I recently read a Father’s Day article from a man well-known in men’s ministry circles, who described the importance of forgiving his father for certain things, as his father had to do with his father, and so on. One of the commenters launched into a bitter diatribe about his nasty Broward County divorce, about how his wife and the court system had treated him shamefully, and how he could not bring himself to forgive either.
As a South Floridian, dragging Broward County into the mix got my attention. My wife and I have been married for many years; however, I have been involved with several nasty, drawn-out divorces of family members and business associates. The Bible states that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and after what I’ve experienced I can see why. To throw a typically South Floridian mix of studied apathy, heartless aggression and huffy moralism into the mix can have an searingly painful result.
But unforgivable? As a Christian, unforgiveness is not an option, for reasons such as this:
For, if you forgive others their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also; But, if you do not forgive others their offences, not even your Father will forgive your offences. (Matthew 6:14-15)
It amazes me that members of our ostentatiously secular press always ask people who have been wronged whether they have forgiven those who have harmed them or their family. It’s a form of Christless Christianity, which we see in abundance these days. We also see feelings like the Broward County man expressed, and given the trend in our society towards secularism we should expect this. But that doesn’t change what Our Lord expects out of us.
But how do we deal with heinous acts without looking like we’re just blowing them off? One key is to understand that, although there is nothing that is right to be unforgivable, there are many things which are flatly inexcusable. Paul certainly understands this concept:
For ever since the creation of the universe God’s invisible attributes-his everlasting power and divinity-are to be seen and studied in his works, so that men have no excuse; Because, although they learned to know God, yet they did not offer him as God either praise or thanksgiving. Their speculations about him proved futile, and their undiscerning minds were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21)
As humans, we are going to make mistakes. But also as humans we are supposed to learn not to. When we do things that we should know better about, and get caught, we usually offer one or more excuses to try to justify ourselves. But in the end ignorance only reaches so far: there comes a point where we pass beyond excuse and into the realm of accountability in this life.
But being without excuse doesn’t men we are without forgiveness. That’s because forgiveness, unlike excusing, is an act of grace, that unmerited favour that we receive from the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. He, in turn, expects us to pass that unmerited favour of forgiveness to others, which he why he tied his forgiveness of us to our forgiveness of others. But that doesn’t mean that we have to either excuse, condone or emulate what is going on around us or to us.
And brings me back to our unforgiving fellow in Broward County. There are many things in same county–and the neighbours to the north and south–which are inexcusable, which is why it’s the land “where the animals are tame and the people run wild”. It’s not easy to forgive things and people on the one hand and recognise that they are wrong and without excuse on the other. But failure to do so not only makes our eternity miserable but ruins the time between now and then.
So the next time you’re ready to blurt out that something or someone is unforgivable, stop and think: do you really want to say or think that? Or would it be better to say that many today, like in Paul’s day, are simply inexcusable?
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