Two Kinds of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is used two different ways in the Bible.

On the one hand, it’s obvious that you should learn to tolerate human failure. That whole business of “seven times seven” Jesus taught has to do with moving away from the legalism of the Pharisees. Focusing on the angle “you need to forgive” guarantees you will miss the point, that you still think like a Pharisee. Jesus was trying to move His disciples into another level of understanding. In that sense, forgiveness is a mindset where you build up a reserve of tolerance for people who are struggling with moral fortitude.

Thus, we have all manner of reminders that the person in the mirror is no better than anyone else. We are all born under the Curse of the Fall, and we all rub someone else the wrong way. There is too much far more important stuff to worry about than to fight over who is offended at whom and for what. The issue here is getting self out of the way so we can stop confusing personal discomfort with threats to the mission.

So the question here is to stop and discern what you really absolutely must have in order to keep peace with God. When someone in your world intrudes into that territory, you do whatever it takes to keep them away from it. The simplest measure is putting distance between you and them. If that’s not possible, then you start working on other kinds of barriers that require changing their behavior. It is quite valid that this scales up to violence, simply because some people are not equipped to change themselves in some contexts. It’s not based on personal pique, but whatever it takes to protect the mission, to keep giving God what He demands of you.

Your heart will tell you how tolerant you must be, and your experience will indicate the boundaries. The wisdom of others involved is a factor, of course. This is what a covenant community of faith is all about. You need a wider perspective to point out things your flesh tends to ignore. Your fleshly self is predisposed to take offense and tie up the process at those critical points where that gets in the way of clear thinking from the heart.

On the other hand, there is another other kind of forgiveness: the active choice of the recipient. You can’t give someone something they refuse to accept. You can put it within reach, but you can’t make them take it. Forgiveness means nothing in the redemption of their souls until they move to where forgiveness stands. The Bible makes it clear you cannot receive God’s forgiveness until you want it. Wanting it means going where grace is waiting for you.

That means repentance. You as the person in need of forgiveness can’t have it on your own terms. You cannot demand free delivery at your convenience. Something is broken and you are culpable, so you are the one with the burden of debt.

Most vendettas arise over the confusion of dominion. Who owns what? What did God grant in feudal vassalage to each of us? If we usurp His authority on such matters, forgiveness will always be a confused mess.

We struggle with a very evil and nasty mythology about earthly authority in the West. We have a totalitarian instinct on this question, by which we presume to grant near absolute authority to agencies that God doesn’t recognize. We have a tendency to postulate a community standard with vehemence and even hatred when it’s just a mask for one’s personal leverage. We seek to force humiliation onto others from a social perspective that rejects a priori the moral compass of the heart. We vest absolute authority in the most shallow and passing political consensus, something that is so easily manipulated that it’s a joke.

So we have this false image, an idolatry of something we construct in our own minds as the absolute moral norm simply because we can find some legalistic support for it, even if we have to use the most questionable semantic analysis. And we invest too much energy in this defense of what amounts to the very most petty pique, as if it were some divine right to be pissed and demand retribution. This gives birth to a demand for the most invasive humiliation and vindictive hatred so that forgiveness is driven out.

This is not what God meant by “repentance.” Repentance between humans is simply agreeing that some bad event should not have happened. It is seldom one-sided in confessing culpability. It is meeting in the middle somewhere to restore shalom. It’s putting out the fire of inflamed passions of offense. It is seeking terms of coexistence.

There are some people in this world you should stay far, far away from. This is the fallen reality in which we live. We do not harness elephants and dogs to the same wagon. God made each to function differently for very good reasons, and no godly leader would waste time with such a project. A critical element in building and maintaining shalom is not dragging anyone down with needless frustration and conflict. People should be guided to a position that matches how God made them to live.

For the most part, forgiveness is a problem for leadership. That is, the people who complain most about it are leaders who don’t want to do their job. They tend to force “solutions” that are convenient for them. This happens when they focus too much on getting things done, when God says that has a lower priority than keeping the peace. Most leaders want to get things done because it elevates their materialistic standing. Biblical Law says that’s not important; it says that keeping shalom is what matters. Peace with God often means keeping people apart who don’t belong together, along with a whole range of setting boundaries and shielding them from each other when separation isn’t possible.

Forgiveness balances between the individual and the community.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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2 Responses to Two Kinds of Forgiveness

  1. Jay DiNitto says:

    Christians LOVE stories about people forgiving, say, the murderer of one of their family members. It’s nonsense. That’s a misplacement about what forgiveness is. Someone who threatens the shalom of your house like that needs some sort of action taken. Since our hands are tied in the current way we’re not allowed to handle things on our own, the least we could do in that situation is make it clear how the murderer would end up if he were found in our hands, in different judicial circumstances. That would get boos from everyone except from some fringe folks, which is alright by me.

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  2. Ed Hurst says:

    That’s actually a very complicated and subtle issue where genuine biblical values are at odds with the West. There is a place for letting God take vengeance, but He flatly said in the Covenant of Noah that those granted moral dominion must demand an answer for family blood. The West puts the emphasis on the individual, while slyly demanding that these individuals not infringe on the prerogatives of the State. Biblical values would definitely destroy the State, because it denies the absolute authority of the State. Then again, that whole thing presumes the kind of vindictive punitive response of rubbing the perpetrator’s face in their crimes, which is also not found in the Bible. Only in the West will you hear someone declare the virtue of “making the rubble bounce.” It’s a false dichotomy that we must either punish or heroically “forgive” the crimes of others. The Bible says we must restore justice and moral balance, something utterly missing from Western thinking.

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