Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of people talk about someone deserving some bad consequence. Whether it’s, “I’m leaving him!” or “That guy needs to find the end of a short rope.” And I’m not excluding myself. I derive satisfaction from many a story where someone gets their comeuppance.
But for a follower of Yeshua, shouldn’t I be searching for compassion and forgiveness, rather than retribution?
Of course. Our Father is forgiving, and the children are like the Father.
But our Father is also just (why else, would He need to forgive?), and the children are like the Father. As our Father is grieved and angered by injustice, likewise so will we. In fact, at the end, when the last bit of God’s patience has been exhausted–perhaps when, repentance is no longer possible–God takes pleasure in the destruction of something that has placed itself beyond redemption. Psalm 2 says God will laugh as His wrath is unleashed. Psalm 58 says the righteous shall rejoice to see God’s vengeance. 94 asks for an appearing of the God to whom vengeance belongs. 2 Thessalonians, God counts it righteous to repay those who persecute his people.
God is patient, but when that season has passed, when the year of vengeance arrives, God is not apologizing, or hiding his judgment.
It only makes sense that those in his image long for an open reckoning.
But when it comes to forgiveness, our hunger for rightness can blind us. We see forgiveness and zeal as at odds. We worry, that if we forgive someone, the injustice will continue. That we are in fact tolerating and enabling the very thing that rightly offends us. But consider the case of David with Bathsheba.
In 2 Samuel 12:13-15, David confesses his sin. Bam! God forgives the sin. David just sinned in front of the whole community, took someone else’s wife, then killed the man (one of his own) when he couldn’t trick him into covering the sin . . . Yet God stands ready to forgive the moment he confesses.
But the matter isn’t settled. Notice, that God says though the sin has been dealt with, because of the consequence (God’s name will be blasphemed), God can’t let David off without paying a price.
Was David forgiven? Yes.
Did David still pay for his sin? Yes.
Check out Psalm 99:8, “. . . you were a God that forgave them, though you took vengeance . . . ”
Forgiveness does not anull consequences. And that’s not just “bad stuff” that just “happens”, it includes stuff God is going to do to you, supernaturally. How then is it forgiveness, if we still have to pay sometimes?
The problem is that we have a hard time understanding what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is simply that someone is not going to hold against you, some offense that you have committed. But what if this ‘bad’ consequence is actually beneficial for you? Then wouldn’t removing the bad, actually be an act of malice? And wouldn’t inflicting suffering actually be an act of love?
Take David. Suppose God did nothing. Now David, this great “man of God”, is the servant of a God who just lets things slide if you’re his buddy. He’s just like the cop who covers crimes for his friend. The politician who takes care of his own. God’s name is tarnished. When David praises God, everyone knows its just because God “hooked” him up. Both God and David are degraded.
Now, David knows that isn’t true. And if we believe David’s heart, then David now has to see the God he loves dragged through the mud for his actions. Imagine how you feel when your mother or father or your wife or your child is maligned because of something you did.
But by placing a consequence upon David, God’s name is sanctified and thus David’s love of God is also sanctified. A scene from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington comes to mind. An old and corrupt senator cares for a new senator who is the son of a friend and a noble politician, but to protect his own interests, he sets Mr. Smith up to take a fall. Mr. Smith makes his case for his innocence until he collapses on the floor, exhausted. At which point, in complete contempt for himself and admiration for the other man’s integrity, the old senator confesses. What the old senator most needed to do was also the thing that would destroy his own career and reputation.
Sometimes what we need to go through is the fallout of our sin. Thus the fallout is not because we haven’t been forgiven, but because we have. Him whom the Father loves, him the Father disciplines.
And that is the answer to the problem of justice vs. forgiveness. By forgiving, I do not give up the right to do something painful to you. I give up the evil thought to do it for your harm. After the choice to forgive, what I do is because I love you.
If an otherwise good man that I love, a friend, for some reason loses his mind and attempts to kill his wife and children, then the most loving thing I can do for him is to stop him even if it means killing him. Because that is exactly what the good man would have wanted me to do. I can inflict pain, suffering, even death because I love him. Or because I forgive him.
In fact, one could argue that the motive behind what I do after the offense, is actually the test of forgiveness. It doesn’t matter what words I say, or whether the action I take is relieving a consequence or inflicting a consequence, the truest standard is whether I am doing it because I love you after what you’ve done, or I hate you after what you’ve done.
Forgiveness is giving up the intent to harm you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I’m not going to hurt you. It means I’m only going to hurt you if I have to for your sake.
What that means for this fear we have that we’re just “enabling by forgiving” is that in fact if we think we are enabling then we have to ask if we really are forgiving. If you steal from me, and I think you’re going to steal again, forgiveness doesn’t mean I let you into my house, it may very well mean that I don’t let you into my house. If a spouse cheats on you, it doesn’t mean you go on like nothing happened, it may mean packing up and separating but not divorcing. It’s not about words or actions, but why you are using those words and actions.