Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Forgiveness.

A Church of England vicar has resigned because she cannot forgive the London 7/7 bombers who murdered her daughter.

Should a Christian always forgive? A simple reading of the Bible shows that it is not so. Universal forgiveness is a modern heresy. In John 3:16 we are told that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Universalists emphasize the fact that it is the whole world and major on the 'whosoever'; but it should be noted that this forgiveness is conditional. The words 'believes in him' are not decoration; they are the condition. Two verses later it says, "he who does not believe is condemned already."

In I John 1:9 we learn, "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Note the condition: 'if we confess our sins.'

On the cross Jesus said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Was this a prayer for all mankind or merely for the soldiers who were carrying out the crucifixion? You only have to read his confrontations with Herod and Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas to realise that they knew what they were doing. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people. (John 18:14) They at least were not included in any general forgiveness. And what about Judas? We are told that the devil entered into him.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Paul expands on this in Romans chapter 12. He tells us to bless those who persecute us. We should not repay evil for evil. We should not take revenge. He quotes from Proverbs chapter 25, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head." In other words doing good to one's enemy might bring him to repentance.

In the parable of the unmerciful servant the man who had been forgiven a great debt is condemned when he fails to forgive the smaller debt of a fellow servant (Matthew 18:21-35). But note verse 29: his fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, "Be patient with me, and I will pay you back." This story exorts us to forgive those who beg forgiveness, for we have been forgiven much more.

Forgiveness is available for everybody. "While we were still in our sin, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) There are countless exortations for brother to forgive brother. Those who have placed themselves under the covenant of Christ have an absolute obligation to forgive others under the same blanket. But those who reject the love of God and his priceless gift of grace put themselves beyond forgiveness.

Even if we are able to overcome our own grief and for our own benefit are able to come to terms with the hurt that has been done to us - and this always takes time and prayer - the perpetrator remains unforgiven because God's forgiveness is conditional on repentance. Forgiving those who do not repent does no good. It only encourages them to go on sinning.

Suicide bombers remove themselves from the possiblity of forgiveness. Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement. (Hebrews 9:27) What they did in London was unspeakably evil. It cannot be forgiven and the bombers are beyond forgiveness. It is absolutely right for a Christian to hate evil. A bereaved mother can sympathize with the mothers of the bombers that their children should have been lost to them; she can pity the fact that they were led astray by evil men; but of their own volition they did this evil thing and then removed themselves from the possibility of repentance. There is now no-one for her to forgive. What remains for her is to cleanse her soul of bitterness. It's not easy. Who can say that they would not feel bitter in such a situation? But it is certainly true that when the bitterness goes she will be healed.

9 comments:

John Wagner said...

Thank you, again, for a post that is right on target and so clearly explained. In the past, I have been asked similar questions concerning Christian forgiveness and I have struggled to come up with a clear explanation even though I believe exactly like you do. My youngest daughter struggled with this for years after an assault upon her person. We finally worked through it and she came to realize that although she could not forgive the perpetrator, she could "let go" and release the bitterness that was only harming her more. The young man is in prison and paying for his crimes against her and three other young ladies. She seems to have healed emotionally now, but it took much prayer and work on her part.

You have answered the question perfectly. With your permission, I would like to print this post out and share it with my Bible Study class.

Also, your previous post on physician-assisted suicide should be required reading in medical schools. We need more doctors like you who are not afraid to take a stand. I have learned so much from you in so many areas, not just about my disease. Thank you and God Bless you!

Anonymous said...

There is forgive and forget..which I don't believe anyone , even Christians should adhere to. If someone who has not accepted Christ, comes in to my home and molests my daughter, I can forgive him (it would take some time, I'm sure) but I would not allow this person to be anywhere near my children again--it would be a stupid decision. The same would be true of a Christian who comits the same crime.
I believe that Christians can forgive those who have not come into a personal relationship with Christ. Sin is sin--it's missing the mark of perfection of God. THe only way we can meet that goal of perfection in God's eyes is the acceptance of the gift of Christ on the cross (that is our postion that Roman's so clearly lays out).

Sooo... is extending forgiveness a "pass" for the person who has not accepted Christ to keep sinning? Do we as Christians stop sinning when we accept God's gift of His son? No. We remain blameless in God's eyes, but the reality of sin is there.

I love how Paul lays this out in Romans 7 where he stuggles with upholding the law, but can't "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

I love your thought provoking posts Terry! Maybe you can address the Chritian's response to CLL or other life threatening diseases in a future post?

LC Powell
Ohio

Vance Esler said...

Business keeps me away from the blog world for a few days, and when I come back, I find that you have been most prolific!

I, too, found this post interesting. I had not really considered the angle that if someone blows himself up or otherwise commits suicide in the act of a crime, he also makes it impossible for a victim to later tell him, "I forgive you."

Suicide crime compounds the meanness of a perpetrator's act by removing the possibility that the criminal might ever repent and seek forgiveness. When we forgive, the healing process begins. When a criminal cannot repent, our own healing is made more difficult.

You know, God himself does not always forgive. If He did, there would be no Hell.

If God does not or cannot forgive those who do not repent, must we?

Anonymous said...

MUTATIONS OF TH'S BLOG
I love you Dr. Hamblin. But I am getting troubled by the increase in the Christian themes at your recent blogs. I'll leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

Read what it says on the tin:
Random thoughts of Terry Hamblin about leukaemia, literature, poetry, politics, religion, cricket and music.

Anonymous said...

I was the type who went to church almost every day until I studied church history in a Catholic college.
I still listen almost exclusively to country gospel music as I love it but no longer belive in anything church leaders or the bible says as representing god word.

Anonymous said...

Dear Doctor Terry Hamblin, You are so awesome. Thank you for sharing your views, as difficult as it may be sometimes. Thank you for being such a great witness to many who don't understand that they need it. God bless you!

Barbara Wendt said...

Dr. Hamblin,

Obviously seven other people chose to comment about forgiveness, and I, too, was struck by how this has always been very difficult for me. With age I have arrived at a wide general forgiveness of human frailty, and can deal with some cruel transgressions but usually never forget them.

You see, I, too, am a maverick who grew up on a forty two square mile ranch in the Southwest, and it still seems wise to remember that rattlesnakes hike in the mesquite.

markinaustin said...

very interesting. i don't disagree with you, but i am not sure what
to do with it. what is the difference between letting go of
bitterness and forgiving? can you forgive and still hold one
accountable? is it possible that God does forgive everyone, but he
still holds them accountable if they don't receive HIs grace?