Before reading this post, please go over to my 8 Things To Know About My Blog.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” -Romans 12:21
I don’t usually write posts on current events, but the Charleston shooting demands special attention. Yesterday, some of the victims and their families publicly forgave the shooter (click here for a video of their forgiveness). I’m sure that the most common responses to hearing such news come in two different forms. First, there are those who think it is pitiful to merely forgive such a monstrous doer of evil. It robs the victims of their space to properly mourn, removes all room for the proper hatred of the crimes that have been committed, and cuts off true justice from giving this man what he truly deserves. Shouldn’t we only forgive once the victim has been dealt out justice and gotten their deserving punishment?
Second, there are those who admire the victims’ act of forgiveness as one of the virtues of the Christian life, but still are not sure exactly why we should forgive during such unspeakable massacres apart from knowing that it is a commandment of Jesus to forgive. While I surely cannot even begin to speak for those who forgave, often times as Christians we forgive because we know that we should, but then we are still unsure of how to go through the process of grief in our own lives or discern just how we are to move forward from tragedy to forgiveness.
Let’s take a closer look at what forgiveness is. First of all, many reading this may think that forgiveness is the same thing as a pardon. In other words, to forgive means to let go of all justice and instead let the evildoer off with no punishment. In this way, it really is just upholding the wrongs that are done because it doesn’t do anything about them except for smile and say “everything is okay now.” Forgiveness lets the perpetrator off the hook and actually invigorates the cycle of violence by saying it is okay to sin because we will just “forgive” the wrong doer every time.
Unfortunately, that is not forgiveness. True Christian forgiveness is the outright condemnation of the evil that has been done at the same time it is an extension of love to the sinner. One cannot forgive someone unless they first realize that what has been done is wrong. Jesus does not teach forgiveness on the basis of his own ignorance of just how evil our world is, but because he knows exactly how evil it really is. In fact, contrary to the objection discussed above, forgiveness does not uphold evil, but rightly condemns all forms of evil. Jesus knew that, without forgiveness, the cycle of evil and violence would only continue itself until the end of time. Too often our sense of “justice” turns into revenge. Our ideas of giving someone a deserving punishment for their crimes turns into delighting in their pain and suffering. We justify our own thirst for this revenge on the basis that “they deserved it.” Forgiveness on the other hand, is a different kind of justice. It draws the line in the sand that says what has been done is outright wrong. It recognizes the evil lodged in the wrongdoers heart and refuses to merely say that everything is okay because a grave offense has just been committed.
But at the same time as this condemnation of evil, forgiveness is also an extension of loving kindness from the side of those who choose to forgive. Instead of seeking revenge, forgiveness puts an end to the cycle of violence of victims and oppressors turned oppressors and victims. Far too often, our warped sense of “justice” allows those who have been dealt their “just” punishment to want to take revenge on those who dealt it and vice versa. To put an end to this vicious cycle, Jesus says simply, “Forgive.”
To forgive is to say that I do not want to seek revenge. I do not want to see you suffer for your crimes because I know that desire comes from the sin also within myself. To forgive is to desire the well-being of all, victims and perpetrators. To forgive is to love, condemning what ought to be named evil and extending unconditional love to all. It is a recognition that we are not all that different from each other on the inside, regardless of the differences of outward expression. We all too often foster hate in our own hearts, yet refuse to love those who express it themselves. Forgiveness exposes and does away with this hypocrisy by declaring love.
Forgiveness does not have to come out of a place of contentment with the situation. Victims need not have an absence of pain or suffering before they forgive. Sometimes forgiveness comes from a place of such brokenness that it seems impossible to actually deal with what has happened. But, as we discussed, forgiveness is not merely a pardon. It allows victims to call out the evil that exists wherever it does and condemn it. It recognizes that someone has caused pain and suffering to others in our shared world, that it is against God’s design for human life, and all too often, that seemingly irreparable damage has been done.
The love behind our acts of forgiveness may occasionally fail. We may not be able to fully repair the wrongs, nor treat the oppressors with proper love. Other times, our forgiveness may have ulterior motives in that we want to feel morally superior over criminals by pronouncing our offer of forgiveness. Victims often use their status as such to get what they want and to shame the wrongdoer into moral inferiority. But, all of these expressions are misguided attempts at forgiveness. Though our moments of love and forgiveness may not always accomplish the ultimate good in any given situation, we can rest assured knowing that God too forgives. And God’s love never fails. The infinite and unconditional love of God has the power to overcome all evil it faces, and to make a better world for all of us as we cooperate in the mission of Jesus on this earth.
Forgive, do not take revenge. End the cycle of violence right where it has begun. Recognize heinous evil, but overcome it with love.
“He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” – Colossians 1:13-14.