The Challenge of Forgiveness

This week you have probably heard the remarkable sound of family members of those killed in Charlestown addressing the man accused of being the shooter. One by one representatives of each of the victims stood and said “I forgive you”. The grandson of one of the victims said

“I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one that matters the most – Christ. So that he can change you. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

In words heard around the world. they offered this young man not only their forgiveness, but an encouragement to follow Jesus and their prayers that God would have mercy on him. What an amazing witness to the very real difference following Jesus makes.

For some people it raises the question is it unfair to expect this kind of forgiveness? Can (or should) we really forgive someone who has not repented? After all, doesn’t God only forgive us when we repent?

The answer to that last question is, thankfully, no. Romans 5:8 tells us

 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While we were still sinners. In Jesus’ death on the cross it was God who took the initiative. Before we even considered repentance, he had already done everything necessary for our forgiveness. Our repentance is simply us accepting what is offered, while we are still sinners.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus tells a story of a servant whose large debt was cancelled by his merciful king. Yet, when he is owed just a little by his fellow servant he shows no mercy. When the king hears this he is furious and asks the question

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (vs 33)

Jesus makes the point that our debt before God is much larger than what is owed to us. If we have been forgiven this debt, surely we should forgive others in debt to us?

The trouble is forgiveness is often very hard. I doubt that forgiveness is easy for the families of the Charlestown victims. One family member put it this way “For me, I’m a work in progress.” This is true of all us. We are all works in progress. I pray that the work being done in us would make us quick to forgive, as we have been forgiven.