A Question on Forgiveness
The sun had not even set last Sunday when I received an excellent question about my sermon on forgiveness. The note essentially asked, “How can you say forgiveness is not the cancellation of consequences and then turn right around and say that part of forgiveness is canceling their debt?” Great question, right? All the more impressive that it came from someone not even old enough to drive.
That apparent conflict actually crossed my mind a couple of times last week as I was prepping but I never got around to thinking through it. I want to share my answer to our young sister in Christ in hopes it may benefit the rest of the church family as well.
First, you may forgive me for some sin against you, but some of the consequences of my sin may come from others, such as the law, or my employer, and your forgiving me may not have any bearing on what others will do. An extraordinary example would be the forgiveness extended by a number of the relatives of the nine people shot and killed by Dylann Roof at their church prayer meeting in South Carolina back in 2015. Their decision to forgive him is incredible, but Dylann still faced the legal consequences of his crimes.
However, forgiveness does not necessarily cancel all consequences coming from the one doing the forgiving. For example, a parent can genuinely forgive their child for sneaking out of the house at night to go on a joyride with friends, but still enforce a curfew or grounding. Those two actions are not necessarily in conflict, assuming the consequences are actually intended to help the child grow in maturity.
A person who forgives is essentially saying, “I desire good for you, not evil. I am for you, not against you.” That effort to do them good may mean canceling some consequences, and it may include enforcing others, but both would have the same purpose: to help the person who did wrong.
May God give us his wisdom to know how to forgive and his power to carry it out.