By Norman H. Patterson Jr
Forgiveness and Hurt
Some people have deeply hurt me. And, if I am honest, I have deeply hurt other people as well. I didn't intend to hurt anyone, especially someone I love, but the sad truth is I have. I suspect others didn't set out to hurt me either, and if they have, perhaps it was a response to the pain I have given them or some internal mechanism designed for self-protection.
There are times, in the heat of an argument or during an unguarded moment when we do intend to hurt one another, but hopefully, those moments are few and far between.
There are times when we hurt one another trying to say or do the right thing. I suspect this doesn't happen too often. There are misunderstandings or disagreements and sometimes we hurt one another even though our intention is for the other person's good.
Forgiveness and Sin Against One Another
I appreciate that God recognizes that we sin against one another.
"Forgive us of our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
The Lord’s Prayer
Sin is not just a theological matter. It happens between human beings as well. Sometimes people are cruel and their sin is intentional. Sometimes the sins we commit against one another are simply part of human interaction in a fallen world. We truly do see one another through a "glass darkly."
And just as God forgives the sin we commit against Him, so we are required to forgive the sins that are committed against us. In fact, this is so foundational that God tells us that He will forgive us in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us.
Forgiveness and God
We know that sin against God is the violation of His Law.
Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 1 John 3:4
The Law is revealed in the 10 commandments and summarized in Matthew 22:37-40.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Forgiveness and Imago Deo
But what is the basis of our sins against one another? I think part of it is the violation of God's law against one another. We sin against one another if we steal, cheat, lie, covet, and talk about one another in a derogatory way. We sin against one another when we fail to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.
I think someone sins against us when they go against what we think is right. Don't get me wrong, God is the ultimate standard of right and wrong. However, when someone does something against us that we think is wrong or harmful, resentment and unforgiveness can develop in our hearts, even if the action is not in and of itself sinful.
The sin others commit against us become a matter of our own hearts. When we hold on to the offense, something happens in our hearts. This is what God is after when He commands us to forgive one another. To us, the sin is very real and God holds us accountable to what we do with that sin in our own hearts.
We have a choice; we can either hang on to the sin and hold it against the sinner or we can forgive and let it go. Perhaps this is one of the nuances in the Bible verses that reveal that we are like God
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
We determine what is right and wrong toward us and hold others accountable to our own personal standard. Whatever this means, we not only have the power to hold others to our own standard, we can use their sin against them by withholding forgiveness and, perhaps, punishing them for their sins against us.
Forgiveness and Legal Action
There are times when God empowers the State to punish evildoers for violating God's law (Romans 13), but that is not what I am talking about here. Whether a person's sin is worthy of being punished by the State does not exempt us from practicing personal forgiveness. At times, we have the power to press charges, but that doesn't mean we don't have the responsibility to forgive someone for the sin. At other times, forgiveness may mean that we will not use the legal system against someone. Whether to take legal action is a question of conscience, but it does not exempt the responsibility of internal forgiveness.
Forgiveness and Christ
God does recognize the reality that we sin against one another and that this sin causes tremendous hurt. Thankfully, He gives us a way out in Christ. In my next blog post, I will write about the standard God has for our inter-relational forgiveness and how we can go about free ourselves from unforgiveness.