For people who know them, the details remain obscured within the shadows of history. Decades ago a passionate scene had vividly unfolded as anger spew forth. Words and actions understood as a personal attack had cut deeply. Today, just mentioning “that name” will illicit a slight wince and either silence or the simple statement, “I can’t ever forgive that person.” The wound still cuts deep.
If you dare allow yourself to briefly step into this victim’s shoes, at first glance the gospel can challenge your sense of justice. On a Sunday morning a preacher proclaims to a crowded room Jesus’ death and resurrection whereby we can be saved. As his invitation to respond to Jesus concludes, the victim suddenly sees “that woman” who has caused so much pain unexpectedly walk forward to rely upon Jesus for salvation. Moments later as she is standing waste deep in water draped in dripping wet clothes, the preacher announces, “You have been forgiven forever.” What?
Instantaneously objections fly forth. “She can’t get off that easy; it’s just not fair! Somehow she needs to pay for how hateful and venomous she has been. Others have suffered greatly because of her sin and now she simply gets to walk away unscathed and lovingly embraced? Forgiven forever? It just can’t be that easy!”
Echoing through the years from a cross-encrusted hill encased in darkness, a faint voice whispers in agony, “Her evil did not get off easily. Justice is being served through blood and death.”
Then the voice falls silent. It is because of that cross that the apostle Paul would pen: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21), and that those who are putting on the new self are to forgive just as in Christ God has forgiven them (Ephesians 4:29).
We rejoice at the prospect that we will be forgiven forever. But what feelings do we have about God’s grace spilling forth from the cross to forgive forever those who have sinned against us? Regardless of how we might feel, the path illuminated by the cross is clear:
“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 you sins.” — Jesus
Forgiveness isn’t that easy.