Forgiveness? Been there; done that. Really?
Be careful not to allow it to become a mere passing religious phrase devoid of meaning.
As evil becomes more exposed for what it truly is, and perpetrators of evil are identified, there will be an understandable response of righteous anger in us. Yet I believe it is a religious deception to conclude that all our anger at evil is righteous. We all know from experience that our mere human anger at evil is not trustworthy by itself. We need the Holy Spirit’s help. We are a mixture here in the shadowlands, therefore part of our anger is because of our fallenness and unforgiveness. There are some evils so horrible that to not be enraged at them indicates a whole other problem of dead/cutoff/passive emotions. We are to love God and hate evil. That does not mean we hate people that do evil. We forgive the person, and hate the evil. Hate evil, you who love the Lord, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 97:10)
Forgiveness is the most foundational step towards the destruction of evil and the restoration of all that is loving, good, beautiful, and true. If our goal is God’s goal: the healing and recovery of goodness, we must embrace God’s ways. We easily mistake our cry for justice to be really just a demand for vengeance. If our goal is vengeance, we cannot bring justice. Justice cannot be achieved by retribution. Only God Himself can manifest retribution justly, and His retribution is aimed at restoration, the alleviation of unjust action, and the eventual full healing of conflict. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) The belief in our own judgement being accurate and even holy is a dangerous deception. The Lord is the only one capable of manifesting justice fully. We simply cannot.
Night after night, all over the country, local news outlets have some tragic story of cruelty resulting in some horrible injustice. And it has become sadly common to hear some grief-stricken victim make a passionate plea for someone to come forward with clues that will bring about legal action in hopes of obtaining justice. But what justice is ever achieved? Arrest? Jail? Maybe some restoration of property is sometimes possible. But is that ever full justice? And can there be any justice when an innocent life has been taken? Clearly not. For I proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. (Deuteronomy 32:3,4) We can maintain a godly response to injustice only as we keep a clear focus on the ultimate uncompromising, perfect, eventual just, judgement of God. Otherwise, we are tempted (and more now than ever) to become sucked under the quicksand of our own demands for justice on our terms. And not only are we unable to ever achieve justice, we are blaspheming the only One who can bring it. “But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)
Forgiveness is never arbitrary. It is not excusing evil, but resisting evil. When Scripture says, “Do not repay evil for evil” (see Proverbs 20:22; Romans 12:17; I Peter 3:9), it does not mean to just be passive. There is a huge difference between passivity and forgiveness. To be passive is to do nothing at all. Peace-making, which is part of forgiveness, does not mean to just stand by impotently and merely try to get along or stay out of harm’s way. Turning the other cheek is hard for a person with the power to overcome evil with good. It is an act of obedience that requires our dependence on God. Forgiveness includes the act of not only restoring peace, but maintaining it as well, as far as it is possible with us. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9) If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Romans 12:18) So then, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Romans 14:19)
When we forgive, even as we struggle with our anger, we are choosing to be a part of redemption story. Forgiveness and responding to evil with the opposite spirit is aligning ourselves with the kingdom of God. To refuse to forgive is to align one’s self with the ongoing propagation of evil. It denies the Cross. Forgiveness embodies the Cross. God’s will is repair, redemption, restoration, and eventually, full reconciliation. It is the logical foundation for the destruction of evil. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17,21)