Forgiveness Matters


These days, we’ve got some mighty squishy ideas about forgiveness.

Jeff Crippen recently wrote another brain-niggling article over at A Cry for Justice titled,  The Lord is Merciful and Gracious but He Does Not Forgive His Enemies:

Every victim of abuse, especially Christians, know what it is like to be pushed and prodded with “as a Christian, you are required by God to forgive your abuser.” Too often this pressure includes the demand that the victim reconcile with the abuser, and it leads to being deceived by the typical false repentance abusers love to claim for themselves. Here is the principle:

“God does not forgive His enemies. He never has, and He never will. As His children in Christ, we are to reflect His character and attributes. Therefore, this has profound implications for how we deal with our enemies, who are also the enemies of the Lord.”

And a followup article here to clarify a bit more:

Now, think about this. Do YOU have authority to forgive sin? I mean, do you possess that authority and ability within your own self, simply because you are you? No. Any authority given to any human being to forgive sin is really authority that resides in Christ alone. When we pronounce a person’s sins forgiven, it is only because we do so by the authority of the Word of God. The sinner is not forgiven because of my words, but because of Christ. This is why there is forgiveness only in Christ and nowhere else. Ultimately, if a person will not have Christ, then their sins remain unforgiven. Only Christ can forgive sin, and He can do so only because of His work of redemption for us.

Acts 26:19-21, Matthew 3:7-8

First off, let’s make a distinction between those who genuinely repent and, as a result, bring forth works of repentance. These we are urged–make that, required to forgive if we want our own sins forgiven when we repent ourselves.

As believers in Christ, we have repented right? We’ve agreed with God that our selfish, unloving actions harm others. We’ve agreed with God that His authority on the matter is righteous no matter how much we might squirm, no matter how we try to justify our gluttony, gossip, lust or murder. If we have not repented, the point is mute. If we continue to cling to our own sin, thinking we know better than our Creator, all bets are off,  just saying.

But when we approach the throne in genuine repentance, willing to accept the consequences of our actions here on earth, ready and willing to make full restitution for the harm we’ve done, fully trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus to restore us to fellowship with the Father, then we must forgive those who have done the same.

Apologizing is fine when you bump someone in the checkout line. It’s great when you’re late to a doctor’s appointment and the nurse looks pissed whilst holding instruments both sharp and pointy. In fact, it’s a really good idea for all manner of thoughtless bumping about in any area of everyday life. But an apology is not sufficient when we sin against each other.

I’m sorry but saying sorry does not equal repentance.

In this day of  inch-deep, pop-christian culture, apologizing is nothing but cheap emotional blackmail to lure the naive and undiscerning into dropping their guard for a better shot on the next go-round.

By definition, an enemy  has not repented. They took up arms against us, intent on our harm and destruction and the fact that they are still an enemy means they have not laid them down. They do not believe they need to repent and they will rip us apart at the first glimmering opportunity. In fact, they fully believe they are justified in their actions and if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll see the apology dance as just one more weapon in an overstuffed arsenal.

The Priesthood of the Saints

I’ve come to see forgiveness as a sacrament– something extended to others as part of our inheritance and position in Christ. After His resurrection, Jesus said this:

John 20: 22, 23

22 And having said this, He breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit!

23 [Now having received the Holy Spirit, and being [b]led and directed by Him] if you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained.

Its a lot harder to discern true repentance and to struggle before the throne with our responsibility as a child of the King. Instead of offering a blanket of easy forgiveness for every offense, how about we trot ourselves into our Father’s presence and present our case?

What if this Christian life is more than just a sanctified spreadsheet of good works to check off before departure? ( Forgive everybody? check. Love my enemies? check. Cast out demons? check.) What if being a born again, child of God involves a relationship with our own High Priest where we must hear His voice, stay before Him until we know His heart and then faithfully obey His righteous judgements?

What if learning and growing in this intimate relationship with the Divine is the key to bringing the Kingdom of Heaven here to earth?

In no way does this negate our personal accountability before God. We are to guard our hearts, allowing Him the space and time to do His job and trusting that He will,  refusing to seek personal reckoning or vengeance and guarding against  a root of bitterness that might take hold and spring up, defiling many. These are all personal, internal, heart issues. Before our own Master we stand or fall. And so do our enemies.

Its a whole lot harder to wrestle with our own fallen nature, our own desire for vengeance, our anger, bitterness and wrath before the heavenly court.

Maybe it’s time we grow up.

4 responses »

  1. I was (so glad it’s over) in a marriage that was filled the pornography, adultery and abuse. I got so sick of hearing ‘i’m sorry’ after he got with either the porn or his envolvement with his mistress. His ‘sorry’ was as equivelent to that of braking a glass or forgeting to do something. And because my view on forgiveness was distroted I forgave his “sorry” for having sex with another women. And to show that I had the next second we were having sex. I figured since I drove him to that behavior I needed to make it up to him that way.

    Even after I left I really battled with “one shows forgiveness by reconciling.” Now I now that is not the case. The mind really has a way of playing tricks. As I begin to get better thoughts like “well you’re getting better now, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go back.” The easiest thing would have been to give in to such suggestions because I spent many years just giving in. The challenge now saying “no” and talking back to such chatter. Yes I forgive and yes I refuse to hold a grudge, and be bitter. But ‘no’ I am not going to ever go back.


    • Some things get fogged over badly when we’re in the middle of this stuff (like the difference between an apology and repentance.) Plus my abuser was the one defining the terms. “It is what I say it is.”

      *He* got to say what I could and could not do. *He* told me if I had the right to be upset. *He* defined abuse and declared himself blameless. One of the hardest things after leaving was learning to think for myself again. I had to recognize that my experiences were real (the actually happened whether he denied them or not) and valid (I was entitled to my feelings whether he agreed or not).

      No one could experience them for me and no one but me had to suffer the consequences.

      I do think these teachings on forgiveness are important although they go beyond what we’ve been taught for so many years. Its hard for me to make the distinctions myself but its the struggle that causes growth.

  2. Great comments, Ida Mae…

    I spent 32 years “forgiving” my ex-husband’s abuse. I was the Queen of Forgiveness.
    Recently, I made the mistake of engaging in a conversation with him on the phone (I KNOW better!)

    As he was calling me “bitter and angry and unforgiving” for divorcing him and telling me (for the millionth time) that he’s changed now; I was trying to defend myself and said “I forgave you for 32 years…” And he said, “Yes, but, that 33rd year you didn’t.” Unreal.

    I release him of the 32 years of pain that he will NEVER re-pay me for.
    He will face the Lord and answer to Him.

    • HA! Renee, that *is* funny. I heard the same thing almost word for word and not just from the husband (because I was refusing to have any contact with him) but from those he went to after I left to whine about how mean I was to him.

      I spent three decades forgiving, asking him to get help, go with me to counseling, consider how his actions were destroying the family and he refused categorically because ‘he didn’t I have a problem, I did.” When I finally left after countless attempts to find some way we could just make it through no matter how bad the marriage, he ranted and raved and squealed that I was ‘refusing to reconcile’ and ‘refusing to go to counseling’ and ‘hardening my heart.’ That *he* was ‘doing all the right things’ and I had left my first love and was now in danger of hell fire.

      What is it with these guys? Don’t they get it? There are consequences to our actions– his, mine, everyone who walks the earth. If you continue to smash at your wife with a sledge hammer, eventually she just might grow a backbone and walk away before it kills her. End of story.

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