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Why We Disagree About Forgiveness

For the last couple of days, we’ve had a healthy, though difficult, discussion about whether forgiveness is meant to be conditional or unconditional. Not surprisingly, along the way, we’ve agreed and disagreed.

There are good reasons for the push and pull of our conversation. Sometimes the Bible, itself, calls for forgiveness based on a change of heart (Luke 17:2). Sometimes it speaks of the need to forgive without any mention of repentance (Mark 11:25-26).

Such two-sides-of-the-coin examples are not limited to these two texts. We’ve also noted that:

From his cross Jesus showed a desire that his Father would forgive those who were crucifying him when he prayed, “Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Then there’s the Apostle Paul who wrote to the church in Corinth urging them to separate themselves from a man living in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife (1Cor 5:1-5). Paul only encourages the church to forgive the man in a second letter when it is apparent that the love-motivated correction had brought the brother to a change of heart (2Cor 2:1-8).

Other texts show that we are to be a forgiving people who forgive one another as God has forgiven us (Eph 4:32).  Our conversation around that verse shows that we see it differently, depending on whether we are focusing on texts that show God forgiving us in conditional or unconditional ways.

But there’s one more thought. The complexity of our discussion the last few days also illustrates what many of us have experienced: The forgiveness the Bible calls us to is not just a “law of forgiveness.” It is a grace. We experience forgiveness, not just as a moral imperative– but as a gift from God.

As a grace and a gift– the process of asking for forgiveness cannot be forced anymore than giving it can be demanded of one another. As a result, both the forgiver and the forgiven often need to wait upon God for the grace that is needed to both give and receive mercy.

We may remember a parent or a church trying to force us to forgive after they compel a brother or sister to say, “I was wrong. Will you forgive me.”

In an “ideal broken world” all offenders would ask for forgiveness with an honest and sustained change of heart. In the same “ideal broken world,” the person who has been sinned against would immediately express complete and total forgiveness. But that’s not the kind of world we live in. We need the time and grace of God to work through issues that are as painful as what some of you have been expressing.

Whatever God asks us to do requires his Spirit and grace for the doing of it (1Thess 5:24). We need the grace of God to know when to lovingly hold one another accountable (Luke 17:2; Matt 18:15-17). We also need the work of God to be able to be a people who look for opportunities to forgive rather than to get even.

Even our conversation is a practical example of being patient with one another as we process the different sides and faces of love and forgiveness. It’s a reminder that following Christ is not a matter of controlling one another– but rather a process of helping one another to think through the question, “When it comes to forgiveness, what does love require.” Or in other words, “What kind of heart do we need from God to seek the highest good of one another?” That’s the “simple focus” we need to help us find our way through the complex hurts and memories of our lives.

Thank you for the grace and patience you have shown me as we’ve tried to wade into this complex issue of the heart together.

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19 Responses to “Why We Disagree About Forgiveness”

  1. poohpity says:

    Your good!!!

  2. mruspm says:

    WOW, I LOVE this topic……have we ever thought Forgiveness is not about God, the offender, or anything more deep than 100% about ourselves and our security of self-preservation to be the utmost of serving our friend, brother, and the best creator-carpenter the world has known, Jesus Christ… We are at our best in this life when we are free of resentments, I know and have only recently lived it by accepting the worst-offender in my Life (my father, bio dad)as a ‘sick’ individual…we are all relatively ‘sick’ compared to Christ, and on a path of healing..so the freedom at 41 yrs old I experience was realizing that to forgive my father and let him know that, even though he never asked for it nor apologized in that moment, gave me freedom from 40yrs of resentment, and gave him the freedom of knowing I hold nothing against him..sure, when he asks for healing the ‘healed scars’ will be fresh skin again, but that is an added benefit of this process of forgiveness, not the primary..FORGIVENESS IS ABOUT US and not OTHERS, no matter the offense they’ve played on you..Jesus asked his Dad to forgive those who had no idea of the gravity of their sin, so that they (offenders) would be free, and because Jesus already knew the powerful demise of resentments, it was for his human nature that he served us by leading in the epitamy example of forgiveness..

    Have a GREAT weekend!! Chris Sommer Warner Robins, GA

  3. cherielyn says:

    I had to smile when I read your comment, rdrcomp, about the truck going through a red light. Years ago, I heard something on my local Christian radio station about how our lives can be so affected by these things. In contemplating the matter, it really affected my response to similar situations.

    I will try to reiterate the story:

    You’re driving along and someone cuts you off in traffic. How does your response to that incident hat affect the rest of your day? The person who cut you off has a good day, oblivious to the fact that they did something that made you so angry that it negatively affected the rest of your day. Hours later you might still be fuming about the incident. By allowing yourself to hold on to your anger you are giving control of your day to a perfect stranger and allowing him/her to make the rest of your day miserable.

    So, we can wallow in the injustices that occur in our everyday lives and be miserable because of them, or we can just “be like a duck” and let them roll off our backs and not allow these daily annoyances to ruin what could otherwise be a good day. It’s all in the perspective.

  4. sawaybon says:

    I have been reading Been Thinking About for awhile now, but this is my first time to post a comment. I have been particularly drawn to the discussion on this topic of forgiveness. Like rdrcomp says, there has been some sharing of the “deep issues from the heart”. The comment by horseman yesterday comes closest to describing my perspective, and poohpity’s comments throughout the discussion exemplify it best. In terms of our relationship with God, FORGIVENESS IS FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE FORGIVEN. However, when it comes to our relationships with other people, FORGIVENESS IS FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE FORGIVER. It frees us of the burden of unforgiveness.

    That is a distinction I want to add to this discussion. God, through Jesus, has forgiven me, and I am the beneficiary of His grace and forgiveness. And when I choose to forgive someone who has wronged me, I am the beneficiary of freedom from the chains of bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness. How blessed I am to be the winner in both situations!

  5. Valkiria says:

    I understand that grace is UNMERITED FAVOR! Nothing I’ve done and will do, can put me in a position to deserve Jesus’ forgiveness, it’s all because He loved me when I was a sinner.
    When I have to wait for others to “deserve” or ask for forgiveness, I’m falling short on my goal to be at Christ’s stature (Ephesians 4:13 .. till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..)
    May the Lord help us all!

  6. thankful for His mercy says:

    For the last few days now I’ve been very intrigued in reading and reflecting on all the comments I have seen here. Some very good points have been made by all. The one thing though I’m surprised no one has mentioned yet, is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray; The Lord’s Prayer. In that prayer, Jesus instructed his disciples to pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

    The Bible is very clear that if we repent of our sins and ask God for forgiveness, He who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So it would seem that as long as we “repent” of our ill-advised actions, we will obtain his forgiveness. The other illustration though that has been mentioned here is when Jesus was dying on the cross and asked his father to “…forgive them for they know not what they do…” In this case, those who were crucifying Jesus were unrepentant and “not” asking for forgiveness from God. Yet Jesus, in his love for those who were taking his life asked for forgiveness on their behalf. I think there is a lesson here that could possibly allow us to help others. If you know someone who has been deeply hurt (emotionally, physically, mentally, etc.) it might be beneficial to that person to ask them to forgive the ones who caused the harm. Asking (by proxy, so to speak,) for forgiveness for someone you don’t even know can be very hard sometimes and can even occasionally draw the wrath of the one you’re asking the forgiveness from — but in the long run it will help the “wounded one” to heal quicker and regain happiness in their heart. It’s like the old saying “…hate never harms the hated, but it will kill the hater…” An example I can use here is one of my best friends who over a number of years allowed a hatred for his older brother to eat him up inside. I told my friend he needed to forgive his brother for what he had done…and it didn’t go over well at all — but we must all try to be “peacemakers” even if there is a price to pay. Eventually, my friend developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Thankfully though, he asked to see his brother and apologized to him asking him for forgiveness in the way he acted toward him. He was so much more at peace when his brother forgave him and asked for forgiveness himself also. Ron died at peace with his family, and I only wish it could’ve taken place many years earlier.

    So how I view forgiveness is like this. We “must” forgive if someone is truly repentant and asks us to do so (if we expect God to forgive us as we forgive others.) With this said however, we still have the option to forgive them even if they do not ask or are not repentant. Forgiving them (if asked,) hopefully frees us from lingering bitterness and anger. Forgiving them however, even if they are unrepentant will hopefully still free us from bitterness and anger as well. In short, a win-win situation.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. dlarose says:

    I had to laugh at the fellow who got angry this morning with another driver. Have you ever experienced Tim Hortens rage?

    I think that when it comes to a discussion about forgiveness that each of us speaks from experiences that are unique to us. Of course there is a human element that needs to be considered.

    Many people have been hurt in ways that are difficult to understand. What does the wife who has been hurt so badly do after 28 years of marriage and countless apologies from the husband but he still does not attempt make things better. Who would blame her for accepting the apology and even forgiving but decides to move on with her life as a single person.

    The word of God always has an answer to every situation when it comes to forgiveness. Many of us are just not there yet and that’s ok because His grace is sufficient.

    There are times when the Holy Spirit will direct us to forgive someone unconditionally even when they don’t want it from us. There are times when we are to show forgiveness because we care deeply about our relationships. There are times when we are to show forgiveness to someone who has hurt us but it might be time to part ways.

  8. rokdude5 says:

    Im still wondering if there is “selective” forgiveness on God’s part. He wont forgive someone blaspheming His Spirit but thats the only one that I know of. Maybe my thinking is off but Jesus died for ALL sins even those that hasnt been committed yet.

    Our salvation is based on Jesus paying the price of ALL sins (thats the Gospel), Gods grace and our faith in His Son. John 3:16, Eph 2:8-9, Rom 10:9-10.
    So if ALL sins are forgiven by God Himself, who am I not to? That doesnt mean I cant protect myself from someone who continuously hurting me.

    I personally dont have a problem talking about these things face to face with anyone however, we all go the our church families and the last thing any of us wants to be is contentious. And I doubt any of us wants to be contentious but dang it, on this side of Pearly Gate we all do a lot of head scratchings trying to figure, not how we see it, but how God sees it but He gives us only part of the whole picture. We are given our own personalities and some minor different understandings His ways. It will all be so clear once we all reach the other side of Pearly Gates.

  9. Gena says:

    I’m a little dizzy after reading all the comments! :)

    Keep it simple. Try not to over analyze. Forgive.

    Don’t sweat the small things. Forgive. If it’s a really, really big “thing”…take a bubble bath.

    Laugh often. Forgive.

    Next time I make a mistake..I hope someone forgives and then lets go! I can’t breathe when being held in a choke hold. :)

  10. nitha says:

    We disagree about forgiveness because we easily forget that forgiveness is a grace, a gift from God. Along the way we ask God to heal our wounded heart and to give forgiveness to someone we hurt. Simple and it is not easy to do. But by the grace of God we can forgive and be forgiven. Thanks

  11. Mart De Haan says:

    On a later post, desert rose asks, “If someone abused you horribly and you tried years later to go back with your pastor and spouse to speak to them but they did not allow you in, how can you get closure if the abuser is now dead? The verse that came to my mind, was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” However, this abuser knew what he was doing.”

    Seems to me that when there is no longer any opportunity to hold an offender accountable, the closure has to be, “to release such persons into the hands of God.” At that point our only option is to rely on the words, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

    My understanding is that such trust in God trumps (i.e. overrules and makes unnecessary) the need for forgiveness.

  12. kaliko88 says:

    I agree with Mart. See, I don’t remember my abuser. I was so little, and it was so long ago. I will never get to confront them or see any chance at remorse or acknowledgement of doing wrong. But forgiveness isn’t just telling someone that you absolve them or that you are willing to admit they have made good changes and are a different person. It’s letting go of the hate and anger. I can forgive and hope that God has reached that person and changed their heart and mind, and let go of my own hurt, and trust that it is enough. Because until I do, I can’t be healed.

  13. dmsprice says:

    desert rose … I think you reached out to your abuser to try to be able to forgive, which is more than many would do. Your abuser refused, so clearly didn’t want your forgiveness. Know that God is dealing with it. He’s now taken on your burden, and it’s not yours to shoulder anymore. (Easier said than done, I’m sure.)

  14. dx7 says:

    Hi Mart, I’ve been thinking about this topic and am a little confused till. What is the extent to which we give and forgive? Sometimes I feel like people take advantage and treat me like a doormat.

  15. TJ says:

    dx7, your question brings to mind Mt. 18:21-22 (NIV) = “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times, (which according to footnotes means 70×7=490 times for the same offense).”
    Though this scripture tells what we should do, I feel in most peoples lives including mine, we would be fortunate to forgive someone one time. Maybe even a second would be stretching it. But, 490 times would be impossible on our own.
    I do remember reading somewhere that if Jesus brings you to it; he will bring you through it.

  16. WeForgive says:

    I am happy to find this blog and engage in the discussion here. Mart, thank you for this resources. Before I started reading the comments, I had many preconceived ideas about Christian forgiveness. Now I see there is a great diversity of ideas regarding forgiveness, even among people who identify themselves as Christians. In my opinion all attempts at forgiveness are positive but forgiveness is not complete if the forgiver does not feel some relieve or healing. I think one of the previous comments regarding forgiveness being a win/win process in that both forgiver and the forgiven receive a gift of healing and freedom. Again, thank you for this resource and blessings to all who come here.

  17. Mart De Haan says:

    Thanks so much for joining the discussion and weighing these ideas with us.

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