"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

Small Group Study: Forgiveness

With a friend, a small group, or in individual study, walk through the Bible and explore forgiveness. As you consider the different messages from different books, spend time in prayerful introspection asking “What can I learn here? What resonates? What is God trying to teach me or warn me about forgiveness in this reading?”

There are so many angles, questions, and implications of forgiveness. We invite you to explore a sampling of what the Bible says about forgiveness with insights from Emanuel Swedenborg. As you consider the different messages from different books, spend time in prayerful introspection asking What can I learn here? What resonates? What is God trying to teach me or warn me about forgiveness in this reading?

Click on a week, below, to see an outline for the weekly group meeting.

Week one: exploring forgiveness

Readings

“When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.” (Psalm 65:3)

“But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them.” (Nehemiah 9:17)

“… to forgive one who sins against you is of charity….” (Apocalypse Explained 746:15)

“The Divine mercy is pure mercy towards the whole human race, to save it. It is also unceasing towards every person, and is never withdrawn from anyone; so that everyone is saved who can be saved. And yet no one can be saved except by Divine means, which means have been revealed by the Lord, in the Word. The Divine means are what are called Divine truths, which teach how people must live in order to be saved. By these truths the Lord leads people to heaven, and by them He implants in people the life of heaven. This the Lord does with all. But the life of heaven can be implanted in no one unless he abstains from evil, for evil obstructs. So far, therefore, as a person abstains from evil, the Lord leads him out of pure mercy by His Divine means, and this from infancy to the end of his life in the world and afterwards to eternity. This is what is meant by the Divine mercy. Hence it is clear that the mercy of the Lord is pure mercy, but not immediate, that is, it does not look to saving all out of mere good pleasure, however they may have lived” (Heaven and Hell 522)

“Another popular misconception is that when sins have been forgiven they are also set aside. This misconception is characteristic of people who believe that their sins are forgiven through the sacrament of the Holy Supper even though they have not set them aside by repenting from them. It is characteristic also of people who believe they are saved by faith alone or by papal dispensations. They all believe in direct mercy and instant salvation. When the sequence is reversed, though, it is true: when sins been set aside, they are forgiven. Repentance must precede forgiveness, and part from repentance there is no forgiveness.” (Divine Providence 280)

Discussion questions

What are your current impressions of forgiveness? (A one time event? A forgone conclusion? Something you earn? Always available? Something you offer? Impossible?)

What questions do you have? What do you like or dislike about the concept?

What puts you off or draws you in about forgiveness?

Task

This week focus on where you notice forgiveness in your week. Where do you notice a resistance to forgiving? When are moments you forgive easily? Are there past resentments you have not forgiven?

Week 2: what the Books of Moses say about forgiveness

Readings

Genesis 50:15-21

Exodus 34:4-11

Numbers 14:17-24

“Internal people, as the angels of heaven are, do not wish the retaliation of evil for evil, but from heavenly loving-kindness they forgive freely….” (Apocalypse Explained 556:8)

Discussion Questions

What is your impression of what ‘forgiveness’ looks like in these ancient books? Is it similar or different from what you expected? What do you notice in these stories?

Have you ever experienced someone purposefully wanting to harm you? Did the Lord bring goodness out of it? Share your story.

Task

Be slow to anger. When you notice anger stirring in you, consciously remember how the Lord is ‘slow to anger, abounding in love’ and invite these qualities into your life.

Week three: the poetry of forgiveness (Solomon's prayer)

Readings

1 Kings 8:22-61

Discussion questions

What are beautiful moments of offering or asking for forgiveness that you have seen in literature, cinema, poetry? What is so beautiful about these moments?

Have you experienced the beauty of forgiveness in your life? In your heart? Have you seen a parent, friend, coworker, or acquaintance offer forgiveness with dignity and grace?

Share stories (no names please) of these moments, it might help to visualize forgiving more in our own lives.

Task

Spend time journaling a message of forgiveness, whether asking for forgiveness, or offering forgiveness, whether to God or man. Do this exercise with a prayerful heart and invite the Lord’s compassionate quality to flow through you.

Week four: what the Psalms and Proverbs say about forgiveness

Readings

“Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.(Psalm 79:8-9)

“Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.” (Psalm 78:38)

“You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.” (Psalm 86:5-7)

“Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”(Psalm 103:1-5)

“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)

Discussion questions

Describe times in history when sins have been passed on from generation to generation. When are moments when you feel quick to anger? Have you experienced being slow to anger?

When you are distressed to whom/what do you turn? Do you call a friend? Pray? Escape in media?

Have you ever lost a friend because one of you was unwilling to forgive? What would it be like to forgive in that situation? Would it be possible? Worth it?

Task

Call on the Lord when you find yourself distressed. Spend time in prayer.

Week five: what the prophets say about forgiveness

Readings

“But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them.” (Nehemiah 9:17)

“At that time the Lord, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, called you to weep and mourn. He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins and to wear clothes of burlap to show your remorse. But instead, you dance and play; you slaughter cattle and kill sheep. You feast on meat and drink wine. You say, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!’ The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has revealed this to me: ‘Till the day you die, you will never be forgiven for this sin.’ That is the judgment of the Lord, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” –(Isaiah 22: 12-14)

“Lord, your discipline is good, for it leads to life and health. You restore my health and allow me to live! Yes, this anguish was good for me, for you have rescued me from death and forgiven all my sins.” (Isaiah 38:17)

“Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.” (Isaiah 55:7)

“They will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

“O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your city bear your name.” (Daniel 9:18-19)

“Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for your sins have brought you down. Bring your confessions, and return to the LORD. Say to him, Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises.” (Hosea 14:1-2)

“I have heard from heaven that the Lord forgives to everyone his sins, and never takes vengeance nor even imputes sin, because He is love itself and good itself; nevertheless, sins are not thereby washed away, for this can be done only by repentance. For when He told Peter to forgive until seventy times seven, what will not the Lord do?” (True Christian Religion 409)

Discussion questions

What is the nature of this unforgiving God portrayed in Isaiah? Does it say more about God or the people?

How do you reconcile this with other scripture on God’s forgiveness?

Task

Return to the Lord. Though you (or those around you) have fallen away from God through your choices, return again, and again, and again. Accept the compassion the Lord has for you and share that compassion with others.

Week six: what the gospels say about forgiving others

Readings

John 20:19-23

“Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12,14, 15)

“Then Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!’” (Matthew 18:21-22)

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” (Mark 11:25)

“Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.” (Luke 11:2-4)

“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

“The Lord… said that we should not forgive our brother or sister up to seven times but up to seventy times seven. This means that we should forgive as often as our brother or sister sins, without limit, or to eternity, which is holy” (Secrets of Heaven 433)

“… it is by command of the church that everyone ought to forgive his brother or neighbor…” (Secrets of Heaven 6561)

“… to forgive is not to regard anyone from evil but from good….” (Secrets of Heaven 7697)

Discussion Questions

What surprises you about Jesus’ message?

How do you think it was received at that time?

What is your response?

Task

Spend time meditating Matthew 18:21-22. Commit this scripture to memory. Pray for a willingness to forgive others that you might forgive without limit.

Week seven: what the gospels say about Jesus forgiving us

Readings

Matthew 9:1-8

Matthew 26:28-30

Mark 2:1-12

Luke 7:36-50

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” (Mark 11:25)

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)

“There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’” (Luke 23:32-34)

“It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’”(Luke 24:47)

“’I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.’ He told them this because they were saying, ‘He’s possessed by an evil spirit.’” (Mark 3:28-30)

“The Lord forgives everyone his sins, because He is mercy itself. Nevertheless they are not forgiven by this unless the person performs serious repentance, and desists from evils, and afterward lives a life of faith and charity, and this even to the end of his life. When this is done, the person receives from the Lord spiritual life, which is called new life” (Secrets of Heaven 9014)

Discussion Questions

What does Jesus teach about our forgiveness? Is it earned? Freely given?

How did people at that time respond to His message? What is your response?

What questions do you have about these readings? How do they impact they way you live? How you treat others? What is your understanding of the ‘unforgiveable sin’?

Task

Take a look at your life and consider any behaviors that are barriers to the Lord’s love flowing in. Spend time in prayer and take action today to remove those barriers to free up space for the Lord’s compassionate presence.

 

Full issue

Daily Inspiration

"Real innocence is wisdom because to the extent that we are wise we want to be led by the Lord, or what amounts to the same, to the extent that we love being led by the Lord, we are wise."

Heaven and Hell 341