Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Forgiveness
|Copyright © 2008 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Before reading the following questions and answers (FAQs) about the doctrine of forgiveness, please read the article What is Biblical Forgiveness, and Who Should be Forgiven? That article will provide the necessary doctrinal context upon which the questions and answers below elaborate.
Each of the questions and answers below discuss in a general way the doctrine of forgiveness as defined in the Scriptures. These questions and answers are not meant as advice to any specific situation or real world instance, but are only intended to illustrate the biblical doctrine. An individualís own personal situation is generally too complex to address in such a generic format as what follows. Therefore, please seek out the counsel of a godly pastor or even a Nouthetic Counselor with whom you can review the details of your situation and make choices based on the peculiarities of your own circumstances.
Are Christians too forgiving?
There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that Godís people are too forgiving, too gracious, too selfless, too loving, or too caring. Those are attributes of the Christian that must always be nurtured and intentionally grown because demand for them never quite seems to be satisfied by the available supply.
It is these very shortcomings (of love, grace, selflessness) that cause Christians to react with premature pronouncements of "false forgiveness" when true forgiveness is neither warranted nor wanted.
Rather than contemplate what is best for another person (the true meaning of loving someone else), Christians often ask "What is best for me so that I can get rid of these angry feelings in the least painful way possible?" So they offer "false forgiveness" (see article) to the offender just to make themselves feel better. By contrast they ought to pursue genuine restoration of the relationship through confrontation, and even via mutual counseling, to the point where the offender seeks forgiveness (and restitution if needed).
Far from being too forgiving, Christians are too timid in seeking biblical reconciliation. They too often redefine biblical forgiveness into "false forgiveness" and expediently foist "false forgiveness" onto others. By contrast, the less-used biblical approach costs much in terms of personal humility and swallowing of oneís pride. Yet, nothing repairs relationships like genuine reconciliation.
Why does God discipline His own children if they have been forgiven their sins?
Forgiveness means to release a person from all further due punishment. Since all our sins (past, present, and future) have been eternally forgiven in Christ, why does God continue to discipline us?
Discipline is not punishment, per se. Discipline, in the Greek, is "tutoring, educating, training, nurturing" and by extension, can include disciplinary correction. When God disciplines us, He is using the circumstances of this life to train us to overcome sin, to educate us in prayer, to nurture us in the endurance of faith. For example, a football player who has not yet been conditioned to run 100 yards is not punished by the coach, but is trained (via the disciplines) to run longer distances by using grueling training and exercise techniques. Those exercises are not meant to inflict castigation on the player but to grow his endurance.
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
Discipline is likely to target our weak areas. If discipline is considered to be only punishment, Godís child is likely to miss out on complete understanding. God does not always want us to ask, "What am I supposed to stop doing?" in the face of discipline, but also, "What am I supposed to grow stronger in?"
Christians are eternally saved (though I will not pursue the dogma or doctrines behind that stance here). Their sins have been eternally forgiven, and as such, they will not undergo the judgment of Hell (Revelation 20:4-6). But they, we, live on this earth now, and our ongoing disobediences and lack of faith will be persistently targeted by God through His school of disciplines to cause us to grow into ever more clear reflections of Christ.
What should I do if others will not forgive me?
There are times in this life when other Christians will simply not accept our sincere apologies or attempts at reconciliation. Compounding such circumstances, third parties who are close to you but not involved in the dispute may be misled into believing you are at fault (they reason that if someone will not forgive you then you must have done something extraordinarily horrid to them and further that you refuse to repent), laying additional feelings of guilt and pain on your already burdened shoulders. Oddly, those close to you who blame you for having offended the unforgiving persons never seem to stop and reflect on how it is that a true Christian can ever refuse to forgive when petitioned to do so.
Before doing anything, pray. Pray for yourself, your attitude, and for the other personís good standing in Christ. "Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises." (James 5:13) Pray.
First, it becomes your responsibility to ensure you have actually extended a sorrowful and sincere apology to the one you offended (meaning that you are agreeing with your victim that you have wronged them). Second, you must make reparations (restitution) for whatever financial harm you may have caused, if any. Third, repeat step one. Fourth, repeat step one. Fifth, repeat step one.
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23-24)
There may come a time when the Holy Spirit convinces you that further apologizing is creating more grief than is seemly. At this point, one must turn the non-forgiving Christian over to God. Remember, at the moment following your first apology (and restitution payment in full, if it was needed) the responsibility of reconciliation shifted from you to the offended brother. The weight of reconciliation is now his. If he refuses to forgive, the guilt for the matter rests on him. You must wait for God to work on him.
Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father did not pursue the selfish and greedy younger son, but let him go. He did not send repeated letters after him, nor go and spy on him. He just let him go and allowed God to work on his heart. When the son repentantly returned, the father was waiting to forgive. Would it not be wonderful if all offenses were so readily reconciled?
Yet, while we wait for the unforgiving brother to extend forgiveness (after we have apologized and paid restitution), we are obligated to treat him with love. We must treat the unforgiving person as a fellow Christian. We must also treat them at least as well as we might treat an enemy: bless them, love them, and treat them with kindness.
Even after all this, the relationship may be so strained, tense, and even quarrelsome with the unforgiving person that it becomes necessary to "live at peace." By way of illustration of what this means, recall that when an unbeliever desires to divorce a believer because of his new-found faith, the believer may grant the divorce so as to be "at peace" with the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:15-16). In this instance, peace means to take an "exemption from the rage and havoc of war" (Thayerís) or to live in "quietness" (Strongís). It implies that the two will live most harmoniously by being apart and silent toward each other. Such a state is the last resort for the relationship, as it runs contrary to Christian unity (Colossians 3:14, Ephesians 4:3, John 17:23).
Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:16-21)
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