The front page of our local Newspaper carried the story of peace activists protesting the use of Bombs to fight international terrorism. The article also included a photo of a child carrying a sign asking, “What Would Jesus Do?”
The question on the sign is important. Jesus said that if we don’t forgive others, the Father in Heaven will not forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). But was He telling us to forgive those who have not had a change of heart? Not according to the rest of the Scriptures.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not an advocate of vengeance. I need forgiveness as much as anyone. I see how unbecoming it is to receive mountains of forgiveness from heaven, only to withhold handfuls from those who hurt us on earth. But if we are not careful with forgiveness, we may unintentionally strengthen the grip of dangerous people. Let’s take another look at what the Bible asks of us…
1. There is a difference between love and forgiveness.
God loves everyone, and He shows mercy to all (MATTHEW 5:45). But He does not forgive everyone. He offers forgiveness with conditions because there are some attitudes He will not forgive. As compassionate as He is, won’t lift the burden of guilt from those who refuse to acknowledge their need for mercy.
But someone says. “You’re missing the point. Vengeance is God’s business not ours. We don’t forgive to let those who have harmed us off the hook. We forgive to turn the offenders over to God and to get the bitterness and anger out of our own stomachs. If we don‘t forgive, our own anger will consume us.
Vengeance does belong to God alone. But will a watching world see us acting nobly and lovingly when we offer forgiveness to unrepentant dangerous people? My guess is that others will think we are dangerously naïve and only forgiving for our own emotional survival.
2. Everyone can be forgiven but only some qualify.
God forgives repentant people. His heart reaches out to those who are contrite and broken (Isaiah 66:2). But He does not forgive those who consciously hide and cling to their wrongs. Neither does He teach us to automatically forgive everyone who has wronged us.
Instead, the God of the Bible teaches us to pray for our enemies those who have harmed us and to forgive those who acknowledge their wrong. (Matthew 18:15-18; Luke 17:1-4; 1 Corinthians 5:1-8; 2 Corinthians 2:6-11)
3. Christ’s warnings need to be understood.
We can’t afford to misunderstand the words of Jesus, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses Matthew 6:15). He wasn’t teaching us to automatically forgive everyone who harms us. His warning was for those whose hearts are hard and unrelenting toward those who ask for our forgiveness. His loving anger is a warning of what happens when we refuse to give repentant people the mercy we ourselves have received (Matthew 18:23-25).
4. Neither love nor forgiveness eliminates the need for social justice and national security.
Acts of terrorism are not just crimes against individuals. By design they are attacks against the state. As a result they fall into a different category than personal insult and harm. Assaults on national security are similar to the threats we find King David responding to in some of his national songs of judgment..
In several of his well-known Old Testament psalms, David called for the utter destruction of the enemy. Because he expressed a cry for judgment rather than mercy, many think that his prayers are inconsistent with the spirit of Christ. But it’s important to realize that when David wrote as the King of Israel, his cries for help were not only for himself but for the security of his people (Psalms5,11,17,35,55, 59, 69, 109,137, and 140).
Much of the Bible shows that there is a time for war, just as there is a time for peace. Although war has terrible consequences, leaders who love their people must take severe action against aggressors. The apostle Paul supported this governmental justice when he wrote that the authorities do not bear the sword in vain but are God’s servants to execute justice on those who do evil (Romans 13:4).
5. To love is more important than to forgive.
To care, even for those we must go to war against is Christ like. Even when our military is dropping bombs on those our leaders have declared enemies of the state, love teaches us to “cry inside” for those who are suffering not for their own wrongs, but for the wrongs of their leaders.
When a terrorist is killed, we can be thankful that the person longer poses a threat to others. But God takes no pleasure in the death of His enemies (Ezekiel 33:11).
6. Love fulfills the principle of forgiveness.
As followers of Christ, we are to be known for our forgiveness. Even more, we are to be known for our love (Galatians 5:14). All biblical principals can be misapplied and misused if they are not motivated by a heart of enlightened love.
But what does this love look like? It is a love that walks in the clothes of the wisdom and principals of the Bible. This love is what prompted the apostle Paul to write, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).
Christ like love needs to set the tone and rhythm of our lives. We are to be known not only for our willingness to offer timely forgiveness but also for our willingness to stand against oppressor, while acting courageously in behalf of those who have no voice or strength of their own.
Father in Heaven, sometimes we have forgiven only for our own sake, rather than for Your sake and the good of others. Please teach us to forgive as You have forgiven us. Show us how to compassionately stand with victims. Help us confront and stop oppressors, without taking delight in their pain or death.
To Love is more important than to forgive.
Martin De Haan wrote this in March 2002 for RBC Ministries Newsletter. I thought this would be appropriate to share at this time.