Last week, we looked at the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, as a bold move on God’s part to spread forgiveness to humanity, and to reconcile the human race to himself.
Last week’s assertion was that in our striving to be conformed to the image of Christ, forgiveness and reconciliation is integral to that striving. We further argued that our forgiving others is not optional, but that it is, rather, something God requires of us.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:14-15, ESV
But They Didn’t Repent
But what if they don’t repent? What if there is no godly-sorrow on their part? And what if they don’t ask me to forgive them? What then?
We forgive anyway. There is no clearer picture of this than what happened as Jesus was dying on the cross.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34a, ESV
In this one, brief statement, Jesus has asked the Father to forgive the men who were crucifying him as they were carrying out that crucifixion. They were nowhere near repentance, and certainly did not ask for his forgiveness, yet Jesus earnestly desired that they be forgiven.
Is it because Jesus needed that? Did he need to clear his conscience, or he need it for his own peace of mind and emotional well-being?
Jesus wanted the crowd to be forgiven, not because he needed them forgiven, but because they needed to be forgiven. It’s the same reason God forgives us, and the same reason we forgive those who sin against us.
Of course, it’s nice if they repent, but their repentance is not required for our forgiveness to be extended to them.
Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:13, BSB
Do not read too quickly past that closing qualifier. We are to forgive one another in the same way the Lord has forgiven us. That is a reality that should drive us to our knees. We forgive whether or not they repent, and whether or not they ask for it.
But That’s Like Saying it’s Okay
Another frequent objection to forgiving and instead holding tightly to my grudge is the idea that my forgiving a person is the same as saying their abuse is okay.
No. That is not the case.
Forgiving a person is not excusing their abuse or sin. Neither is it a statement that what they did was just fine. It was not fine. That’s precisely why it requires repentance on their part and forgiveness on ours. What is wrong is wrong. What is sin is sin.
Neither does forgiving the person prevent the abuse from happening again. It may. That’s why Jesus said we forgive ad infinitum. A single repentance/forgiveness scenario may play out numerous times before (if ever) coming to an end.
What it does mean is that we refuse to look at our offenders through condemning eyes. We refuse to throw their sin in their faces with each sunrise. We actively pray for them and serve them and work for God’s greatest good in their lives. In the case of another believer, we esteem them and honor them as a brother or sister in Christ.
A Word of Caution
When I speak of forgiving our offenders I need to be clear that I am not proposing that one should stay in an environment where personal, bodily well-being is at risk. Nothing in the call to forgive and reconcile requires us to remain in an environment of physical danger.
One who is suffering violent physical abuse needs to find refuge from that abuse.
If you are in such a place, find a trusted counselor, friend, or pastor who has expertise dealing with violent abuse. If necessary, get a restraining order to protect yourself, and possibly your children and grandchildren. In no way does an attempt at reconciliation require you to give in, or submit to abusive behaviors.
We can forgive seventy times seven, while maintaining a safe, protective distance.