Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Forgiveness

There are mistaken ideas of what it means to forgive. We can believe that some things are forgivable and others are not. G. K. Chesterton in one of his Father Brown mysteries (The Chief Mourner of Marne) describes a group of people who are vehement about forgiving a man who killed another man in a duel. But they change their minds completely when they find it was really a murder. The idea is that some things are forgivable and others are not. But God forgives us even though we were hostile to Him (Romans 5:6-10; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13-15). He also forgave King David for adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalms 32:1,2; 51:7-13). And we are to forgive as God forgives and not as we want to forgive (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; Matthew 6:12).
Another mistake is to believe forgiveness means justifying or minimizing the other person’s actions. Now there may be cases where we have misconstrued other people’s actions and need to correct our impressions of them. But this is not forgiveness. In fact, if we have misjudged them there is no longer the need for forgiveness. But it is simplistic to think that every bad thing done to us can be explained away as an innocent mistake. But the fact that we cannot excuse something does not mean we should not forgive it. God does not condone our sinful behavior (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), but He forgives us (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 3:24-26; Hebrews 9:12). It would not be surprising to find that people who have hurt us are less culpable than we think they are, but this is not the issue. Whatever their guilt is, we need to forgive them. Or this can get twisted the other way and we may hesitate to forgive someone because we are not really sure they did anything wrong. It is not required that we determine the level of another person’s guilt. Our job is simply to forgive, however much they may have wronged us. (There may be cases where, for other reasons, it is necessary to determine what really happened, but our forgiving must not depend on this. We may never know exactly what happened in every case.)

Nor does forgiveness necessarily mean we are obligated not to use reason. If a person repeatedly borrows money from you and never pays it back, you should forgive them, but that does not mean you are obligated to keep loaning them money. There may be a case where this might be the appropriate thing to do. But it depends on the circumstances. Our example here again is God. He loved us enough to paid a tremendous price to allow us to come to Him (1 John 4:9-11; John 3:16-18; Philippians 2:5-11). But He also requires just behavior from people (Romans 1:18; Acts 5:1-11; Matthew 18:15-17). Now how to balance the demands of mercy and justice in every instance may be difficult, but it is necessary.

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