One of the most familiar scriptures relating to the issue of forgiveness is in MATT 18 where Jesus gives the illustration of a king settling accounts with his slaves. One slave owes him an enormous sum of money and is going to lose everything. Moved with pity at the impassioned plea by the slave, the king cancels his debt.
After this the slave goes off and aggressively demands payment of a debt from a fellow slave. The fellow slave begs him to extend mercy and be patient but rather than having pity on his fellow slave, he has him thrown into prison.
When the king gets to hear of this, he reinstates the debt of the slave that owed him so much and has him thrown into prison.
After giving the illustration, Jesus concludes by saying, "In like manner, my heavenly Father will also deal with you if you do not forgive each one his brother from your hearts."
This illustration provides an excellent lesson in forgiveness when others are sorry for what they've done and ask for forgiveness. As imitators of Jehovah, we must always be ready to forgive.
But what if others are not sorry for what they've done?
Would the slave have had his debt cancelled by the king, had the slave been belligerent and not accepted his responsibility for the debt? Obviously not. The king had mercy on the slave because the slave acknowledged his debt and asked for time to pay it off. The king, in his mercy, cancelled the debt.
If the forgiven slave then approached his fellow slave kindly and reminded his fellow slave that he had a debt to pay but his fellow slave treated him insolently and said, "I'm not going to pay you back so forget about it!" would it be wrong then to have the fellow slave placed in prison to pay back the debt? No.
Further, would the king have been angry with the forgiven slave if had he heard the story? No. We can say this because the king ended up reinstating the debt of the slave that owed him so much. Why? Because he realised that the slave was not worthy of mercy. That slave had been ungrateful and unrighteous and thus the debt was no longer covered.
So if someone sins against us (obviously in a substantial way - not just something trivial) then the correct attitude needs to be displayed by the offender for the debt to be freely cancelled.
The illustration is not a lesson in allowing people to walk all over us and do everything and anything against us and then placing a burden on us to forgive them. The king in the illustration did not do that. He reinstated the debt once the basis for mercy no longer existed. So there are two important aspects to the question of forgiveness:
1. Recognition of sin and repentance by the offender
2. Willingness to accept and freely forgive repentant ones
If we follow the example of the king in the illustration (which we rightly can equate with Jehovah) we will have the right perspective on forgiveness.
There is another illustration on the question of forgiveness that is also worth considering. I'll write about that next time. 😊
In the year 2000 soon after we had been maliciously slandered and unjustly lost all our privileges, I went to my friend's house in enormous pain. The suffering I felt was intense. I cried and cried on my friend's shoulder and told her that I felt hatred for those men and what they'd done. I felt so bad for the feelings I had.
She told me that only the night before she had been reading Psalm 109 and immediately thought of me and felt that I should read it.
I gratefully took the suggestion and went home and sat down to read Psalm 109. As I read verses 1 - 5 I felt comforted. "This is exactly what they've done to me!" I said to myself.
As I read verses 6 - 9 however, I felt extremely disturbed! I actually snapped my bible shut in horror and shock. "I'm not allowed to feel like that!" I told myself. "These are the exact feelings that I'm trying to overcome and now David is expressing those very thoughts." I was very confused. These words of David were in the bible?!
I spent the next few days meditating on the psalm and thinking about the fact that Jehovah had David's words recorded in his holy word the bible. "They cannot be wicked words otherwise why are they recorded?" I asked myself. "Why was David approved if he felt this way?" I wondered.
I then went to the Watchtower library to find out more information about psalm 109 and was so surprised to find nothing about the content David wrote, only a reference to a prophecy regarding the replacement of Judas Iscariot's apostleship which didn't relate to the question I had.
Determined to understand this psalm, I researched others' comments on the internet and found an article that explained that David was expressing his feelings. He was pouring out his heart to his God. He had no intention of actually killing his enemy (which was probably Saul.) The proof of this is that when David was presented with the opportunity to take his enemy's life, he refused. He reproved his cousin for even suggesting such a thing and after Saul finally died, he wrote a dirge over him and Jonathan, perhaps as he remembered the good times he'd shared with Saul before Saul turned bad.
After expressing his feelings in psalm 109, the last two verses are words lauding Jehovah. David had unburdened himself to his father and was now able to turn to praising his God.
Now I understood the psalm:
David was in pain!!!
He was openly expressing his feelings to his father in heaven. He was expressing them with confidence that his heavenly father understood his feelings and could see his heart.
I now went home and prayed to Jehovah my heavenly father like I had not done before. I expressed to him my pain and my anguish over these men. I opened up my heart and told him how I truly felt at that time. I hated those men! I hated their lies! I hated their false pretences! I hated their disgusting behaviour! I hated their wickedness! They had been my close friends and yet they chose to viciously betray me. I was cut to the heart!
After getting all that pain out of my system, I felt relieved and extremely grateful to my father for the opportunity to unburden my heart - an opportunity that came about through my friend and Psalm 109.
From that day forward, I felt I could leave the matter with Jehovah and he would deal with them in his own due time. What a wonderful, loving father we have! He wants us to share our deepest and innermost feelings without fear. We are always respectful in speaking with our father but we do not need to fear if our hearts are pure.
I can't help but think that forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood subjects amongst those who profess Christianity. There seems to be a strong belief that forgiving others for everything they do is godly and in fact, essential for God's approval. I perceive a certain sense of piety among those who believe that they can forgive anyone for anything they do, regardless of whether there is any repentance on the part of the transgressor.
This question of forgiveness was a HUGE issue for me in the days after my husband and I had been slandered mercilessly by my husband's fellow elders. I felt completely lost and broken when I realised that I could not forgive those evil men for what they had done. I cried and cried in prayer to Jehovah telling him that I could not be like him and forgive those men and that I knew that I was not going to inherit the blessings ahead because of my failure to forgive. I tried so hard to forgive but was overwhelmed, not with bitterness but with resentment for their willful and malicious lies that had wreaked such havoc in our lives and crushed us emotionally.
I remember my husband leaving for work one day and asking me to do some research on the computer about forgiveness and whether this was required when serious sin was involved and no repentance was shown.
I sat down and began to do the research using the Watchtower library on CD Rom and literally jumped out of my chair with relief and joy as I read the following excerpts:
*** g95 6/8 11 Forgive and Forget-How Possible? ***
Forgiving others is not always easy. But when there is sincere repentance, we can try to imitate Jehovah’s forgiveness. When he forgives repentant wrongdoers, he lets go of resentment—he wipes the slate clean and forgets in that he will not hold those sins against them in the future. We too can work to let go of resentment when the offender is repentant. There may, however, be instances where we are not even obligated to forgive. No victim of extremes in unjust or cruel treatment should be forced to forgive an unrepentant wrongdoer. (Compare Psalm 139:21, 22.)
*** g95 8/8 10 Adultery-To Forgive or Not to Forgive? ***
For example, we learn an important principle about forgiveness from Jesus’ words recorded at Luke 17:3, 4: “If your brother commits a sin give him a rebuke, and if he repents forgive him. Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Certainly in cases of serious sin, the offended one is encouraged to try to forgive if there is sincere repentance. Jehovah himself views matters this way; to receive divine forgiveness, we must be sincerely repentant.—Luke 3:3; Acts 2:38; 8:22.
*** w97 12/1 19-20 When It Seems Impossible to Forgive
15 What, though, if others sin against us in a way that inflicts the deepest of wounds, and yet there is no acknowledgment of the sin, no repentance, and no apology on the part of the offender? (Proverbs 28:13) The Scriptures clearly indicate that Jehovah does not forgive unrepentant, hardened sinners. (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26, 27) What about us? Insight on the Scriptures says: “Christians are not required to forgive those who practice malicious, willful sin with no repentance. Such become God’s enemies.” (Volume 1, page 862) No Christian who has been a victim of extremely unjust, detestable, or heinous treatment should feel forced to forgive, or pardon, a wrongdoer who is not repentant.—Psalm 139:21, 22.
*** w94 9/15 6 Why Be Forgiving? ***
When a person has been grievously wronged, the pain can be immense. This is particularly true if one is the innocent victim of a serious sin. Some may even wonder, ‘How can I forgive someone who viciously betrayed and hurt me?’ In the case of a gross sin that could merit disfellowshipping, the victim may need to apply the counsel of Matthew 18:15-17.
In any case, much may depend on the offender. Since the wrongdoing has there been any sign of sincere repentance? Has the sinner changed, perhaps even attempted to make real amends? In Jehovah’s eyes such repentance is a key to forgiveness even in the case of truly horrendous sins. For example, Jehovah forgave Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history. On what basis? God did so because Manasseh finally humbled himself and repented of his vile ways.—2 Chronicles 33:12, 13.
In the Bible genuine repentance involves a sincere change in attitude, a heartfelt regret over any wrongs committed. Where appropriate and possible, repentance is accompanied by an effort to make restitution to the victim of the sin. (Luke 19:7-10; 2 Corinthians 7:11) Where there is no such repentance, Jehovah does not forgive. Moreover, God does not expect Christians to forgive those who were once enlightened spiritually but who now willfully, unrepentantly practice wrongdoing. (Hebrews 10:26-31) In extreme cases, forgiveness may well be inappropriate.—Psalm 139:21, 22; Ezekiel 18:30-32.
I realised as I contemplated the scriptures that Jehovah would be a hypocrite if he asked us to do something that he wouldn't do himself and we know that being a hypocrite is impossible for God. It was so clear! Jehovah does not forgive those who are wilfully unrepentant so he doesn't expect us to forgive them either when no repentance has been shown.
What a relief!!!
It was an amazing moment as I felt I could move on, knowing that Jehovah will hold them to account. The onus is on them to repent and take steps to repair the damage not on me. As you might imagine, none of them have made any such move. I would welcome them with open arms if they did show repentance but after 15 years, nothing has been forthcoming. Whilst this state continues, I am not obliged to forgive them and this removes a burden from me, namely, the pressure to forgive. What they did was a gross sin - slander - the sin that Satan committed against Jehovah in the Garden of Eden. Serious sin does not diminish in gravity over time. It is only blotted out once recognition and repentance are shown.
I was so happy to have my conscience clear again and be reunited with my wonderful heavenly Father, knowing that he did not disapprove of me but understand me and felt the same as me. What a wonderful Father we have! 😊
The illustration of the prodigal son in LUKE 15 is another excellent lesson in welcoming repentant ones.
The father rejoiced over his son's return whereas the older brother was resentful.
How would the father have reacted though if the prodigal son (interestingly 'prodigal' means wasteful) had turned up at his father's home with a prostitute either side of him and drunk and disorderly? What if the prodigal son was visiting the father just to get more money from him and had no intention of changing his way of life? Would the father have welcomed him into the home and prepared a special dinner for him and his prostitute friends? Hardly!
So the illustration cannot be used to infer that we must overlook whatever anyone does and just forgive them regardless.
In the illustration, the son was repentant and humble (vs 17 says, "when he came to his senses") and the father, being kind and forgiving welcomed him home. What a beautiful parable of repentance and appropriate forgiveness.