Thursday, July 21, 2011

If God Doesn't Forgive, Why Should We?

We, at Sharon Community Church, had a nice discussion on forgiveness a few nights ago. We looked at how Jesus and the scriptures tell us to forgive compared to how we actually forgive. It seems that we often think we can pick and choose when and how to forgive, and even sometimes justify not forgiving, as if some people are beyond forgiveness.

This is not to say that forgiveness is easy and that it doesn't often consist of a long and painful process, however, Jesus seems to be clear that we are to forgive unconditionally and as many times as needed.

Among the many scriptures looked at, a few stood out to me though.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Mark 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

In the few verses listed above, it seems as though God's forgiveness is conditional. It looks as if God only forgives us, if we forgive others. There are conditions.

This idea seems to go against other teachings throughout scripture about forgiveness, especially Jesus' own teachings.

Jesus tells his followers to forgive unconditionally and to forgive as many times as it takes when someone sins against them.

In scripture, We are commanded to forgive and at the same time told to be imitators of God.

So if God doesn't forgive unconditionally then why would we be expected to forgive unconditionally? Or if our God doesn't forgive, then why would we forgive?

When discussing unconditional forgiveness someone even spoke up and said, "well doesn't God require us to come before Him and ask forgiveness before He can forgive us?"

And here-in lies the problem... What kind of God do we follow?

If we believe that God requires something from us in order to forgive, then of course we will require something from others before we will forgive them. We often do become imitators of God, the problem is that it is often not the God revealed through Jesus that we are imitating.

So, in light of Jesus' other teachings on forgiveness, how do you interpret verses such as the ones listed above that seem to indicate that God's forgiveness is dependent upon something we have to do or fulfill in order to receive it?

What say you?

And Tomorrow I'll give my thoughts on how I understand the verses listed above in light of the unconditional forgiveness seen throughout the rest of scripture.


JustinGaynor said...

You mention a couple times that Jesus says to 'to forgive as many times as it takes when someone sins against them.'

First, a question...'as many times as it takes'...takes to do 'what'?

Now, the verse you are referring to above, but didn't include, has Jesus teaching forgiveness as the only appropriate, and unconditional, response to repentance...a humble and contrite heart. Repeated forgiveness is, in Jesus teaching, as response to an act of repentance.

"If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” - Jesus

I would also note that the benefit, the salvation if you will, that comes from that unconditional act of forgiveness, is purposed to bring about that 'what' you are looking for. If it does not bring about that 'what'...then rebuke is very likely in order both the forgiveness and the rebuke are designed to bring about the 'what'. If they don't...according to Jesus may just piss away the benefit of the act of forgiveness as in Jesus teaching on forgiveness in Matt. 18v21-35.

So if repentance is labeled a condition, then yes the forgiveness God gives is conditional and Jesus teachings agree with that, because He only does what He sees and hears from the Father. Therefore ours is to be as well, because we follow Jesus. This is not to say our love is conditional on repentance, their wickedness may grieve us to our very heart...but love them we must, even as we see the flood carry them away to their death.

As far as God's forgiveness being predicated on your own forgiveness towards others...that is a pretty clear and consistent teaching of Jesus'. It makes it relational, ties it in with love your neighbor as yourself, or as Jesus says the whole (Spirit) of Torah and the Prophets, which He is set out to make full, not abolish, is contained in one word, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you." Such is the law of Christ.

Perhaps the best word to describe God's forgiveness is not unconditional, but undeserved. We should offer undeserved forgiveness unreservedly, build on preemptive love. Yes, justice, mercy and faithfulness trump 'unconditional' accordingly.

Jkub said...


I see what you're saying. I do However, see God's forgiveness to be unconditional. The verse that I referred to but didn't mention says that if someone sins against you, then you go to them, If they listen you have won them...if not, then you keep pursuing them. It seems that the burden is on us to make it right or reconcile even if we are the ones who were offended. It doesn't seem to indicate that we wait for them to repent and if they don't then so be it. It seems we are to forgive and endlessly pursue reconciliation (what I think to be the "that" you mentioned). And as Ive written before, I see repentance as a response to forgiveness, not a condition for forgiveness. So this is where I am coming from.

I think this is the kind of forgiveness We see in the prodigal son story.

Now, as I plan to post about later today, I do see the verses I mentioned, about God forgiving if we forgive, as relational, but maybe a bit hyperbolic as well. I think the way we forgive is dependent on how we understand God's forgiveness towards us. When I trust that I've been forgiven, it makes it easier for me to extend that forgiveness to others. However, if I do not believe or trust that God has forgiven me, which is hard to believe sometimes, then how am I going to extend that forgiveness to anyone else?

That's how I understand Jesus' words anyway.

JustinGaynor said...

'If they listen you have won them...if not, then you keep pursuing them.' - You 'evangelical'...LOL

After a lot of prayer, I have to disagree on this view of the parable of the prodigal son. The son came to his senses, humiliated and contrite (willing to be a servant rather than a son) and left the 'world' to return to his father...that's repentance. I would agree with Rollins that the forgiveness and grace which the father lavished on him in accepting him back would have driven that repentance down into the core of him adding depth and transformation. In this I agree with you, the depth of ones understanding and experience of this forgiveness/grace, should transform the son into a source of the same. Those who are forgiven much, love much.

I will have to maintain that had the son not repented, regardless of how shallow at first, he simply would have spent the rest of his life, stubbornly, rotting away with the pigs.

There are three types of awe of God, awe that is driven by fear of hell, awe that is driven by fear of losing what one has...these are called the 'whips of the wicked'... and then there is awe of God that arises in one due to His greatness-this is indeed the awe that comes from seeking the Kingdom, from experiencing true graceful, celebratory forgiveness...from repenting and coming home. In this, is discovered, true wisdom and eternal life that casts out all fear.