Yesterday I suggested that there are elements of forgiveness that are conditional, and there are elements that are unconditional. I suggested that the offended party must unconditionally move toward forgiveness, but forgiveness can only be fully completed once repentance has taken place. Or, as David put it in the comments, “Forgiveness is our nonnegotiable move toward a reconciliation that, intrinsic to it, can only be brought to completion in the wake of repentance.”
Today I want to focus on the first part of the sentence – the nonnegotiable, unconditional move toward forgiveness. It seems clear from Scripture that no matter how the other person reacts, we are called to, in the words of an old saint:
- resist thoughts of revenge (Romans 12:19)
- not seek to do them mischief (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
- wish well to them (Luke 6:28)
- grieve at their calamities (Proverbs 24:17)
- pray for them (Matthew 5:44)
- seek reconciliation with them (Romans 12:18)
See this post for more on this topic.
So it seems that no matter how the other party responds, we are called to unconditionally move toward forgiveness. If the other party repents, full forgiveness can take place. If the other party never repents, at least we will have obeyed this command: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
An example of this is Jesus, who on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If forgiveness was unconditional, then all who killed Jesus would be forgiven without repenting of what they did. I’m going to suggest that Jesus was not forgiving those who did not repent; instead, he was doing his part to make forgiveness available even to those who were killing him. The Father and Son offer forgiveness to anyone who wants to receive it from them, but that forgiveness must be received through repentance.
I think it is important for us to talk about both forgiveness and readiness to forgive. There may be circumstances where a reconciliation is impossible, but a readiness to reconcile can still be present with a believer. Consequently, I would want to make that distinction when I was counseling a believer who was in a circumstance where there was not a present possibility of reconciliation of the relationship. Instead of telling them that they need to forgive or they will become bitter, I think I would rather say that you need to be ready to forgive and not to be captured by your bitterness.
I’m going to post one more time on this topic, this time about the idea of self-forgiveness.