Lessons in Growth Meditations: 5. Fanciful Forgiveness
Mt 6:14,15 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
A Difficult Relational Aspect: In the previous study we started to consider how we have in the past viewed people and struggled with them, and how it is so easily transferred into the Christian life, and so it is another of those things where ‘death to self’ has to apply if we are to grow. But we concluded that there is another really big area to do with personal relationships that can be a hindrance to growth that we need to consider and it is that oft-raised subject of forgiveness. Now don’t shy away because I may have something different to say than you’ve heard before.
Abuse = Hurt = Injustice: The subject arises when someone offends you or abuses you or worse, and when some well-meaning preacher, with little thought, preaches, “You must forgive them!” everything in you screams out, “But it isn’t fair! It is unjust! They hurt me, they harmed me and that is wrong!” and I have to completely agree with you. So how do we handle it?
Traditional but Inaccurate Approach: The traditional and, I suggest, somewhat thoughtless and cheap approach, is to simply say, “Yes, they hurt you but the Bible teaches that you are to forgive them.” I immediately think of two examples, one of a Christian girl who was raped in her home by an intruder, and the other a family who lost loved ones in a terrorist attack. Both ‘hurt’ parties declared their simple forgiveness for the offenders. This then becomes a guilt laden area for the rest of us who struggle. (I also suggest their actions are unbiblical and diminish sin)
A Different Approach: The only trouble is that that is not what the Bible teaches. May I present an alternative to traditional thinking and simply ask that you check it out and see if it is reasonable. Put aside all emotions and consider what the Bible teaches. For instance at one point the apostle Paul wrote, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3:13) then there is apparently contradictory teaching: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7) and, “he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn 20:22,23). I have done a major study on this in the past, so may I present it as brief conclusions:
- The harm done to you was sin, and God is not casual about it. It need punishing.
- So important in God’s eyes is sin, that Jesus had to die on the Cross to take the punishment.
- God only forgives when we have repented.
- The forgiveness is available the moment we repent because Jesus died for those sins.
- Where the sinner never repents and never comes to Christ, the forgiveness may have been there waiting for them when they repented, but in the absence of that repentance, they still go to hell.
- Only God can in fact forgive, and it is a legal transaction based on the Cross, and so when we forgive it is simply ratifying what has already happened in heaven.
- (It is the same as blessing and loosing or releasing or binding in prayer; it is only real and effective when we are led by the Spirit to declare the will of heaven).
- True forgiveness can only be given when there has been repentance BUT while we are waiting for it – and it may take a long time to come or never come – we are to have a good attitude towards that person or persons, that desires the best for them
- This means we pray for them and do all we can to help them to come to a place of repentance, because at the moment they are living with an issue with God which will hinder blessing in their life (unconfessed and unacknowledged sin) and only their repentance can change that.
An Offender? Now it may be that you suddenly realise that you are in reality an ‘offender’ and you have unconfessed sin which will stop you growing, a sin against another, and you need to ask their forgiveness. Well, the way is open, unless you have completely lost contact with them, and you simply need to seek God’s grace to be able to say sorry to them.
Offended: But I am more aware, at the moment, of those of us who struggle with the remaining pain and the scream against ‘forgiving’. This is going to sound hard, I’m sorry, but put all that aside for the moment. The bigger question is can you get God’s grace to desire God’s best for that person? Yes, it will be them coming to repentance but why is that so important? It is because without it they are in a place where they are not receiving God’s best, they are not in a place of receiving His blessing and changing and feeling really good about life – because they still have an issue before Him that needs dealing with. Do you see this? In some ways this is harder that almost casually saying, ‘I forgive them,’ because we are dealing with spiritual realities here and the future of another person’s life.
Love for Enemies? Do you remember yesterday we considered Jesus’ teaching: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) It is probable that you still consider your ‘offender’ an enemy. Now on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Now so often I have heard that applied as ‘forgive everyone’ but the truth is that so often, if not mostly, your offender knew exactly what they were doing to you. In the Old Testament sacrificial law, in respect of sin or guilt offerings you read, “When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands….” (Lev 4:1 – also 4:13,22,27, 5:15,18 etc.) Intentional sin was much worse. So yes, Jesus’ words fitted the occasion but most occasions don’t match! But it still brings us back to praying for our offender, wanting the best of them, because God wants the best for them and will do all He can to bring them back to a right place – which includes their repentance. Can we have the same attitude?
A Seeker of Forgiveness: But then there is the equally big issue of forgiving another when they come saying sorry. For some of us this will be just as big a struggle. “It’s all very well for you to say sorry, but do you know the effect what you did (said) had on me that I’ve had to live with all this time?” Yes, it is natural to feel like that but we aren’t called to be natural but supernatural, for we have the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Having been through this from all angles in the past, I have concluded that if I had been the offender and I had come to repentance, how would I desire others to respond to me?
Do unto others…. Many years ago it happened to me and I repented of an outburst (provoked, but that is not the issue) and two close ‘colleagues’ said, “We can’t work with you,” and utterly rejected me. What I wished they had done – and it would have saved so much anguish all round later – would have been to say, “Old friend, we’re so sorry, what has happened to you to get you to come out with that? How can we help you? How can we help you get back into a good and right place?” but they didn’t, they knifed me. A learning exercise, which is why, whatever your sin, whatever your failure, I want to put my arms around your sobbing shoulders and say, “How can I help, how can I stand with you. I am here for you.” Jesus collected the sinners around him because he had care and compassion and forgiveness. Dare we be anything less?