If the Bible is full of “studies in contrast” and “truth in tension” rather than “self-contradictions and discrepancies,” another example is what the Scriptures variously say about forgiveness.
Some passages indicate that one mark of a follower of Christ is to forgive those who harm us (Matt 6:14-15; Col 3:13).
Other texts make it clear that we are to forgive those who admit their wrong and have a change of heart regarding what they have done (Luke 17: 1-4; Matt 18:15-17).
As with so many “studies in contrast” the answer seems to lie in a “both/and” rather than “either/or” approach.
For openers, what seems certain is that–at the very least— the New Testament teaches us to forgive those who want our forgiveness and admit their wrongs (while still giving consideration to appropriate consequences).
The next consideration may be to ask, “What do love and truth ask of us in this situation?” If there is “a time to forgive” and “a time not to forgive,” the appropriate response may come into into focus as we ask, “In light of what has happened, what response will seek the highest good of all involved?”
Am sure we agree that a spirit of revenge, bitterness, unresolved anger, or a determination to return wrong for wrong do not reflect well on our relationship to Christ in any circumstance.
Behavior motivated by honest love is always called for—even toward our enemies.
From his Cross Jesus gave us his own example:
- Of those who didn’t understand what they were doing, he said, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)
- He forgave one of the criminals who shared with him the agony of execution. To the one who believed in him and asked for his mercy, he said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)
- He gave no such assurance of mercy to the other criminal who mocked him without regret.
In summary, seems to me that we can work through the question of “to forgive or not to forgive” by considering the following issues: Wise love will show us when to overlook a matter (Luke 23:34); and when to hold others accountable for the kind of wrongs that need to be owned up to—for their own sake and others (Luke 14:1-4; Matt 18:15-17). In the process, our own experience of the forgiveness of Christ will prompt us to forgive those who ask for our forgiveness (Matt 18:23-33)—without ignoring necessary consequences; and rolling over onto God those matters of judgment that belong to him alone (Rom 12:19).
Hope we can again weigh the balance of texts together. Some of us have touched on this subject a few times in the past with mixed results…
note: took pictures a couple of years ago at a “first century Roman army dramatization” in Jerash, Jordan.