I should begin by saying that what follows is merely the scribblings of some of the thoughts floating around inside my head this morning. You are invited to examine them critically against your own understanding of Scripture.
My thoughts took an unexpected turn into the realm of forgiveness and the old saying ‘To err is human, forgiveness divine.’ In a way, I think it is perhaps easier to understand the concept of forgiveness as being divine than to understand our role within it. I am guilty of a little simplification there because the means of divine forgiveness is inextricably linked to the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ but that is not what I am delving into just now. Maybe at Easter, perhaps.
So then to our role. I start by looking at the passage where Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother (a sinner) Matt 18:2- 32. The reply of Jesus, though it can be read as numerical, suggests that it is large number that implies that there is no real limit. So far, so good. If we then look at the example Jesus gives, we might see one aspect that is often left out of the picture when it gets preached, discussed or written. Note the passage well, the servant had begged for mercy, pleaded for forgiveness which was granted.
Place this alongside the Christian teaching on repentance which, basically, is that anyone who is truly sorry can come before God to say so and then to receive forgiveness from Him to exchange for the promise not to repeat the behaviour and to live a new life in Christ. Ambling my trail of thoughts, I was grappling with an incident of quite a few years ago when lady in ministry resigned her position. Her reason being that her son had been murdered and she simply could not find it within her to offer forgiveness to the perpetrator(s) and therefore, since she could not practice what she preached she must resign. Please excuse me for not giving clearer details of this example but it is rather deep down in the retrieval system of the little grey cells. I always thought that the lady was being rather hard on herself if only because human emotions and feelings can rarely, if ever, be produced to order. Within all responses of the Christian tongue must come lassitude of the hearer in knowledge of the facts or circumstances. If that were not so we would be even now manning the barricades somewhere or other.
This thought process takes me to the point that one necessary part of forgiveness when God is involved is repentance. When then, should it be that we make our own forgiveness of others entirely unconditional in all circumstances? Our Criminal Justice system introduced the notion of offenders meeting up with their victims in order for them to apologise and for there to be input from both parties. It could only work where both parties are willing – surely?
I’ll sit down and shut up by referring to the teachings that tell us that we can say we love God but hate our brother/next door neighbour/enemy because the two are not compatible. We are also told, Matt 5: 23 & 24, we cannot bring our gift to the altar if we know that we have done wrong to a brother. It is necessary to go first and put the matter right between us, in other words we go and seek forgiveness. It is perhaps worth saying that we can seek forgiveness wholly repentant, what we have no control over is whether or not forgiveness is given. But that is not our problem.