There are ideas in yesterday’s conversation that make a lot of sense to me. It seems to me that it is consistent with the Bible to say that:
1. Bitterness is not an acceptable option for followers of Christ.
2. A desire to get even is also not a Christ-like option.
3. Our Lord gives us reason to want to be at peace with those who have harmed us.
4. Although forgiving those who harm us is difficult, it is possible, by faith.
5. Real forgiveness requires the grace and Spirit of God working in and through us.
6. There are times to follow Jesus’ example when, from the Cross he prayed, “Father forgiven them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
7. The New Testament does make statements that sound like we should always forgive– unconditionally.
8. Under some conditions withholding forgiveness can be very unbecoming to a follower of Christ.
9. God will have issues with us if we withhold forgiveness from those who acknowledge their wrongs and ask for our forgiveness.
10. When we acknowledge our sin and believe in Christ we are forgiven of the legal punishment for all past, present, and future sins. What remains is relational, family forgiveness that John talks about when he says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9).
11. Sometimes it is no longer possible for the person who has wronged us to say, “I’m sorry.”
12. Sometimes disagreements about forgiveness are a matter of semantics.
But if we agree on some or all of the above, the question I have is, what do we do when we come across something like the following quote from a classic reference book?
Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words says,
“Human “forgiveness” is to be strictly analogous to divine “forgiveness,” e.g., Matt. 6:12. If certain conditions are fulfilled, there is no limitation to Christ’s law of “forgiveness,” Matt. 18:21, 22. The conditions are repentance and confession” (Matt. 18:15-17; Luke 17:3).”
Is it possible that when it comes to getting the poison of lingering bitterness out of our system, sometimes it is more important to show faith and hope in God, and love toward others– than to talk about forgiving someone who has not yet admitted a serious wrong?
Although unconditional forgiveness may seem like a way of getting over and past what others have done to us, is it possible that unilaterally forgiving others may not be the most loving or helpful thing we can do for those who need to come to terms with what they have done.
If, for instance, you discover that I have knowingly lied to you, would it be helpful to me for you to “unconditionally forgive me” prior to me having a change of heart?
Seems to me that the principle of the Bible is that, as followers of Christ, it is our calling to love our enemies– but not always to forgive them. In other words, to love well can mean to lovingly withhold forgiveness from those who are knowingly refusing to acknowledge the harm they have done.