A Note About Forgiveness
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29
Why do we forgive? Do others deserve our forgiveness? Should we forgive others even when we don't feel like they deserve it? These are very difficult questions, the answers to which will result in key decisions we make in our lives. We have all been wronged at one time or another. More likely than not we've been wronged by the people closest to us who should love us more than anyone else. The world will tell us not to forgive. The world promotes the idea of justice. It's alright to hold a grudge. If we feel like someone has wronged us and is treating us poorly then do they deserve to be treated poorly in return? Why is it that we want and expect others to follow the golden rule of, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," in their treatment of us while all the time feeling justified in doing to others according to what we think they "deserve" or have "earned" through their poor treatment of us, and as a result justifying our own wrong behavior?
This leads to the paradoxical question that, if we are honest, we must ask ourselves: Have I ever wronged someone else? Have I hurt someone close to me that I love? The answer will always be yes, at some point and in some way, we have hurt and wronged someone else. We are all human. Do I feel like I deserve that person's forgiveness? Yes, we, being ourselves, will always feel like we deserve forgiveness. Worse yet would be wronging someone and feeling justified in doing it and, even though we are hurting them, thinking they deserve it and so not even apologizing for the hurt we've inflicted.
The truth about forgiveness is deep and usually we have just scratched the surface in our own understanding of just how deep forgiveness should go.
If we thought we were going to be judged by the ten commandments, we might feel pretty good about where we think we stand. If, at the end of our lives, we got graded according to that standard: "Thou shalt not murder," PASS! "Thou shalt not commit adultery" PASS again! Say we receive 10% for each commandment, maybe you guess you would get about an 86%. That's a good grade and a passing one in school. You come to the conclusion that it will ensure your place in Heaven and you will be accepted by God as doing "good enough."
Jesus, however brings a whole new perspective. He tells us that it's not only the outward acts such as murder, idolatry and sexual immorality that will condemn us, but those deep and hidden motives we hold in our hearts. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus tells us just how far forgiveness should go. He demonstrates this by revealing the true nature of our own hearts to us. He says that we can look down on a murderer for the horrible wrong they've committed, but God draws the line of sin, not at the outward act, but at the very root of murder in our hearts. Murder begins with a hateful, bitter or angry thought or motive. Have you ever hated your brother, or even your enemy? Then you have committed murder in your hearts.
God's standard is perfection because He is perfect. Because He is holy, nothing can stand in His presence that is not. Hating another person, lusting after someone when you're married, lying (even those little white lies you tell to protect yourself). Yes, if all these things are taken into consideration, (and remember we don't even know the depths of our own hearts...but God does) then we don't have a leg to stand on. We are not holy or perfect. Were we to stand before God and see Him face to face today, apart from the atoning sacrifice of Christ, we would die. Noone will recieve a passing grade. Maybe you think you'll get in by the skin of your teeth, but why should a perfect God settle for anything less than 100%? According to the ten commandments and with the completion of our understanding of it that comes through seeing that our heart motives will be what ultimately condemn us, we deserve death.
That is, unless, our sins have been atoned for through the shedding of blood. In the Old Testament, the law prescribed the sacrifice of an animal to atone for the sins of the people. This, however, was nothing permanent, it was an ongoing process by which God could forgive the sin. Every time a new sin was committed, though, a new sacrifice would have to be offered. As we can see, this is an endless cycle and one that never truly cleansed. No, it was not established for that purpose. The purpose of the old covenant was to demonstrate a need for a new and more perfect covenant. Psalm 40:6 and Hebrews 10:5 tell us that God was not satisfied with the sacrificial system and that its purpose was to foreshadow the need for a Savior...the ultimate sacrifice:
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God."
This is the only one way that sin can permanently be abolished; a substitution must be made. Someone must be willing to step in on our behalf and die the death that we deserve. But who can? I can't die for your sins because I too am blemished and flawed. My life and your life would not be able to make atonement for the sins of the world. No, we need a perfect and spotless one. Someone who has understood the temptations to sin, for they are truly great, but was able to walk a pure and holy life. No Saint, no human in all of history can lay hold to this claim. There is only one who will qualify and that is God, living a life as a man, sinless and holy, undefiled yet killed. That man is Jesus, the son of God. This is stated so clearly in Isaiah 53:4-6:
" But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth."
and so, He made a way for us, so that we, if we recognize the state we truly live in, will realize our need for His forgiveness and bow down before him humbly asking for His mercy.
Are we destitute, sinful, willful people whose eyes stray and whose hearts betray? Yes, you and I are in need of forgiveness, mercy and grace. Because of me, Christ, the son of God, the only perfect one in all of history, died. He had to. It was His great love for me (and for you) that led Him there, that drove Him forward to that final destination that He never deserved or earned...death on a cross. As He perished He cried out, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do!" Was He speaking only of those who were physically killing Him...or was He speaking of you and of me. Even if I was, or you were, the only one on earth, He still would have had to face that undeserved death if He wanted us to be with Him...which He does. Praise be to our Savior and King. He loves us so much.
So...do they deserve our forgiveness, the ones who have betrayed us? Do the worst of sinners deserve to be pardoned? Yes. I, too, am amongst them in God's eyes. Romans 3:10 says, "There is none without sin, not even one." Yes, there are consequences to be had for sin and noone should get away with a wrong, but don't worry, our God is a God of justice. We should take Paul's advice in Romans 12:19 and, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord." Then we should remember that Jesus forgave us for our sins, which led to His death. He tells us that, "if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you," Matthew 6:14.