Thursday, December 9, 2010

Forgive and Forget

Forgiveness is a central theme of Christianity. As it applies to the forgiveness of man's sin by God, there seems to be little dispute about why it is imperative (at least among Christians). The subject of how forgiveness applies to wrongs committed by one man against another, seems to be one fraught with more misunderstanding.

When dealing with wrongs committed by one man against another, they are of two possible types. The first concerns a Christian wronging another Christian. I don't intend to address that here, because frankly, I just have a hard time seeing how such a situation could last very long if the first biblical command concerning such a situation is followed. Namely Matthew 18: 15. Really, that is all that should be required to iron out issues between two Christians.

The second concerns a Christian being wronged by a non Christian. I suppose that means there is another type; a non Christian wronging another non Christian, but since neither of them would be too concerned with what the Bible teaches, there is not much point considering them here.

Matthew 18:21-22 "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."

Mark 11:25 "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses"

These seem to be the verses upon which many Christians base their understanding of forgiveness. Often Christians are told that they must unconditionally forgive others for the sake of their own health and so that their sins can be forgiven. While there are certainly elements of truth to that viewpoint, as with much of the Christian life, there is a balance that needs to be found, and that balance is to be found in a multitude of scriptures.

The passage from Matthew 18 quoted above should be read in light of a similar passage in Luke.

Luke 17:3-4 "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him."

the passage in Luke does not conflict with the one in Matthew, but it certainly adds more information. Obviously, without Luke 17:3-4, one would have to come to the conclusion that you are to forgive those who have wronged you no matter what.... unconditionally. But in light of Luke 17, we see that forgiving the wrongdoer 490 times would be dependant on 490 repentings (repentances?).

Also note that both of these verses refer to forgiving your brother. That means another Christian. If you both have the same Father, you are brothers. Non Christians have another father, which Jesus pointed out to the scribes and Pharisees in John 8. As Bob Dylan wrote; you're going to have to serve somebody; it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you're going to have to serve somebody. Strictly speaking, these passages about forgiving your brother are not directly applicable to a wrong done to you by a non believer.

That is not to say that a believer is free to hold a grudge or seek revenge on an unbeliever. The Bible is quite clear in Romans 12:19 where it is stated: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."

I must admit that contemplating the above verse does more than anything else to soften my inclination to being infuriated with someone who has wronged me, whether a real or imagined offence. Somehow any type of vengeance that I may contemplate pales to insignificance next to the wrath which awaits them for offending a Holy God!

So, where does that leave us? An unbeliever has wronged you. What is your biblical duty? Your duty is to leave revenge (including defamation) to the Lord. Once you have made a commitment to God that you will not seek to be the instrument of vengeance, you have forgiven.

If the unbeliever who has wronged you comes to you and asks forgiveness, then by all means grant him that. If you have actually left vengeance up to the Lord, as described above, then it will be easy.

Lacking repentance on the part of the offending party, do you need to seek them out to let them know you have forgiven them? I don't find that in the Bible. Correct me if I am wrong. Is it necessary to resume fellowship with them, even if they ask your forgiveness? I don't think so. In fact, that may be contrary to scripture. 2 Corinthians 6:14 comes to mind: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?"

The bottom line is that forgiveness, in all of its forms, requires that God be involved. A believer forgiving an unbeliever requires leaving vengeance to God. A believer forgiving another believer requires the same, plus repentance and a restoration of fellowship. But the big one is God forgiving me. God forgiving you. That required the shedding of the blood of his own Son. Suddenly those things that others may have done to offend us don't seem quite so serious anymore.

No comments: