Sure, forgiveness is good in the realm of relatively minor transgressions, but is there a limit to forgiveness? Are there some offenses that go beyond the capacity of forgiveness? When Christianity speaks of forgiveness, should there be an asterisk attached to the word to indicate that forgiveness is not applicable in extreme situations, like the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust that murdered millions of undeserving Jews???
Forgiveness is the way for you and I and all of humanity to be reconciled with God, whose image we have defiled. Forgiveness is the way for all of humanity to be restored to the human community from which one has fallen. It was Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross and cried out saying, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do," that opened the way for forgiveness for ALL. There was no asterisk on the word, "them." His forgiveness is as available to Adolf Hitler as it is to you and me. Sin, any sin, any amount of sin does not have to be a dead-end! God has provided a way forward into full and complete reconciliation with God and our fellow man.
Is forgiveness impossible for a repentant war criminal, simply because his sins are too terrible. Then the Christian gospel is a mere fairytale and we might as well abandon it. To deny the possibility of forgiveness to anyone, regardless of the offense, is to deny the very heart of the Christian gospel.
I think of Aaron who involved himself in the building of the golden calf and permitted the debauchery and idolatry that ensued with its worship. He repented, was forgiven, restored and became the high priest of Israel.
Moses murdered the Egyptian guard, found forgiveness and became God's man to lead Israel out of bondage. David, not only committed adultery, murdered, as well as attempted to cover his tracks; but he repented, was forgiven and restored to the throne. So it was with Peter and his 3-time denial of Jesus; as well as Paul and his persecution of the Christians. Then I think of the wickedest King that ever lived-Manasseh. Captured by the Assyrian army, a ring put through his nose, dragged through the streets to humiliate him and then thrown into prison. Yes God's forgiveness found its way into his heart, he accepted that forgiveness, repented of his evil ways and was restored not only as Israel's king, but was used to bring repentance back to Israel and its people. Truly this is radical forgiveness for all.
Christ commands us to, "LOVE your enemies, do GOOD to those who hate you, BLESS those who curse you, and PRAY for those who spitefully use you." Luke 6:28. Why? Because this call for a God-led self-sacrificing love, ends the CYCLE OF REVENGE. This Christ-like love that ABSORBS the BLOW, which is impossible without our surrender to Christ, responds with radical forgiveness, and is the ONLY real hope this world has for genuine deep-hearted change. Hatred, revenge and retribution, no matter how justifiable, simply FUELS the cycle of revenge. But forgiveness is a PRINCIPLED CHOICE to end this cycle of revenge, leaving JUSTICE in the hands of God.
I've had to learn to forgive out of my own experience of being forgiven (70x7). When you have blown it big time and have found God's forgiveness and restoration, through confession and repentance, you become much more sympathetic and empathetic to those who trespass against you. How? Because you have come to realize your own weakness and frailty, thus allowing you to better understand the weakness and frailties of others.
Some assume that if they forgive, injustice will triumph. However, Calvary demonstrates the very opposite. Just ask the thief on the cross. It was Jesus forgiveness that broke the chain of evil and sin in his life and gave the dying thief a new future. Isn't that what you desire for your life, a new future? Isn't that what we are called to do for others, set them on a path of a new future! Corry Tenboom forgave those Nazi guards their extreme cruelty. Her father and brother were exterminated. Her sister died from the inhumane torturous treatment she received from the camp guards. Corry overcame the evil by depriving the evil of a host for retaliation. It freed her and freed the guard to find a new life in Jesus. Should Corry, you, or I not choose to truly forgive we will stay FOREVER CHAINED to the injustice done to us. Forming an identity around injustice in such a way as it becomes a ball and chain we drag around with us, thus we become the very thing we hate. Living the life of a victim rather than a victor.
Stephen's bold and eloquent prayer during his execution by stoning, is a stunning imitation of the gospel of forgiveness. Stephen's last words were, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Acts 7:60. Here we find Stephen in his dying breath, praying for the forgiveness of those who were unjustly persecuting him and putting him to death. Surely this is radical forgiveness if I have ever seen it. Isn't this ... What started to wake Saul up before he became Paul? What an example of his Savior.
Christians, you and I, quite plainly are called to opt out of the game of getting even! Those who would aspire to follow Jesus must have nothing to do with the game of paybacks. This is what Jesus demonstrated in his life! This is what radical forgiveness does! This is what true Christianity is! It overcomes evil with good. It is the Sermon on the Mount in action, in yours and my life. It's Christ in me which enables me to give mercy to the underserving, to forgive the offender, to turn the other cheek to the enemy, to go the extra mile with the oppressor, to give the cloak to the scoundrel, to give cheerfully to the beggar, to forgive seventy time seven.
In your life, in your circumstances, are you going to escalate the violence and perpetuate the cycle of revenge, either by your actions or attitude? Or will you imitate Christ and Stephen? Will you dare to absorb the blow, forgive the perpetrator, and end the cycle of revenge???
No, it's not easy! In fact, it may be the most difficult thing we are ever called to do. Radical forgiveness, like the cross of Christ is the absorption of injustices that transfers justice into the hands of an all-just God, exhausting the evil and opening the door to healing restoration.
Learning the narrow way,
Jim & Sally