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In this episode of TGC Q&A, Tim Challies and Tony Merida discuss the question, “Should I forgive those who are unrepentant?” They address:
- Defining forgiveness (:00)
- Becoming a peacemaker (1:21)
- The forgiveness of God (3:42)
- Acknowledging consequences (5:02)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of forgiveness.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Tim Challies: When we talk about forgiveness I think we use the same word in a couple of different ways. And so when we speak about forgiveness, we may be talking about something that’s just refusing to dispense consequences to people, refusing to feel bitterness toward people perhaps, who’ve done something that has offended us, some way they’ve sinned against us. So that’s one way speaking about forgiveness.
Another way, which would be a fuller meaning and certainly the one that’s modeled in the gospel would be a full reconciliation of people who have been torn apart by some issue. And so in that way, one person must confess sin, another person must forgive them, and together that brings about reconciliation. I think when we’re talking forgiveness, we need to distinguish which one of those two things we’re talking about.
Tony Merida: I’ve been helped through the years by Ken Sandy’s book, The Peacemaker and Poirier who wrote The Peacemaking Pastor. And I think they talk about dispositional forgiveness and transactional forgiveness. Those have been some helpful categories for me to think about, dispositional forgiveness is the heart of forgiveness, the attitude that we have toward an individual who has offended us. I think, yes, we should forgive that individual regardless of their response when they’re confronted, but in our own hearts first, Mark 11, when you stand to pray, forgive, if you have an issue with someone so that you may be forgiven, that’s echoed, of course, in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us just as we have forgiven our debtors.” There’s an assumption we’re a forgiving people, right? Then you add to that the layers of loving even our enemies, and I Corinthians 13 of not keeping a record of wrongs. There’s clearly the call for all of us to model the forgiveness that we have enjoyed, that we receive from our God who is merciful to forgive.
I think the transactional component of getting reconciliation is what we all want. I think that’s obviously the most difficult thing. We have the steps laid out for us in the New Testament. Luke 17, “If has offended, you rebuke them or if then a fall rebuke them, if they repent, forgive them.” Then Jesus says, “If they do it seven times in a day, keep forgiving them if they repent.” I think the goal, as you indicated is trying to have that full sense of forgiveness.
I’ve always been struck by a couple of passages in the Old Testament about God’s readiness to forgive, like in Nehemiah 9, Nehemiah makes that long prayer and he says, “You are a God ready to forgive.” I think that’s the heart that we want is to be a people who have had our sins forgiven, that we also are a forgiving people, we stand ready to forgive.
Tim Challies: Now, when we talk about God’s forgiveness, we have to understand that that is a full reconciliation, God does not forgive those who do not confess their sin. We understand God gives us the ability, the capacity, the desire to seek his forgiveness, but there always is a transactional kind of forgiveness in that sense that there is full reconciliation between those warring parties.
I think one of the struggles with asking and answering a question like this is we get to talk about it in the abstract as we’re doing now, but most people when they ask this question, there’s something in their mind, something in their heart, something in their background that they’re dealing with. Most often it would be something like, “Well, my father did this to me. He was abusive or something. Do I need to forgive him? He hasn’t owned that sin, he doesn’t acknowledge that sin, do I need to forgive him?” I think that’s where there’s a real complexity that we have to acknowledge and that’s best handled, not in the abstract like this, but speaking to a pastor who can work through that situation with you and help you understand what it would be like to remove the bitterness, to understand that if you maintain that bitterness, that might feel good but it doesn’t do anything to harm him that only harm harm you. To maintain that desire to have full reconciliation at the same time to acknowledge that we may not have that on this side of glory.
Tony Merida: Yeah. Yeah. Just answering question in eight minutes to an individual who has been so deeply wounded by someone is … We don’t believe that we’ve done all of the work that needs to be done. There’s going to be, in those occasions, several sessions, many days of that individual seeking the Lord’s grace, forgiving on a regular basis.
Yeah, it’s easier to talk about these relational issues outside of relationship examples but when you put the example in front of it, that’s when you really have to do soul care for a long period of time.
Tim Challies: Yeah. Of course, acknowledging that forgiveness in either of the sort of forms we’ve been talking about, doesn’t negate consequences or possible consequences, I think is important as well. You can say, “I forgive you and I hope you spend the rest of your life in prison,” and those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, that would be the fullest form of forgiveness is both acknowledging the consequences … Or it would be forgiving someone, bridging some sort of reconciliation, at the same time, allowing that person to suffer the just consequences of their actions. There’s a lot bound up in forgiveness and as Christians, we know we weren’t just let off scot-free. Christ suffered the full measure for our sin. He suffered for them and so we’ve not been let us scot-free, that there was justice for our sins as well.
Tony Merida: Yeah. I think eschatologically we believe that there will be a final judgment and that God will have the last word on cases of injustice and so we can rest in that. That also empowers our forgiveness of offenders.
Tim Challies: Yeah.