I’ve always had the mindset that a person must repent before they can be forgiven. I think this is true to a degree. How can we approach someone for forgiveness if we don’t see and admit to our fault? It is also important to admit our faults to the people we harmed, because validating their experience and showing sincere remorse for the harm we caused provides that person with closure, and this makes forgiveness much easier for the person we harmed.
I thought that if a person had wronged me and failed to admit to it, then I was justified in not forgiving them. Maybe so. In some cases, this might be the right thing because we do not want to enable people in their sin.
However, maybe that is not the most excellent way.
Jesus forgave us before we repented to Him. “We love Him because He first loved us.” If we want to be Christ-like, should we not do the same?
What if the person who harms us and others does so because they know that deep down you never forgave them for past mistakes?
That might sound strange at first, but think about it.
How would it feel to be in their shoes?
Imagine that you did some wrong to someone you love, and you were sorry but had a hard time admitting that fault because you did not think that the person could forgive you. Maybe they say that they did forgive you, but you don’t really believe it. Then, when you do something wrong and the person points it out, you don’t feel love from them. It might not matter how gentle the person was with you, all you can see is their unforgiveness. All you can feel is judgment. This temps you to harden your heart, so you do.
How can you move forward with the relationship if there is no real trust, safety, and accountability? There is pain and hardness of heart that might cause both people to view everything the other person does in the worst light. Problems are inevitable in such a case.
What then, if the person who you wronged, were to come to you and admit that they have had trouble forgiving you? What’s more, what if they blame their own hardness of heart instead of blaming you for what you have done?
You always knew they didn’t forgive you. Hearing them admit to this while also demonstrating a desire to find a place of forgiveness validates your experience. You drop your guard, just a bit.
What then, if the person expresses reasons why they have had a hard time forgiving you—not in a tone of accusing you—but in a tone of self-accountability for their own hardness of heart and unforgiveness?
Would you not hear them out? Maybe, you would even be willing to admit to the wrongs you have done that have gotten in the way of their ability to forgive?
Sometimes people have a hard time repenting, and sometimes we can make that easier on them by demonstrating a sincere desire to find a place of forgiveness—but not lying and saying that we have forgiven them when we haven’t. People can tell when you have not really forgiven them.
Sometimes we need to love others first, just as Jesus loved us first, and in so doing we create a place of repentance for them—just as He did for us.
If they still will not hear, then I don’t know. There comes a time when a person is dead in their sins if they will not hear the truth—but we must exhaust all resources and consider our own hearts very closely. If it is possible that our own unforgiveness is standing in the way, then that is something we should think about.
In any case, it is never our place to judge and condemn another person—not at their core level. God alone is the judge. Those who assume this position “stand where they ought not.”
We can judge the actions of another and the “fruit,” but there are many variables beneath the surface that we cannot see. I think if we were able to see them, we could find a place of healing for most things.
I love that about Jesus. “His eyes are as a flame of fire.” He sees it all—and though He sees our sin, He also can find reasons for mercy and I know we serve a God that loves mercy.
I think if we created a place in which people could show us their heart without fear of judgment, we would find a place of mercy and healing for most.
Therefore, we cannot condemn anyone. If God decides to condemn someone, then that is His right, and we all deserve condemnation.
“Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” We all deserve to be an Esau. We all need the grace of God, and if we have received it, we should act as if we have received it.
It is easy to think that others are worse than us, especially those who hurt us or people we love. Yet, we are all sinful in like manner. Even if someone is doing more harm than us, making them feel like a sinner above all sinners will not help. Reassuring them that we are all sinful in like manner helps, and it helps even more if we can point to our own sins that are of a similar fashion.
We should try to humble ourselves enough that we are divorced from our emotions of being wronged so that we can do what is right. This can be hard, but the Lord will work all things in us according to His time and His way. Sometimes He hardens people so that His purposes are revealed—and that might include us at times—but He will show us the light. He will do all things in us as He has promised, and we will see His purposes and His working. How wonderful are His ways and how far beyond our ability to comprehend!
Forgiveness can be so hard. It is especially hard when we are not getting the validation and closure we desire. However, if the Lord leads us to do so, we should remember Who loved us and forgave us first—and how His doing so provided us a place of repentance.
There is no one way for every situation. Life is complicated. People are complicated and relationships are complicated. The Lord will lead us in all things if we humble ourselves, seek justice and truth, and love mercy. If we do these things, we will see the light and we will have peace.
If we do not do these things, we will have conflict, division, murder, and so forth—and the more we continue therein the more blind we become and the harder our hearts get.
Evil repays evil and the world is consumed and made void of any good thing. All that remains is death.
That was the fate of humanity.
The gospel freed us from this.
A world that rejects the gospel will have to face this harsh reality, but we who are alive in Jesus Christ will overcome because He overcame first.