There was a single word headlined in the news coming out of the Amish community of West Nickels Mines after a young husband and father shot five young girls dead: forgiveness.
That word got the attention of the media, but what does it mean—forgive
? What did it mean for people from the Amish community to go to the wife of the killer and say that they would forgive her and her family in this unbelievably traumatic incident? Did they mean they forgave the murderer? Does this make any sense? How does righteous indignation figure into the crimes of humanity? How can we have justice and forgiveness at the same time? Accountability for violation of the laws of God and application of the mercy of God?
Every single one of us needs to understand and come to terms with the issue of forgiveness. Because forgiveness is part of God’s plan, it will not, when properly understood, ever contradict God’s justice.I. Forgiveness Is...
But before we go any further, we need to define what forgiveness
is. Or, let’s start with what forgiveness
is not a compromise of morality. Don’t ever think that God would confuse moral clarity and moral responsibility with grace and forgiveness. God’s justice ensures that the murderer will not get away with murder, and the sex offender will not get away with molestation. Forgiveness is not a violation of justice. God will never compromise His justice.
Forgiveness is not merely the avoidance of conflict. There are a lot of us who do not like conflict. And since we don’t want to have hard feelings or hard words with someone else, we skirt around issues of conflict. Sometimes forbearance is the right thing to do, but simple avoidance of conflict is not the same thing as forgiveness.A. Release (Matthew 18:27,Matthew 18:32)
So, then, what really is the meaning of forgiveness
? Try to forget for a moment everything you have ever heard or assumed about forgiveness. Let a single word impress itself on your mind, the biblical word, the new covenant word. In Greek it is aphesis
, in English, release
Now just for a moment, don’t make it any more complicated than that. Release
. To forgive means to choose someone whom you have been holding in your debt, holding in resentment and bitterness, and release him or her.
Forgiveness is not calling something that someone else did that was immoral or destructive OK. It is not turning a blind eye toward injustice. Forgiveness simply means that you choose to release somebody from personal obligation to you—even though that person will have to face the justice of God.
In Matthew 18, Jesus’ disciple Peter asks Jesus: "How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (Matthew 18:21