In the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us our sins or trespasses “as we forgive those who sin against us”.  We are saying we wish God to treat us in the same way we treat other people!  God is merciful and forgives our sins and failings (Numbers chapter 14 verse 18).

In the same way, the Lord’s Prayer assumes, we must be merciful and forgive other people who sin against us or do us harm.  Christians forgive because they know themselves to be forgiven (Ephesians chapter 4 verses 32).

Unfortunately, as we know,  people frequently find it difficult to apologise to other people, or to forgive each other.  Jesus gave us an example of how this was done in his Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke chapter 15 verses 11-32).   An even more potent example of this is his forgiveness of his persecutors as he hung upon the cross.  Forgiveness is fundamental to the character of God. Throughout the Bible, God is described as slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin (Numbers 14:18).

Bearing a grudge and seeking revenge are never appropriate responses to a perceived wrong. A grudge destroys the grudge-holder with bitterness, and revenge only escalates hostilities. Jesus told us we must reconcile with our adversaries, forgive their  transgressions, and let go of the anger that may tempt us to commit an act of revenge:

I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew chapter 5 verses 43-45).  

On another occasion (Matthew chapter 18 verse 21) Peter (who probably feels he is being very generous) asks Jesus if he should forgive someone as many as seven times before he cracks.  As Peter was known for his hot temper, forgiving someone this many times would have been a supreme act of will.  Jesus’ shocking answer is that no, you must forgive seventy times seven—this does not literally mean that when someone irritates you for the 491st time you can thump him at last, it is actually an expression meaning “forever”.  In other words, “When can I stop forgiving?” “Never!”

Forgiveness cannot be given or received unless it is asked for, and the asking must be genuine and from the heart. Too often ‘sorry’ is said very easily  (by adults as well as children), implying: ‘All I need to do is say I’m sorry and everything will be OK’. Real repentance demands that we take what we have done wrong with the utmost seriousness and have a deep desire not to do it again.

If you look back at the laws in the Old Testament you will see  that forgiveness literally requires sacrifice. Of course, animal sacrifices are no longer offered, in our worship, but the message of this action remains true— that forgiveness is costly to all involved. Once we understand that, forgiveness can be truly liberating both for the person who is forgiven and for the person who forgives.

Forgiveness in School

In school this Christian value relates particularly to repairing damaged relationships and conflict resolution.

Ethos

  • Do children and adults know that whatever they do, forgiveness is possible?  (“Love the sinner but not the sin.”)  Or is there the sense that someone can be forgiven thus far and then no further?
  • How are pupils reconciled to the school community—do they know themselves to be forgiven once they have come to terms with any wrongdoing?
  • How are people encouraged to realise that if we make mistakes we can ask for forgiveness from God, as well as from each other?
  • How are pupils involved in decisions relating to sanctions and behaviour?
  • How are adults and children helped to understand the issues when inappropriate or challenging behaviour on the part of others affects their own learning?
  • Is forgiveness seen by adults and children as an action of strength or of weakness?
  • Do we seek to build a world where every child is allowed the freedom to explore, to make mistakes and to grow?
  • How does the school build a culture where all are accepted?

 Worship

  • Is there an appropriate opportunity in worship for people to say sorry or to acknowledge things of which they are ashamed?
  • What rituals could you develop in school to mark forgiveness and reconciliation (without humiliation)?
  • Does the school have the opportunity to hear the stories of God’s love and forgiveness?   How do you celebrate that nothing is beyond God’s forgiveness?

Curriculum

  • In RE does forgiveness and reconciliation figure in your teaching on the understanding of the cross?
  • Where in the curriculum do pupils learn about the complex nature of forgiveness and  its place in relationships?
  • How are pupils helped to empathise with the pain and hurt of others?
  • Where do pupils learn about the need for forgiveness between communities e.g. rival families, Israel / Palestine?

Leadership

  • How does the school respond to parents who object to children (other than their own) being forgiven and reinstated after extreme actions?
  • Do we make sure that our own or others’ differences of opinion, shortcomings or mistakes do not come  between us and those with whom we work?
    • Do we work to ensure that no child is disqualified from a good childhood?
    • Where are the opportunities for staff to speak to someone in confidence about the things that trouble them?
    • Is exclusion compatible with Christian reconciliation?
    • What is the balance between sanctions and forgiveness in the school behaviour policy?