What is forgiveness? There are most likely people, Christians and non-Christians alike, who do not think very deeply about this matter. This is what I believe to be quite serious.
To understand what forgiveness is, it is important to define what forgiveness is from a secular point of view as well as a biblical standpoint.
According to Berkeley.edu, “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
Even people in the secular world understand that forgiveness is a redeeming quality. Yet, as Christians we understand that forgiveness is a quality that only those who have been redeemed by the blood can truly understand. To look at the biblical view of forgiveness it is important to address who should be forgiven.
According to Jesus, in Luke 17:3-4, he says, “if a brother sins against you…”, which is a very good clue as to who we should seek to forgive. In this instance Jesus is talking about Christians.
This makes it so much harder, because a brother or sister in Christ is automatically going to be closer to another Christian than they would be with just a friend. As fellow believers, we have a unity and connection that transcends simple friendships, which makes hurts and insults all the harder.
An important note is in the beginning of this verse which states, “If your brother sins, rebuke him”. This means that we still hold one another accountable as Christians. We do not get to allow someone to continue how they are just because confrontation may be uncomfortable to us.
This must be done in the correct way, but here Jesus is not saying that forgiveness lets anyone off the hook. Looking deeper into this passage, Jesus says, “if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him”.
Jesus does not give us an out if they don’t change. He does not allow us to withhold forgiveness because of the strain that it puts on us.
Why is this? According to Pastor John Piper, founder and teacher of DesiringGod.org, there are two types of forgiveness, “enemy forgiveness and love,” and “endurance or forbearance”.
He states that enemy love is not for your declared enemy, but someone like a mother, sibling, friend, or a father who acts like an adversary. How do we forgive these people? The ones that are allowed closest to your heart and which are given the most authority to hurt you. What this passage states is that there will be these people who hurt you unrepentantly.
According to John Piper we relate to these people in this way, “Don’t return evil for evil. Rather, bless them”. He states, in simple words which should shake up the way you understand forgiveness, that it can be called “one-sided forgiveness. The Christian is choosing not to be the punisher but treating the other person better than they deserve — in a sense, as if they hadn’t been hurt”.
It is no wonder why the world is unable to completely understand what forgiveness is. Do not understand redemption. However, Piper goes on to talk about enduring love. This is the second part of forgiveness. He says it like this, “Love covers a multitude of sins — it just covers them and endures them. They don’t go away. You are just enduring them, and you are covering them”.
This kind of love is not weak or soft, it is robust, it is forged in fire. The challenge with this, Piper brings up, is that acting this out can be tough. It means to walk around with joy and cheerfulness as though you have not been wronged. But this does not sound right, does it? This lets the other person off the hook, and where is the justice in that? To understand how this could be Piper asks a question.
He says, “How important and how satisfying to us is the fact that God knows we have been hurt, that God understands, and that God attends to us. God feels with us. He is a merciful High Priest. Is that enough?”. The answer ultimately is one that you must wrestle in your soul and with God.
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