Have you noticed how the world treats the issue of forgiveness? On television for example, it's almost a virtue to withhold forgiveness particularly if the offense is especially hurtful. The idea is that we somehow participate in the offense if we forgive it; or that forgiveness for certain acts is unforgivable in itself.
Of course, there are those who withhold forgiveness because they feel it's their right to do so. "Do you expect me to forgive you" is an oft repeated line. No one questions the right of the offended party to deny the request. In fact, people knowingly nod their heads in approval and focus on what the offender deserves.
And yes, we Christians know that the offender does not deserve forgiveness: ever. We also know there are consequences for sin. Yet, what sets us apart from the world is the obligation and compulsion to forgive. We forgive others because God's forgiven us. That's what it means to be a Christian. We've been forgiven, not because we deserve it, but because God is gracious. And, because God has changed us, we can't help but forgive others.
It's not a virtue to withhold forgiveness any more than it's a virtue to sin against God or hurt someone. When we forgive, we don't participate in the commission of the offense. We do bear it though. Just as the one seeking forgiveness bears the burden of guilt, we bear the burden of not allowing our being hurt to come between us and the offending party. In granting forgiveness, we don't let people off the hook nor do we wipe away any consequences that might be in effect. In fact, we acknowledge that there is an offense simply by saying the offending party needs forgiveness. We acknowledge it and bear it at the same time.
Now, we can't actually grant forgiveness if someone has not sought it (though we are required to rid our hearts of ill feelings and be willing to forgive). When we do grant forgiveness, in addition to not letting the offense come between us, we're saying we won't gossip about it, we won't hold a grudge, and we won't bring it up in the future. That's the way God treats us.
Neither do we have the right to withhold forgiveness. It's not up to us. Nor can we let our feelings rule. We may feel so hurt that forgiveness is impossible for us. But we go to God; we get His help; we do what He tells us we must do. And, in so doing, not only do we put His character on display, but we actually feel better; we get the joy of being where God wants us to be.
We also set ourselves apart from the world, not in a prideful way, but in a way that says to the world that we do hurt each other. All of us do that. But, relationships can be restored by the power of God. That's what God's done for us; He's reconciled believers to Himself and given them peace with Him and others. That reconciliation can only truly be had in Christ. The Lord Jesus Himself said, "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).
Do you want to promote God's ways in the world? Then put His power on display; be quick to forgive others. That's a real virtue. And yes, God does expect His people to forgive.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at http://www.trueworldview.com. To contact Dr. Dean, simply e-mail him at [email protected].