Why should I forgive?

A girl who’d been sexually abused by her uncle said later, “I forgive him for what he did to me.” Likewise a husband and father who forgave a drunk driver for killing his wife and children. And likewise again a church congregation that forgave a man who shot their pastor and several others at church. And when a man drove his truck over my newly landscaped garden I forgave him, but all he said was, “I didn’t do it on purpose,” and off he drove with no apology or offer to restore or pay for the damage. In none of these cases did the perpetrator of the damage or the killings show any remorse in response to forgiveness.

So why forgive them? And why did I forgive the truck driver too? Because God forgave me first, right? Or is it the other way round in Matthew 6:14, that if I forgive first then God forgives me? Either way, God’s forgiveness of me is attached directly to my forgiving others. But isn’t my forgiveness of others a bit pointless if they’re not sorry for the damage and hurt they’ve caused? Or worse still, isn’t it a bit risky forgiving people if they “turn grace into license” (Jude 4) to carry on being abusive, stupid and careless?

But in God’s dealings with us, isn’t it his forgiveness for all our ignorant, stupid, hurtful, uncaring thoughts, words and actions that leads us to remorse, repentance, and the desire to change our behaviour? Yes. That’s what forgiveness when understood is supposed to do. As Paul wrote in Acts 17:30, “God overlooked our ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” God, amazingly, can put aside all the hurt we’ve caused by our ignorance and stupidity and he forgives us for all of it – but – having forgiven us he now expects us to turn that amazing grace of his into remorse and change on our part.

So God doesn’t stop with forgiveness. That’s just the first step, because in verse 31 God also “set a day when he will judge the world with justice.” So God forgives, yes, but he also makes sure justice will be done for those who’ve been hurt by the stupid, ignorant, uncaring words and actions of others. It’s a clear reminder that God expects us to stop causing any more hurt by our ignorance and stupidity.

So why should I forgive? Because it’s the first essential step to creating change in a person. It may not happen immediately, but God can use my forgiveness to reach that person at any time, with a clear reminder that forgiveness is given to create repentance.

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