Why Should I Forgive?

When I attended Christ for the Nations Institute, I had a professor who stated quite adamantly that if someone has wronged you and they have not apologized, you are under no scriptural obligation to forgive them.

His argument was that nowhere in scripture are we commanded to proactively offer forgiveness when there has been no apology or repentance. However, he said we must be ready to forgive if and when the apology is made.

It took me a long time to evaluate this position.

I've come to disagree with it, and here's why:

I believe the scriptures make it clear that God is a proactive forgiver.

God is a proactive forgiver.

Paul writes in Romans 5:8 that "God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners."

Jesus more than once forgives the sins of a person who hasn't actually asked for it yet, including his own murderers.

The ministry of Jesus was in many ways designed to be a model for us to follow. If forgiveness is a cornerstone of Jesus' engagement in this world, we need to pay attention to this.

See, the overall purpose of Jesus' ministry on this earth was to undo the actions of God's enemy so that everyone would have access to all the fullness possible in our lives.

Jesus shows and tells us how to to live according to these goals. It seems that forgiveness is part of destroying the work of the enemy in our lives and in our world and part of us having a full, abundant life.

Forgiving is hard. Jesus wouldn't lead us to do this just because he wanted us to be miserable. If Jesus calls us to do something hard, it's because it is the path to something better - the path to a fuller life

Forgiving people who have wronged or harmed you or a loved one is difficult, but life giving.

Forgiving people who have wronged or harmed you or a loved one is difficult, but life giving.

We've all met people who live as a perpetual victim, or live a life filled with bitterness and resentment. Such a life is not full of abundance.

Unforgiveness ends up corrupting our own lives, and Jesus tells us exactly why that is the case.

Luke, who created a Gospel account based on multiple eyewitness reports, not least of which appears to be Peter, records Jesus saying the following during his ministy:

Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)

That whole 'give and it will come back to you' thing is something we love to quote about being generous, but the original context is talking about forgiveness and judgement.

In other words, if you give forgiveness, you will receive forgiveness - in the same amounts you have given. Stingy forgivers will receive grudging forgiveness. 

Generous forgivers will be forgiven lavishly.

Same goes for judgement. If you're bitter and unforgiving towards another person, Jesus is promising you'll be given the same treatment. 

Generous forgivers will be forgiven lavishly. Same goes for judgement.

I don't know about you, but this terrifies me. I like to feel self righteous, and holding stuff over other people is a great way to feed my self righteousness. But now I see that Jesus is telling me it's going to hurt me badly in the end.

Jesus reinforces this when he adds the phrase, "and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us" into his example for us to pray. 

To make sure we can't pretend we didn't know, Jesus tells another story about what happens if we don't forgive that Matthew captures in his gospel. To keep it short, it says if we don't forgive, we won't be forgiven ourselves.

We simply can't get away from this.

The dish we cook up to serve to others is the same one we're going to end up eating.

The dish we cook up to serve to others is the same one we're going to end up eating.

If we fill it with poison and venom, we're going to end up harming ourselves.

In the end, we're forgiving because God has forgiven us.

We're forgiving because God tells us to forgive.

And we're forgiving because if we don't it's going to destroy ourselves.

I know that some of us will have bigger things to forgive than others. I don't know why you've been given something so difficult to deal with, but I can tell you that if you ask God to help you give forgiveness to the person or people who hurt you (we'll get into the 'how to forgive' conversation in the next post), you're creating a bank account of forgiveness for yourself. You will be rich in forgiveness.

I wish you didn't have to deal with the crap, but I'm really glad that you'll be rewarded for your efforts!

I close with the words of Jesus, which we should read anytime we have been hurt or harmed or wronged.

"If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins."  (Matthew 6:14-15)