Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 61: Forgiveness and Peace
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 61: Forgiveness and Peace

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

The Prince of Peace was trying to show how people (who seem to fall into rivalries that lead to violence) might live peacefully with each other. Jesus recognized the importance of forgiveness, and when Peter asked if he should forgive his brother as many as seven times, Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22) The path to forgiving others starts with our understanding that we ourselves are forgiven.

Our desire to feel justified in God’s eyes strongly encourages us to rationalize even our most violent or hurtful acts as justified or even righteous. The writer of Proverbs wrote, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” (21:2) However, if we believed that we were forgiven for past wrongdoing, we would be much more inclined to regard our past deeds objectively and to recognize when we have erred. Our faith teaches us that God’s love is so boundless that God forgives any and all transgressions. God’s unconditional forgiveness allows us to reflect honestly on what we have done and to identify times when we have sinned. Upon recognizing our own misdeeds, we become much more open to forgiving other people.

When there is conflict, the only nonviolent path to reconciliation and peace involves forgiveness. When articulating forgiveness, of course, one should not convey an implicit accusation. When our words or actions communicate, “I am so magnanimous that I can forgive you, even though you are a scoundrel,” we are being condescending and not truly forgiving. Rather, in forgiving other people, one can acknowledge one’s own contribution to the conflict and ask for their forgiveness, while simultaneously forgiving them. In such a loving environment, they will be more likely to recognize ways in which they have been selfish or thoughtless. This can engender in them a much more loving, forgiving frame of mind, opening up paths towards reconciliation. This is an important way by which disciples of Christ may be lights unto the nations. If we are accusatory and judgmental, we become locked into conflicts that are ultimately resolved by violence. If we are loving and forgiving, we open avenues of peace.

Of course, even if our forgiveness were unconditional, it might not be accepted. Some people refuse forgiveness, either because they don’t believe they have done anything wrong or because they cherish their resentments, which forgiveness threatens to disarm.

Though some resist forgiveness, many people respond to love with love. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16) This is prudent, in part because we are often wise to focus our love on those who are willing to accept it. However, Rev. Paul Nuechterlein has argued that this passage is more about forgiveness. Jesus taught that being innocent (i.e., loving and non-judgmental) can be dangerous. I think there are at least two reasons:

First, people often expect that their aggressiveness will be met with resistant force, and they are often perplexed, and consequently angered, when they meet an unexpected response from peacemakers.

Second, some aggressive people interpret peacemaking as a sign of weakness, which may encourage further aggression.

Yet, ultimately, “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Why? Because “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) The only path to peace is to follow the Apostle Paul’s instruction: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col 3:12-13)

We will explore forgiveness and anger next week.

Go on to: Part 62: Forgiveness and Anger
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