To overlook or let go of a wrong that has been done to us.

To overlook a debt that is owed to us.

After reading several dictionary definitions, the above is the definition of forgiveness in my own words. It is in simple words and is a good introduction to forgiveness; but it still falls short in my mind – there is still something missing. Then I found something interesting in a theology dictionary. In the Old Testament, apparently there are three Hebrew words that convey forgiveness. Two of those words refer only to divine forgiveness, but the third (nasa) “is used of both divine forgiveness and human forgiveness”[1] It means, “to bear” or take away [guilt].

To bear or take away guilt.

To bear has the connotation of carrying something. To forgive is to carry something – to carry the other person’s guilt.

That is exactly what Jesus did for us at the cross. He carried our guilt, the guilt of being sinful. He carried our guilt and paid the price for it so we could be forgiven. When we ask for it, God forgives us our sin because Jesus paid the price for it, took it away, on the cross. That is the divine forgiveness we experience.

What about human forgiveness? I think the idea of “forgiving and forgetting” can only go so far. It can be easy for small offenses, but in the case of a larger offense that affects us deeply, there are often permanent consequences that make “forgetting” impossible. What does forgiveness look like then?

I think that Hebrew word nasa holds the answer. “To bear” is choosing to carry or live with the consequences of that offense without holding bitterness in your heart against the offender. Jesus did it for us, and if we truly get that, we will desire to make that choice for those who have offended or sinned against us.

“…forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”

Sound familiar? It is from The Lord’s Prayer. But please notice, as NT Wright says, “this isn’t saying that we do this in order to earn God’s forgiveness. It’s a further statement of our loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom. Claiming this central blessing of the Kingdom only makes sense if we are living by that same central blessing ourselves.[2] If we don’t live forgiveness as Christians, we deny the very forgiveness and new existence extended to us. To not forgive others means we haven’t really grasped what God has done for us.

The kids are learning the Parable of the Prodigal Son this week (Luke 15:11-24). Wright suggests it could also be called the Parable of the Running Father. In the culture of Jesus’ time, older people walked slowly and with dignity; other people came to them. Imagine the Queen of England in yoga pants running out to greet people as they arrived for a banquet. This was the shock effect Jesus was using in the parable of the prodigal son with the father running to greet his returning wayward child – this child who has brought disgrace on his entire family. “Only when we understand why this man is running will we really understand what Jesus meant when he taught us to pray: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.[3]

This is what God does for us.




[1] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 460.

[2] Wright, T. The Lord and His Prayer (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 55.

[3] Wright, 50.