We may do more harm than good when insisting others forgive no matter the circumstances because God said so! Victims can feel more victimized, and feel God must not understand their pain, when told to forgive despite their abuser denying any wrongdoing. The guilty don’t need our actions to minimize the pain they have caused. I will survey a few situations mentioned in the Bible and attempt to draw some conclusions.
Jesus wasn’t suggesting passivity in every situation when He said to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Jesus defended Himself rather than simply turned the other cheek when slapped by an official (Jn. 18:23). There are times when supernatural responses are the best way to change the world for the better. Restraint can sometimes lead to less violence as violence breeds more violence. At other times we may seek justice to protect future victims. The Bible doesn’t suggest a spouse continue to allow their partner to beat them or that soldiers can’t protect themselves.
Suggesting we must forgive no matter the circumstances or the heart of the guilty can lead to more pain for the innocent who God desires to defend. Sometimes, the Bible suggests forgiveness is conditional on have a repentant heart: “If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Lk. 17:3). God is said to forgive us if we forgive others (Mt. 6:14). This surely illustrate that the sincerity of the guilty is in doubt when they are unwilling to forgive others. They clearly don’t recognize the pain they have caused others or they would forgive others to relieve them of such horrific pain.
Read Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 to those who were denying the obvious – Jesus’ miracles. Jesus didn’t think this audience needed to hear about God’s forgiveness. They had no regrets. Warnings often keep one from heading down a path of destruction. When Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for distorting who God really was, He didn’t speak of forgiveness though surely if any of the religious leaders wanted to change their tune Jesus would have accepted with open arms.
One may refer to what Jesus said on the Cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). Jesus’ words are not found in earlier manuscripts but it would not be surprising at all if He said these words on the Cross. These were extraordinary circumstances. Jesus knew He was fixing to enter the presence of God. Jesus appears to be forgiving spiritual blindness. Some behaviors are less willful and more due to spiritual ignorance. Jesus wasn’t always quick to forgive willful, rebellious behavior. Each circumstance can be unique.
Many may be familiar with the unforgivable or unpardonable sin (Mt. 12: 31-32). Most scholars agree those who committed the unpardonable sin at the time of the above writing were those who refused to accept the witness of the Holy Spirit to who Jesus was, even accusing Him of being demon possessed. They weren’t seeking Jesus’ forgiveness. The Bible also is clear that those who deny and accuse Jesus but then seek forgiveness, Jesus welcomes them with open arms.
We must use our brain and heart when it comes to forgiveness. Our head may tell us to seek revenge which can thwart possibilities of the guilty truly regretting their behaviors thus leading to more victims. Our head may tell us to never forgive regardless leading to bitterness destroying us. Each person is capable of seeking God and making their own choices. Some may forgive though the guilty deny any wrongdoing. We can’t always know if the guilty truly regret their actions. We may forgive but avoid certain relationships for emotional protection. God wants us to use common sense in difficult relationship situations. There are times to overcome evil with good or there may never be change. There are times that love means seeking justice for victims.