Forgiveness has been greatly misconstrued in our society. More and more we see people who demand justice being told to “be forgiving.” The scriptures are used to remind us that God was forgiving toward us. Therefore we should be forgiving others and not demand justice for a persons actions. The epitome of this problem is readily seen in the following article:
Man Walks Free After Wife Forgives Murder Bid
Wed Dec 1, 9:11 AM ET-Reuters
DOUAI, France (Reuters) – A man who blinded his wife in a failed murder and suicide attempt won a suspended five-year sentence on Tuesday after his spouse publicly forgave him and begged the court to acquit him. Jean-Claude and Chantal Godrie hugged and sobbed in relief after the jury, clearly impressed by her devotion to her husband of 37 years, announced it would convict him for attempted murder but waive the sentence. He could have received life in jail. Jean-Claude Godrie, 57, an architect, decided to commit suicide two years ago because of mounting debts but kill his wife beforehand so she would not have to bear the financial burden without him. But after he shot his sleeping wife in the head, their son burst into the room and stopped him from trying to kill himself. Chantal survived but lost her sight. Jean-Claude confessed to shooting her with a hunting rifle but said he wanted to end an unbearable situation rather than kill her. “I know he did not want to murder me, he was desperate,” she told the court.
Is this what Jesus meant when he commanded to forgive someone “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22)? Are forgiveness and justice mutual exclusive or is there room for justice even when forgiveness is offered? I would like for us to consider the example of Jesus as we ponder these questions. While on the cross, Jesus cried out “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Do you believe that Jesus was forgiving those people standing around the cross who had driven the nails through his hands and feet and were mocking him? I believe Jesus was forgiving these people. Jesus was not going to execute vengeance upon these people for what they had done, even though they were deserving of his wrath. Jesus was letting the offense go.
But, before we leave this scene, we must ask one more important question that is often not asked. Did God the Father forgive these people for this crime? Or, to put the question another way, did the Father answer Jesus request to forgive these people for what they had done? The repeated New Testament answer is “no.” God did not forgive these people of this crime. In fact, in Acts 2 and many other places throughout the book of Acts, the apostles charged the people with the crime: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The apostles placed the guilt of Jesus death on the hands of the people who rejected him. The people needed to be forgiven for what they had done. Though Jesus had forgiven the people for what they had done, Gods justice was still due to these people and they would pay that penalty unless they “repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).
The point is this: simply because I personally forgive someone does not mean the consequences for their actions simply disappear. Just because I forgive you for stealing my wallet does not mean that the police will not arrest you for stealing. Just because I forgive you for stealing my wallet does not mean that you do not have to give me my wallet back. Forgiveness and justice can coexist. God may forgive me for committing murder but that does not mean I do not have to go to prison for my actions. The family of the victim may forgive me for committing murder but that does not mean I do not have to go to prison for my actions.
For some reason we have adopted the idea that forgiveness waves a magic wand over peoples actions, removing the consequences for what they have done. But it simply is not the case. Even though David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, his son still had to die for the transgression. The woman in the article above was right to forgive her husband. But she failed to understand that her husband did not have the right to avoid all consequences for attempting to kill her just because she forgave him. He committed a horrible act of attempted murder and should be imprisoned for his actions. Her forgiveness has no bearing upon what just consequence he must receive. Her forgiveness simply means that she is not going to seek out vengeance for herself against him. She is going to let the offense go. But how can she trust him not to try to kill her again?
Allow me to use another example: Suppose I steal your wallet, but come back to you pleading for forgiveness, giving you the wallet back. Are you going to leave your wallet out again where I can get to it? Of course not! Does that mean you have not forgiven me? Not at all. You have forgiven me by maintaining the relationship with me and not seeking revenge on me for what I have done. But that does not mean I do not suffer obvious consequences, such as you not trusting me around your wallet.
This is the pain of sin. While God may forgive us for what we have done and the victim may forgive us for what we have done, the consequences of our actions taint our lives. We bear the guilt of what we have done and pay the consequences for our actions. We must live our lives righteously, according to Gods law, or expect such consequences in our lives. Further, let us not feel bad or less of a Christian when we want to see justice served. We can forgive and still expect Gods justice to be served.