Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 74: Forgiveness, the Hardest Thing
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 74: Forgiveness, the Hardest Thing

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Even though I think love and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin, I think a lot of people are much more comfortable with the phrase “God loves me” than “God forgives me.” I think there are at least two reasons. First, it’s hard for us to feel worthy of forgiveness, because we know that we have sinned and continue to sin. We can imagine God loving us as our parents have loved us, warts and all, but even our parents may be reluctant to forgive our greatest trespasses.

Second, if we accept God’s forgiveness for our sins against God, then we are inclined to feel compelled to forgive our rivals and everyone else who has offended or scandalized us, and that is very hard. Why? I think it often relates to self-esteem. We feel that, if we forgive, we are acquiescing to an offense. Only “getting even” can restore our sense of honor and worth. This is why it is so important that we are reborn in Christ. Jesus said we should forgive repeatedly, even forgiving our brother “seventy times seven” times, which is probably more times than a person could possibly offend us in a lifetime. If we repeatedly forgave our brother, he would very likely cease to offend eventually, because we would have given him no new cause to offend. Having no debt of honor to “pay back,” he would simply stop offending. If we acted out against him, his “righteous” anger would likely demand “pay back,” causing him to offend us again. Forgiveness breaks this pay back cycle.

Who can forgive? Since God is the source of the spark of life, God can forgive. The victim can also forgive, and the reason that Jesus could forgive the adulteress and other transgressors was that he himself was the “Lamb slain since the foundation of the world.”

Does God always forgive? I don’t know. It is possible that God withholds forgiveness from those who are knowingly hurtful and remain unrepentant. In any event, if God were to forgive such people, they would not feel forgiven, because they would fail to recognize the need for forgiveness in the first place.

How do we forgive? Often, saying “I forgive you” can come across as sanctimonious, condescending, or disingenuous. Frequently, the best approach is to express one’s love in words and/or deeds, and to apologize for one’s own contribution to conflict.

Who needs forgiveness? Since all people and animals belong to God, whenever we hurt someone, we harm God. As Jesus said, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). In think we should remain mindful that we do not need to be the actual perpetrators of violence in order to be responsible for violence. If we have paid for people to do violence for us (such as purchasing meat in a grocery store, effectively paying for others to raise and slaughter the animals), or if we have benefited from violent institutions (such as the U.S. government’s support of repressive regimes), we have participated in the crucifixion of Christ.

Forgiveness is central to restoring a loving relationship with all Creation, as well as with our brother. I don’t think Jesus sought to establish a new religion; rather, I think he aimed to help people develop a loving relationship with God. This is the relationship that Adam and Eve briefly enjoyed, and it’s a relationship that the Hebrew Scriptures aimed to describe. This relationship is grounded in love; just as God loves us, we have been called to reflect God’s love for all Creation. Insofar as God loves people, God must give us freedom. However, this freedom inevitably gives us the opportunity to turn away from God and to be poor stewards of God’s Creation.

For many of us, redemption and salvation starts with hearing the cock crow. Until we recognize that we have hurt others and failed in our duty to serve God, we will continue to be judgmental and self-righteous. Knowing, first, that we are sinners, and then that God forgives us, we may be reborn in Christ, dedicated to honoring God with our life and works.

Next week, we will further explore the theological implications of our calling to forgive.

Go on to: Part 75: Forgiveness and Theology
Return to: Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence Table of Contents
Return to: Christian Living Table of Contents