Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 60: Forgiveness
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 60: Forgiveness

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Forgiveness is the embodiment of love. Therefore, after the Resurrection, Jesus greeted his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21, 22b-23)

Jesus’ disciples had abandoned Jesus in his time of crisis. Yet, upon his return, Jesus did not rebuke them. Rather, he said, “Peace be with you,” which demonstrated that Jesus still loved his disciples and that he forgave them. Their experience of being forgiven for their betrayal was a valuable lesson in the importance of forgiveness. Once they learned this lesson, they were prepared to become disciples of Jesus’ ministry of love. Previously, they were likely akin to most people, who naturally desire to avenge perceived wrongdoing. However, on finding that Jesus has, out of love, forgiven them, they could appreciate the power of love and the appropriateness of forgiveness. Similarly, Jesus forgave Saul, who was so transformed by the entire experience of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus that he subsequently became Paul. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, believed his violence was righteous. Paul, the forgiven disciple, recognized his past errors and, forgiven grievous misdeeds, was prepared to love and forgive others.

What did Jesus mean when he said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”? I think this means that forgiveness of sins allows people to move past old resentments. Commonly, anger and resentment from perceived offenses remain in one’s heart, and this causes misery to the person carrying these resentments while poisoning the possibility for growth and deepening of relationships. Therefore, “if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” – those who retain resentments for others’ sins are unable to forgive and grow in love.

After the Resurrection, immediately before departing from the Disciples, Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46b-47a). Repentance and forgiveness of sins would be the Disciples’ principle teaching, because these are the ingredients of love and peace.

How can we forgive, when it is so natural for us to respond to offenses (including those that bruise our self-esteem – see essay 26) with deep resentment? The answer is to follow Jesus’ example. Since Jesus forgave those who crucified him and the friends who abandoned him, we too can forgive people who have committed relatively petty offenses against us. But, what about those who have deeply wounded us? For this, we need pure love in our hearts that, many believe, requires the Holy Spirit. It takes God’s grace to relieve us of our natural desire for vengeance, and being forgiven is central to this grace: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 22b-23) Once we are forgiven, as Jesus did for the disciples and the Apostle Paul, we may be prepared to forgive the sins of any. Once we, like the Apostles and Paul, recognize that we are forgiven, we are prepared to be disciples of Christ, showing love and forgiveness and being a light unto the nations to help others similarly express God’s love.

I think forgiveness was central to Jesus’ ministry, and the next essays will further explore this topic.

Go on to: Part 61: Forgiveness and Peace
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