The Struggle to Forgive

Ken Sande in The Peace Maker points out that forgiveness is countercultural and says, “In fact, left to our own instincts, we are disposed to do just the opposite.” Perhaps this is a characteristic of the flesh as Paul describes, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom. 7:14-15, 18). Paul describes the challenge of obeying God and avoiding sin, which as he illustrates, is a losing battle if it is a matter of human will. He is divided in his mind and flesh with the desire to do good but the inability to carry out that desire–such a division will be found in every human being were it not for forgiveness from God and the Holy Spirit (Paul points out in chapter 8). With God’s forgiveness and Spirit we are empowered and enabled to carry out God’s will which includes forgiveness. Thus, God’s forgiveness is more than a motivation for forgiving others, his forgiveness is the strength within us that empowers us to forgive. In those moments of hurt, it is the bliss and peace of knowing God has forgiven you that gives us the strength to forgive. Sande says it this way, “And as we rejoice in the liberating forgiveness of God, we are empowered to go and forgive others in the same way.” God will give us the grace and resources to forgive. He who has initiated the church and made such a promise would not call us to forgive and then fail to give us all we need to obey him. While in this world pain begets more pain as hurt people hurt people, God heals the pain so that forgiveness begets forgiveness. 

One could argue, “But they are not sorry for what they have done. And God requires repentance before forgiving someone.” When Jesus tells us to forgive he does not specify that condition. Even though God requires us to repent and ask for forgiveness before giving it, the forgiveness is available. Jesus died for everyone; God did not wait for everyone on earth to ask for forgiveness before sending his Son. Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only but also for the whole world (1 John 2:2), meaning God’s forgiveness is available to everyone, even those who have not repented yet. But those who have repented have reconciled with God, received the blessings of that forgiveness, and entered into God’s fellowship through the grace of forgiveness. Additionally, Luke 23:34 shows Jesus’ forgiveness without the need for an apology or repentance first. Jesus was being crucified between two criminals as people were mocking him. He had been spat on, beaten, and whipped, yet Jesus, while he was being placed on the cross, prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If Jesus was praying for God to forgive them, does that not mean that Jesus had already forgiven them in his heart? 

[Luk 23:33-34 ESV] 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”…

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