I feel as though in our day we hear a message of forgiveness that is too offender-focused and not enough offended-focused. We talk so much about the person who has offended and then we move on to how the offender can be forgiven, and then we assume that the offended person will forgive because that's the right thing to do. But, we don't talk about much more than that.
For Christians, I think that falls short of God's thinking regarding forgiveness. Here are a few things that I've thought about, and I think could be helpful for all of us to meditate on:
1. There is always a cost for forgiveness. No one ever forgives without a cost being paid. Even if the offender asks for forgiveness, the offended person has to absorb any feelings of hatred or disgust toward that individual. And, putting those feelings and desires away can "cost" a person much.
2. We must continue to regard the offended's honor above the offender's actions. If we focus more on the offender than we do the offended, we begin to value the offender more than the offended. How is that the case? Some may focus too much on how the offended can be made right and how the offended can do this, that or the other thing to become better. As a result, we can tend to lose sight of the actual offense. And, the offender starts to think more highly of himself because people are giving him much attention.
Why do I write this? Because I want us to ultimately think of ourselves in relationship to God. As Christians, we should be very concerned about the message of forgiveness. But, in our fervor, many of us have focused more on us (the offenders) than we have on God (the Offended). As a result, Christians and non-Christians alike have treated God's forgiveness as something that must be given instead of something that is undeserved. From God's perspective, he is the Most Honorable and Glorious God and he must preserve his honor or else he himself and also all of creation falls apart. Beautiful things lose their beauty if God doesn't preserve his glory. Sinful things won't be so bad if God puts his glory off to the side. So, from God's perspective, punishment is deserved when we sin.
Hence the doctrine of Hell. It is a place where people will finally see through all eternity the seriousness and heinousness of their sins because of the great offense against the Majesty and Glory of the Offended. The only way to escape that punishment is if God is willing to pay the cost of the punishment himself.
And he is willing.
More than willing.
The Bible displays for us that, at great cost to himself, God the Son humbled himself by becoming a man, lived a perfect life in the midst of innumerable difficulties, died a perfect death while enduring God's wrath, and rose again so that anyone who goes to God for forgiveness might actually receive that forgiveness.
How should this affect how we relate to people around us?
- We should and must be willing to grant forgiveness when people come to us for it - even if it costs us much.
- We should never minimize sin in our own minds. Every sin we commit is truly sinful because forgiveness of each individual sin had a price tag.
- We should be grateful for the forgiveness that Christ purchased for us at great cost to himself.
- Hatred for sin should flow from our lives as we see the disgusting nature of it through the Offended's eyes.
- Grace-filled obedience results as we see the majesty, worth and honor of the Offended (who now rejoices in you calling him "Father").