June 21, 2014.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Amen. Let’s take a little bit of time to explore forgiveness. It is a topic that is so critical to our salvation and the way we view ourselves and others that it deserves meditation. There are times at which we think we understand forgiveness, at least in theory, but when it comes to its application we fall short. This is because we are human beings and not God, having an understanding that is not perfect. But I believe that we can search for that which is complete and God will reveal His concept of forgiveness through his word. Studying the forgiveness of God will help us be like Him in this forgiveness as we should always be striving to follow Him. As it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Today, I would like to examine three concepts of forgiveness that can be found in our society and how they align to God’s plan of forgiveness.
1. “I cannot/will not forgive you.”
This is very common in our society today, for a multitude of different reasons. We will not forgive because the thing that they did to us is just too heinous. This is the driving force behind any revenge story that makes us feel so good. I believe this to be somewhat the product of American individualism and focus on self. When these ideas emerge, it is easy to see how others have wronged us and how we didn’t deserve what they did to us, so they should get what’s coming to them. And have no doubt, if we can give them this “revenge” in the future, we will.
This is not a new concept of forgiveness. Revenge and the inability to forgive have lived throughout all history. There are many stories of revenge in the Old Testament, but one that I would like to point to is the story of Tamar, Absalom’s sister, who was raped by her half brother Amnon. The story goes, Amnon wanted Tamar and he had a worthless friend who convinced him that he was the king’s son and he should take what he wanted. So he did. Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I am in no way justifying Amnon’s actions. What he did was evil. Afterward, Tamar came to her brother Absalom and told him what happened. Absalom hated Amnon from that day and planned his vengeance.
“And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar. After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons. But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him. […] Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.” So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and each mounted his mule and fled.”
(2 Samuel 13:19-23, 27-29)
Absalom could not let go of his anger, though I don’t think he even tried to. He was cold and calculated, waiting two years to exact his revenge. If you know the story of Absalom, you know that he would go on to become a wicked, evil man and drive his father David from the kingdom. I would not doubt that this story of revenge had a part in driving his path.
How does this align with the teachings of Christianity? If we are honest, we probably already know the answer to that question, though we might not like it. I will just list a few scriptures which give the picture.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
2. “Forgive, but never forget.”
As the middle ground of forgiveness, this two is a very popular definition of forgiveness, especially in our pop culture. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard this phrase, not only from those beyond religion, but also from those in the church. The idea is, yes, you should forgive a person, but that doesn’t mean that you give them back the trust they once had. On the human level, I understand this. Trust is not something to be taken likely, and when it is broken, sometimes it does take time to build it back up. But let’s ask ourselves a hard question. Should it?
“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
How often do we forgive, but not forget, because we know they they might do it again? How many times are we willing to forgive someone if indeed they do it again? Must we judge their genuineness? Notice what Jesus didn’t say here. He didn’t say “If your brother comes to you 490 times a day and you really think that his is genuine, forgive him.” He said, if your brother asks for forgiveness, you forgive him. Period.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
Just above Peter’s question, Jesus explains this concept of forgiveness. If your brother sins against you, and then listens to you when you discuss it, you have gained your brother. There is no time period of healing. It is pure, complete forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t allow here for you to halfway forgive your brother. He doesn’t say, “If he listens to you, good, he was in the wrong and he wants to make it right, but he needs to feel what he has done wrong so wait a while before you forgive him.” He just says you have gained your brother. I think that is kind of beautiful.
We are to forgive one another completely, because this is how God has forgiven us, which brings me to the third type of forgiveness.
3. Forgiveness as defined by God.
“For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord, ’for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
This is the forgiveness that God has shown to us. Complete, pure forgiveness. “And I will remember their sins no more.” That is the problem with forgive but never forget- this is not the forgiveness of God. Who are we to say we deserve more than what God does? Who are we to say that the other person hurt me more than we hurt God. Our sins nailed God’s son to the cross. Our sins beat him and spit on him. Our sins mocked him. Yet he has forgiven all seek his forgiveness, with no time for healing. Pure forgiveness. That’s what we must strive for. When our brother or sister sins against us and then asks for forgiveness, that’s what we must give. Forgive and forget. I know this is hard. It may even seem impossible. I can assure you that it isn’t. Some of the worst fights I have had with people have been resolved in a single conversation that ended in forgiveness. It was hard, but it was possible.
We forgive because he first forgave us.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We are all human. We will all mess up. When it comes to forgiving others, maybe it will help if we look at ourselves and realize that we have as much fault due to sin as the one who is asking our forgiveness. In the end, we are all the same. We are all dirty, we are all sinful. We all sin. But God has offered a plan of redemption, even when we did not deserve one. That is the good news. That is the love of God. Have you accepted His forgiveness through submission to His will?
Let us forgive one another with the forgiveness of God. It will cleanse our hearts of the black spots that grudges and revenge leaves behind and replace it with the peace of God that passes understanding.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 5, 18, Romans 12, I Corinthians 6, Hebrews 8.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you.