There is a lot that is wrong in the world – there always has been. The list of wrongs is long. From bombs in Paris, fear in Brussels, death in Burundi to the carnage in Syria in our increasingly interconnected world there is no escape. The corruption is everywhere. Christians have always known this corruption and have a name for it – sin.
Yet there is a response and a remedy to sin, actually there are a variety of responses but only one is Christian. There is the road of condemnation and bitterness, of judgement and of hate. Then there is the road of forgiveness.
If you are the one who has done wrong then seek forgiveness. If wrong has been done to you, then offer it.
Forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
Forgiveness has often been associated with weakness or scoffed at in the world of realpolitik but forgiveness has some staying power.
In her new book Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an unforgiving world Megan Feldman Bettancourt goes into detail to the science behind forgiveness. Yet stories of forgiveness remain remarkable enough to make the news. I remember hearing Robin Oake speak of his son’s murder and their journey to forgiveness and it remains quite remarkable.
Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry is right, of course, that when it comes to seeking forgiveness that there is true repentance. But what about when there is no repentance, what then?
It is helpful that we understand what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Aimee Byrd writes that, “Forgiveness is not an excuse for naivety or to enable sin. And it does not mean that we hide the pain that someone has caused.”
Forgiveness stops us descending into hatred and becoming what we hate. As Nelson Mandela sagely put it:
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. – Nelson Mandela
It seems to me that forgiveness must be exercised even towards people who do not know we exist – like the murderous henchman of ISIS to take a current example. But what does that actually mean, what are we saying if we forgive them?
I think it says something like this:
I forgive you for sending murderers to bomb & kill in the city of Paris, or the citizens you kill in Syria or the Christians you behead in Iraq. In forgiving you I’m not saying or thinking that what you did and continue to do is unimportant or that it was OK. Evil is as evil does.
Yet that is why I must forgive you, because I know that I’m not immune to evil thoughts, words or deeds and instead of seeking to be an agent of God’s wrath I would rather be a recipient of His mercy. In forgiving you I relinquish my desire for revenge & I refuse to drain my soul of life in holding resentment. I refuse to drink that poison.
I trust those whom God has delegated to positions of authority to bring justice and judgement and should they fail I trust God, who does all things right, who is Justice itself, to treat you as your sins deserve.
Yet forgiveness, also demands of me that I want more for you than justice at the hands of a government or of God. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the just and holy One. So I hope & pray that you would turn from evil, relinquish the sword, and receive mercy – that instead of being an instrument of evil in deluded defiance, you would become a testimony of grace. I pray, in other words that you would repent from your sin while you still can.
Your sin brought death to hundreds. My sin brought death to me and pain to others. We share in that together, our actions have caused an innocent to die. Your sin and my sin both brought death. I forgive you, because I have been forgiven. In Jesus Christ I have found one who willingly paid the price of my sin. One who took my death and died with it, who defeated death and overcame.
As I contemplate you and what you have done, I just see death. But I will not be overcome. A new creation demands a new response. I will not drink that poison. So I forgive.
Something like that.