So, it may take me a while to feel like things are up and running here. To start things off, I thought I would post a few things I have written in the past. The following is a (slightly edited) letter I wrote to a friend who was struggling with whether to forgive someone in her life. For context, she has been told by others that she needs to get over it and forgive this person though the party in question has not asked for forgiveness, continues to injure her almost daily, and indeed shows no awareness at all that they are doing anything wrong.


So here are my deep thoughts on forgiveness. I think it is a point of contention among Christian people whether one needs to forigive someone who is unrepentant. I feel funny being against forgiveness but I don’t think you are obligated to forgive Sylvester (names changed to protect the innocent and guilty) at this point.
I think your friend is making forgiveness too cheap and easy. It is not easy and it minimizes the hurt that has been done to you to just say, “Oh, you should move on and get over it.” God takes sin very seriously. We don’t follow all the Old Testament prescriptions about sacrifices to atone for sin but I think their complexity still shows us how seriously God takes sin and how hard it is to get rid of. In the end, we don’t need to do all those sacrifices because God sacrificed His own Son for all our sins. That was the only way to really atone for them. That is how serious it is. Forgiving, wiping away sin, costs something. Ultimately, God has paid the price for us through Jesus. But even between people it costs the forgiver something to forgive the one who has sinned against them. If someone owes you money and you forgive that debt, that costs you dollars. The cost of other sins is harder to define but it is still there.
None the less, God is a forgiving God and He does command us to forgive which brings us to the verses your friend probably quoted. There are two basic types of verses on this that I can find. A number of times Jesus tells us something like what comes in the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us.” This may make it sound like God will forgive us only if we forgive others but I don’t think this is what it means. From other passages we know that we can only love others because God first loved us. God’s people should be willing to forgive because they themselves are forgiven people whose sins have been wiped out. Our being forgiven by God is not conditional on our forgiveness of others. God does not love and forgive us because of our good deeds; we do good because he has loved and forgiven us first.
God does not forgive everyone. It is a harsh truth but I don’t believe everyone is God’s people. I do believe there is a hell as well as a heaven and those who do not repent and turn from their sins and follow God will end up there. These people are not forgiven by God because they do not repent. At this point Sylvester has not repented. I believe God can save anyone no matter how sinful they may appear to us so there is still hope for Sylvester but at this point he is not forgiven by God so how can God ask you to forgive him? Somebody else may have an answer to this question but I don’t.
Which brings us to the others verses about forgiveness that your friend may have quoted. In Matthew 18:22, we are told that Jesus’ disciple asked him how often he had to forgive his brother and suggested maybe seven times. Jesus responds, not seven but seventy times seven times you need to forgive your brother. This is not meant to be literal, by the way. Jesus doesn’t mean you can go to 490 and then stop. He means keep forgiving. The other similar passage is in Luke 17:3-4. It says, “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The first thing you will notice is that the sinner in this case repents and asks for forgiveness. Even though he keeps doing it, he does realize his sin and repent. Clearly, Sylvester is not doing this. He does not even acknowledge he has done anything wrong. The second thing to notice
is the word “brother.” It was also in the Matthew passage. These commands to forgive and keep forgiving are not for anyone. They are for Jesus’ followers and they refer to their sins against each other. In Bible speak, not everyone is your “brother.” Some people are called neighbors or strangers or enemies. A brother is someone you are related to, either biologically as we would use the word (though they would include cousins and things in this term) or spiritually. The latter is meant here. If you are God’s child, one of His people, His other children are your brothers and sisters. As God’s children, they too are forgiven people. Because God has forgiven them (and forgiven you), you must also forgive your brothers and sisters in Christ. Sylvester is not your brother in this way. He is, in fact, your enemy (because he has made himself so; your enemy is the one who hates you and he clearly has been hating you through his actions and words). So my final
answer is no, you don’t at this time have to forgive Sylvester because a) he is not forgiven by God and b) he is not your brother (which is really saying the same thing as a I guess) and c) he is not repentant.

Some day, Sylvester may realize his sin and repent. Then you will be called on to forgive him.
I don’t want to let you off the hook by saying you don’t need to forgive now. That doesn’t mean there is nothing God wants you to do now. The most important thing right this minute though, I think, is to make sure you are a forgiven person. Only a forgiven person can truly forgive others. I don’t know what your sins are. I know they may pale in comparison to Sylvester’s which seem so obvious to us if not him. But I also know all people sin so you must have some. I don’t believe we need to wrack our brains and make a complete list of eveything we’ve ever done wrong so God can forgive it. But we do need at least once to fall down before him (figuritively but literally is okay too) in  prayer and confess that that we are sinners in need of His forgiveness. Then hopefully we get up and try to follow Him from then on. We will still sin and mess up  but we confess our sins again as we are made aware of them and try again and move on. This is what it means to be one
of God’s people.



One response to this post.

  1. […] brethren pretty hard. And it was pointed out (not by me though I have previously espoused the idea here in another context) that when the Bible speaks of our brothers it means other Christians, the […]


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