A woman who had been a victim of an incestuous relationship with her father sat before me extolling the wonderful man her father was. After she paused, I asked, “If I brought before you a ten-year old girl and told you that every night her daddy did the same thing to her that your father did to you, would you describe her daddy as a wonderful man?” She began to weep, “But how else can I love him?”
How do we love the unlovely and forgive the unpardonable? It is not by creating a fantasy or by deceiving ourselves into believing a lie, even a “pretty” lie. Jesus didn’t look down on mankind and say, “Oh, they really mean well, I’ll die for them.” No, He said, “Oh unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41). Then He healed them, and then He gave His life for them.
Jesus said that when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we show ourselves to be children of God, because He gives sunshine and rain to both the evil and the good (Matthew 5:43-46). Jesus didn’t candy coat the evil to make them more lovable. He said His Father causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good.
Love here doesn’t mean having warm fuzzy feelings. It means treating that person with his eternal good in mind. Paul wrote that sincere love abhors what is evil (Romans 12:9). Evil here means that which has a detrimental effect, not necessarily evil in essence. Thus a toy, credit card, or habit may be evil (detrimental) to some and not to others. The Greek word for abhor is “apostugeo,” which is made up of “apo ” which usually denotes “separation, departure, cessation,” and “stuqnetos” * – “to hate.” So we see real love separates from or ceases involvement with whatever is detrimental.
Some people fear forgiveness means tolerating sinful behavior. Beginning with Genesis and God’s removal of Adam and Eve from Eden to the end of the Bible, God demonstrates forgiveness and boundary setting. We must forgive sin, but we are not to enable people to continue in sin by rescuing them from the consequences of their choices or candy coating their sin. Forgiving is the most painful thing we are called to do. If something hurt when it happened to us, it hurts when we let it go. Remember how much Jesus suffered to forgive us (Matthew 26:37- 27:50). But forgiving is also the most healing thing we can do.
We don’t forgive because the person deserves it. We didn’t deserve salvation. We forgive because we have been forgiven by God. What we owed God is more than another human will ever owe us. We forgive to be released from the torturers (Matthew 18:23-35). Unforgiveness torments the one who holds it in his heart and it spills out to those around them (Hebrew 12:15). How many children have suffered unnecessarily because a parent refused to forgive the tremendous injustice committed by an unfaithful spouse or a selfish parent?
By forgiving we are turning those who’ve hurt us over to God, the official bill collector, to deal with as He knows best. That releases us from having to collect the love, respect, admission of guilt, restitution or whatever we feel we need from that person. We don’t have to collect because God has lavished on us all we need – personal forgiveness, love, and worth through Christ. We are letting go of the wrong done to us and trusting our Heavenly Father to take the evil that was done and use it for our eternal good (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20).
Maybe a name has come to mind as you’ve read this of someone you need to forgive. Because God has forgiven you and you want to be recognized as His child, no matter how large or small the offense, will you choose to forgive that person today?
In His Grace,
* Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance