Jesus said: “I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” -Matthew 18:18
Then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” -John 20:22-23
You probably know that the New Testament was originally written in Greek (yes, the same Greek that fraternities and sororities use for their names), but I’m guessing you don’t know this: the word for “forgive” is the same as the word for “release” or “loosen.” Let me repeat that: in Greek, “forgive” is the same as “let go.”
In other words, when you forgive, you are letting go. You let go of the right to get even. You let go of resentment. You let go of guilt. Letting go, my friends, is not easy. Certainly it isn’t as easy as Disney’s Elsa makes it look in her dramatic song.
When we don’t forgive and let go, our only other option is to hold on. We even talk about holding in the phrases we use: we “hold a grudge” or “hold guilt over” someone. The more we hold on and don’t forgive, the harder it is to let go. We also hurt ourselves when we hold on too tightly.
Don’t believe me? Try this: make a fist as tight as you can. Count to ten. Release your hand. Do you have marks where your fingernails dug into your palm? Are there red or white splotches where your clenched grip cut down your circulation? Did your muscles hurt from holding your fist tight? All that was only from ten seconds of holding a fist. Imagine how you’d feel after clenching your hand for a minute or an hour.
Make a fist again. Look at your hand. What can you do with it like this? All I can think of is fist bumps and punching. Fist bumps are pretty great, but otherwise all you can do with a fist is cause damage. Holding onto what’s been wrong instead of forgiving and letting go only causes damage, both to you and to the one you don’t forgive.
At the heart of the matter is this: what do you need to let go of? What are you holding so tightly that it’s only hurting you? What needs to be forgiven and released?
Often we fail to let things go because we aren’t really willing to forgive. If you’ve ever tried to let go of something only to find you are still holding tight to it, perhaps you really didn’t want to forgive. You can’t have it both ways, though. You can’t let go of your resentment while holding onto someone else’s guilt. You can’t hold onto a grudge and let go of the hurt someone caused you. You can’t forgive yourself and keep beating yourself up. Forgiveness is all-or-nothing.
That’s something, isn’t it? If forgiveness is an open hand reaching out and judgment is the fist threatening to hurt anyone deemed guilty, you can’t reach out with one hand and throw punches with the other. As Jesus said, if sins are forgiven, they are forgiven. Period.
This is true of God, too. When God forgives, it is complete. God’s not reaching out to you with one hand, waiting to sucker punch you with your leftover guilt. God’s not waiting around with fists raised, looking for sinners. Instead, God’s Holy Spirit is always letting go and forgiving. The Holy Spirit even forgives us when we screw up on forgiving!
God, I thank you for the complete forgiveness you give to me and all your people. Help me to let go and forgive just as you have forgiven my sin. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.