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Thoughts and questions about forgiveness

In the fleshly realm, forgiveness represents everything humanity hates.

In a song about forgiving a cheating, lying wife, Lyle Lovett sings, “God does. But I don’t. God will, but I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.”

Forgiveness to some means surrender and endorsement. We won’t forgive until they’ve suffered sufficiently to appease our anger. But emotions are the cruelest creatures on earth and they can’t be trusted.

In truth, when we forgive, we’re not condoning the wrong or sin. In no way are we letting the sinner escape consequences or judgment. And it doesn’t mean we’re spineless or weak. Instead, forgiveness exhibits profound courage and strength.

Forgiveness is ultimately about the bigger picture of God’s plan for redemption. Will we have revenge or heaven in mind? In fact, a failure to forgive dooms our soul (Matthew 6:14-15).

When we put souls above vengeance, we’ve opened the door to spiritual peace. God “delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18, NKJV) and he’s “ready to pardon…and is slow to anger” (Nehemiah 9:17). He can even cleanse the vilest of sins (1 John 1:9; Isaiah 1:18).

People told Jesus about murdered Jews and Jesus replied, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). With crime, violence, accidents and disasters (Luke 13:4), all we can do is to ensure that we’re ready to meet judgment.

Repentance is essential to salvation (2 Peter 3:9; Luke 17:3-4). Yet, Jesus asked God to forgive the sins of his murderers without repentance (Luke 23:34) just a few chapters later. And Stephen certainly thought it could happen (Acts 7:60).

Must we wait for repentance before we forgive someone of a wrong or sin? People say that God can’t forgive sins without repentance therefore we can’t do so.

A more precise statement would be that he can and has but we can’t expect it to happen to us. We must be certain of our soul’s condition and repent. The stakes are too high (Matthew 25:46).

Forgiveness is also something we do for ourselves. Burrowing into a wrong done against us can be destructive. For our own mental health, we must let things go and let it slip away from our lives.

If we do so and no longer hold it against someone and relive it every time we see them, how is that different from forgiveness. We must protect our own well-being and have peace in our hearts.

What does it mean to forgive another person? In the absence of repentance, how can we not forgive and let things go so that it no longer corrodes our hearts?  We need to have these parameters and definitions clear in our minds.

The world is a cruel, heartless place and we must have faith and inner peace to endure the hardships (Hebrews 11:6; Psalm 23). Allowing a villain to reside in our minds is counterproductive to our Christian walk. We must let things go or be consumed by them.

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Richard lives in Florence, Alabama and is married to Deirdre. They have three daughters. He is an avid reader, devoted writer and lover of history and research. He is the author of "The Most Important Question" and is working on more books.

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts and questions about forgiveness

  1. Richard,
    What about Jesus’ statement in Luke 17:4 that “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Is forgiveness really possible without repentance? Can we forgive a person who does not want forgiveness?

    1. No. But if they refuse to repent, what then? That’s what we’ve not discussed enough. At that point, we can develop a grudge or what? We can let it go to protect our own mental health. What other options are there?

      1. If they refuse to repent, what then? That is the $64,000 question. Perhaps we can look to God for an example. What does He do when people refuse to repent? Does He carry a grudge? Does he strike out in anger and hatred? No. He continues to love us and exhort us to repent. Maybe we can strive for that. Another thing from Luke 17 that I think we fall short of is Jesus’ admonition to rebuke the offending brother. They say or do something against me and I sit and wait on him. Then I say he has not repented so I do not have to forgive him. Have I rebuked him? Appreciate your thoughts and always enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Richard, I have reached conclusions on this subject which, like yours, seem contradictory, at least on the surface. It is a complex, dare I say, even subjective matter at times. But I appreciate your heart, which also inclines toward the Lord’s, which is that, when I doubt, forgive; let go; extend mercy. God will sort our the rest. Very beautifully written. I was especially stirred by a couple statements: “Emotions are the cruelest creatures on earth,” and describing grudges as villains that live in our minds, were especially thoughtful and vivid to me. Well done.

  3. Great thoughts. It has taken me a long time to understand that I must separate my hatred for sin from the person who is sinning against me – this is agape
    It is how we can forgive w/out repentance
    It is how we can love our enemies
    We are not required to forget – even God does not forget, but here is what He does do that we can immulate: “…I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE” (Hebrews 8:12b). This verse, quoted from Jeremiah, does not mean God “forgets,” but rather, He will not hold the sins against them anymore — I can do this too!

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