Forgiveness

Many sentiments can be found out in Christian writing with regards to the subject of forgiveness; some of them are quite fine, and (hopefully) Scripture needs no introduction on the matter.

I feel the need, however–a huge need–to speak on matters distinctly missing on the subject of forgiveness due to the lack of sincerity of Christian culture.

I’ve shared my weaknesses, hurts and grievances to other believers. There’s a huge, huge difference between the interactions you’ll get when speaking about such personal matters with close friends who are truly (at least somewhat) in your life and then those who are playing their Christian charades. My experience with the latter is, they love–just love–to jump on top of you and give a wishy-washy, high-handed, canned, and possibly brow-beating lecture on how you need to forgive the person; not a speck of interest in the matter at hand that actually needs forgiving, let’s get back to the Sunday morning charades in the spectacle of singing and sitting uninterrupted by anything actually going on in the Body of Christ–which is meant to thoroughly take care of itself as the body does, and function and move like the body does.

Someone who actually cares about you, however, shows compassion. Your hurt is their hurt. They bear with you. When you’re with such a person, you know that you matter; and consequently, you know that it matters when you are hurt. You know that a sin committed against you is a big deal.

Now, which one of those is Christ? Does he command us to forgive? Of course, but he’s also the friend who loves you, as he made you and died for you. He cares about sins against you because a precious life was done harm, and sin–including the sin committed against you–is the reason why he’s coming back ready to burn the world in judgment.

Consider when we ask God for forgiveness. We are commanded to confess our sins (1 John 1:9); when we ask for forgiveness, we embrace the knowledge of the sheer harm that our sin has done. Otherwise, what is it that we are asking God to forgive?

In the exact same way, there is an important step of forgiveness that is missing in virtually every discussion of forgiveness I’ve ever encountered: a full appreciation for the debt–against YOU–that you need to forgive. When someone is not afforded any notion of justice for the harm done to him, that proclaims that he is worthless, that harm done to him doesn’t matter. How, then, will such a person forgive if no one is really in his debt but he’s simply made to be abused and sinned against?

Jesus’ golden rule was, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) So furthermore, If you’ve internalized this idea (even unconsciously) that you’re intended just to be kicked around and that nothing is wrong with the sin against you, what will stop you from passing that on to other people as well? The core matter is that we understand injustice itself, whether it’s against us or others, which is all ultimately sin against God’s law.

I’m saying, justice precedes mercy. You cannot skip that step. The Old Testament to the New Testament was a long process of God showing us our SHEER sin by way of judgment that results from the law. It’s a big, BIG deal–Paul discusses this in Romans. It is NOT a step you can skip, to preach the covenant of mercy without the judgment that needs to be forgiven. The entirety of the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament (“Testament” meaning covenant) entails a rigorous exploration of the sin and harm that mankind has done, and THEN–not before, but after–are we introduced to the way of mercy.

ALL of this plays out in our process of forgiving others. And it’s a step that Christianity tends to be eager to skip in its fondness of charades. Harm is done against you, and that harm really–REALLY–matters. Once we’ve established that, Jesus commands us to rebuke the wrongdoer.

I repeat: Jesus commands us to rebuke the wrongdoer if at all possible.

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Notice the second half of this passage, because it is very important. It speaks to the relationship status to the person. IF–and right now, I wish the word “if” had about ten more letters so I could embolden it across the page, but I’ll say it again, IF–he listens to you, the relationship is restored

Here’s the word “if” again, out of the mouth of Christ, for repentance being a prerequisite for forgiveness for a sin against you:

Luke 17:2-3

 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

If he never listens?

Matthew 18:17

And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The relationship is totally broken (recall verse 15: if he repents, you have “gained your brother” and the relationship is restored). Are we commanded to hate the unrepentant person? Not at all. We still love with tolerance and patience, desiring the good of the person (who, if guilty of sin, will need to repent for his own sake). But the relationship status is broken. We are not to play games, pretending that “everything is okay, we’re still brothers,” because we’re not. We have to be clear that the sin is intolerable, even as we maintain love for the person himself.

(Furthermore, sometimes some sins have a tough road to repentance in full due to incomplete understanding and we are commanded to bear with each other in love in this learning process, just as God shows us compassion as we develop and learn ourselves, Romans 2:4)

We are NEVER commanded to be bitter or hateful. The forgiveness of the heart (Mark 11:25) means saying that we know we are owed a debt and accepting that we’ll never get back what we are duly owed for injustice and be at peace with it. Respond, rather, in love. We have our rich Father in Heaven who has unlimited love for us, easily compensating for every injustice committed against us with those riches–we can take the hit, hard as it may feel. 😉

Those are, of course, the same means by which God is able to forgive us–He absorbed the damage. It’s not “hard” for God to endure the sin, but it did have to be repaid to Himself by the blood of His Son.

But I want to speak to today’s culture, which glosses over the matter of justice in the matter of forgiveness. And why do they do it? I suspect the answer can be hinted at with the apparent–and virtually ubiquitous–ignoring of Scriptures for how to deal with injustices between believers.

In Jesus’ words above, I skipped a verse knowingly. Let’s get it right this time:

Matthew 18:15-17

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Sins committed against YOU are a big, BIG deal!

They’re supposed to be a big deal to the entire church. It’s not the church’s job just to jump on you with a forgiveness lecture. It’s the church’s job to get its hands dirty, get involved, and get to the bottom of the problem. Somehow I feel it’s important to repeat, the church is full of “works in progress” and sometimes repentance can be a little difficult due to a struggle with wisdom, again, just as God bears with us as we make a serious effort to repent to the fullest before Him while He patiently teaches us.

How much do today’s “churches” drop the ball in this regard? Try quoting the following command from Scripture on the subject of grievances between believers to your local “pastor” and see if he looks at you like you’re from another planet:

1 Corinthians 6:4-5

So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

Can it be that no one among us is wise enough to settle disputes between brothers, and all anyone knows how to do is brow-beat about forgiveness so we can go on happily as if nothing happened?

I’m not counting on the church to shape up anytime soon, but if we’re interested in matters of our own hearts, my summary and conclusion about forgiveness is, let’s make sure we take the steps of fully understanding the seriousness of wrong done to US when we are sinned against, the reality of the debt, and how much we matter and the damage matters. Meditate on this. Once that is established, oh yes, let us forgive joyously because our Father makes it all up to us.

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