Is unconditional forgiveness toward those who have harmed us the best way to get the anger out of our stomach? Does forgiving those who have not had a change of heart reflect well on Christ, show his love, and enable us to forgive others as God has forgiven us? These are some of the questions I raised in an earlier post.
I appreciate so much the comments that have come in. They show that we are not all on the same page on what the Bible says about forgiveness.
So I hope you’ll stay with me over the next several days as we continue to think together about forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, and then even forgiving God (without implying that God could or would ever sin).
Let’s begin where we agree. Together we recognize that a bitter, vindictive, or vengeful spirit is not becoming to a follower of Christ.
The problem comes when trying to answer whether God unconditionally forgives us, and whether he in turn asks us to unconditionally forgive others. Here we have one of those studies in contrast that I mentioned in my last post. The Bible’s teaching on forgiveness is an example of truth in tension. Sometimes the New Testament seems to imply that we are to unconditionally forgive those who harm us (Matt 6:14-15; Luke 23:34). In other places, the Bible teaches us to hold accountable those who have wronged us (Matt 18:15-17; Luke 17:1-4). Let’s look at both sides later.
For now, because dealing with our woundedness is such a big part of our struggle, let’s ask some other questions. Are we sure that forgiving others is the only way to deal with our anger? Or is it possible that we can do a better job of dealing with our bitterness by using what we know about faith, and humility, and love, and patience, and hope in God?
With these questions in mind, let’s see if we can look at a familiar passage in a fresh light. The text I’m thinking of offers something other than forgiveness as a way of dealing with the harm others do to us. This passage encourages us to do our part, and then wait on the Lord to deal with our enemy. Paul’s words to the Romans parallels other texts that talk about loving, doing good, and praying for those who have wronged us.
In the 12th chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21).
Before we deal with some of the other issues we’ve raised, can you see that, according to this text, forgiving unrepentant people is not the only way to deal with our bitterness and anger? Can you also anticipate why I’ll be saying in the next post that learning to love well is more important than being willing to forgive–before it is the loving thing to do?