Matthew 6:14-15, which affirms that God will forgive us if we forgive others, and will not forgive us if we don't forgive others.  One lady said that she understood forgiveness to be a process rather than an act, and she said that how to understand "forgive" in Matthew 6:14-15 may depend on what the Greek word's form is: is it an imperfect, which describes a continuous action up to this point, or is it an aorist, which concerns a completed action?  Do we have to officially have forgiven someone----the action is complete----for God to forgive us?  I sincerely hoped not, for I could not really complete an act of forgiveness----I could forgive, and then I'd remember the reason I was mad at the person in the first place, and the unforgiveness would continue.

Incidentally, we did not have Greek New Testaments with us at that evangelical small group that day----although a couple of people in the group could read New Testament Greek.  When I checked the Greek word for "forgive" in Mark 11:25, Matthew 6:12, and Matthew 6:14-15, I saw some variety, as I beheld the word in the present, in the aorist subjunctive, and in the future.

But perhaps forgiveness could be a process, even when it is in the aorist subjunctive in Matthew 6:14.  There is an aorist of occurrence----which somehow I knew about when I wrote that note in my notebook.  An aorist can describe something simply happening, and we don't have to get bent out of shape about the aorist having to concern a completed act rather than a process.  When we come before God in prayer, we forgive others.  This forgiveness can be described as an occurrence.  And yet, we may very well have to repeat that act of forgiveness on multiple occasions.  I like what C.S. Lewis once said: it's not necessarily the case that we have to forgive a different sin against us seventy times seven; in many cases, we may have to forgive the same sin against us that many times!

But, in any case, prayer can be a forum for forgiveness, as we remind ourselves that we are sinners and need forgiveness from God and others, and therefore we should forgive others' sins against us.  And, if we find that we forgive the person and resentment creeps up again, we repeat the act of forgiveness in prayer.  Sometimes, our forgiveness of others will be more complete than at other times.  I think that God honors our efforts, not necessarily us being perfect in terms of forgiving others.

UPDATE: The meaning of the Greek word translated as "this day" in Matthew 6:11 is debated, for it is rare.  The following meanings are proposed by Gingrich on my BibleWorks: "daily, necessary for existence, for the following day, for the future."

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