Here are some more thoughts on this matter of forgiveness that help us dispel the confusion we have so often been hampered (and guilted) by. Once again we thank our friend who sent her essay to us:
First of all, when God forgives, what does He actually do? The Biblical language for forgiveness (or the withholding of forgiveness) is –
- who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; forgiving iniquity and transgression;
- He will by no means clear the guilty; pardons all your iniquities,
- wipes out your transgressions; Passes over rebellious act
- Retains His anger
- Cleanses us from all unrighteousness
So from a Biblical standpoint forgiveness essentially is a pardoning of sin, a clearing of the guilty, a removing of debt or wiping out transgression. And because God’s forgiveness of us entails our salvation, there is a sense in which no one can forgive sins but God, and the people were [logically] right to marvel that Jesus would say this, although once they witnessed the power of God in Jesus’ healing of the man, they were accountable for believing.
I believe this means that there is a sense in which we represent God’s forgiveness when we forgive another person, so we better get this right. We do not have any right to invent our own version of forgiveness, (just like we can’t redefine ‘love’!) And because in God’s economy our forgiveness is directly tied to our salvation, then His forgiveness of us will inevitably lead to our reconciliation to Him. The Gospel in a nutshell is forgiveness of sins so we can be restored to God. Obviously we’re not going to save anybody when we forgive, but this is good to keep in mind, just to lay down the foundation for what forgiveness is —and isn’t—and to keep in perspective the depth of the powerful transaction between sinner and God in forgiveness.
Having a Biblical definition of forgiveness is important so that we don’t diminish God’s attributes. If we think of forgiveness only in terms of how we feel, or the relinquishing resentment or bitterness or revenge —then what does that say about God? Isn’t it right for a Holy God to punish sinners? Or are we saying that if God does not forgive then that means He “wants to hurt the person back”? Why should He forgive? For Himself—so He can feel better? Is God giving up something when He forgives, like His “right” to avenge? IF He forgives us is it because He has “let go of grudges” or because His rightful wrath was fully satisfied? Or to use Corrie Ten Boom’s other famous words (inserting God into her equation) does God “set the prisoner free only to realize the prisoner was God”? Do we realize that when we make such nonsense statements about forgiveness we say something distorted about God’s character?
And to play this out in our relationships, if it’s all about how we feel and what we do in private then we not only change what Biblical forgiveness is, but we’d have to forgive no matter what the offender did. And guess who is going to benefit from that? The predators. Because, after all, it would be sin to be resentful, bitter, and vengeful. And guess who gets blamed for that all the time. The victims. Which is actually so backwards! So when we twist forgiveness into something it’s not, it will mar God’s character and only backfire on innocent people while the guilty go free. But if we define forgiveness Biblically and we think in terms of pardoning transgression—the same way God forgives, then it would force us to deal with the sin, rather than ignore it, and put some “boundaries” around how or when forgiveness is extended. We would need certain conditions to be met because it would be wrong to forgive sin without the removal of guilt first.