Brother Ron Barnes
Founder and Pastor
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Dear Brother Ron
I have two questions about forgiveness. First, some have said that in order to be forgiven something, you must repent. If it concerns a person, you must ask that person for forgiveness. But what if that person doesn't forgive you because he/she doesn't want to, hates you, doesn't care or probably doesn't see that you made a mistake and sees no need to forgive. Does God still forgive you? And how would that lack of forgiveness from the one you have wronged affect you?
Second, when you repent and are forgiven, then is that sin really forgotten by God or is it brought up again on Judgment day? And if it isn't, then what if a person some years before their death completely turns around and repents of every sin he/she did, becomes a good person but was a mass-murderer before? That's an extreme of course that wouldn't normally happen like that but I just use it as an illustration. How would God look upon such a person in your belief?
First, repentance is between you and God. You are not responsible for the victim's reaction to your repentance. God knows what is in your heart. If your heart is repentant, that's good enough for God. The other person's forgiveness (or lack thereof) is between him and God.
According to Jewish tradition, if you have sinned against another, you must ask that person for forgiveness three times. If, after the third time, the person still refuses to forgive you, then they are responsible for your sin. The assumption here is that your request for forgiveness is the result of genuine repentance and not just wanting to be let off the hook so you can do it again.
There are three steps to repentance. First, you must realize exactly what it was that was wrong and acknowledge that you did it. Second, you must make a sincere commitment that you will not do it again. Third, you must ask God and those you hurt for forgiveness. But a true repentance means that if you were to be put in that same circumstance again, you would not repeat the sin.
The implication here is that a request for forgiveness must be accompanied by actions which demonstrate your acknowledgement of the wrong you have done and a sincere attempt to correct the harm you have done. Sometimes this is not possible. I am reminded of the story of the man who accidentally ran over a cat. He went to the door of the owner’s house and said, “I’m sorry. I ran over your cat and I am here to replace him.”
The other man replied, “Okay but can you play with yarn and catch mice?”
When it comes to sin against a community, it is harder as often you cannot know exactly who you wronged (one example is a merchant who used fake weights and cheated his customers- he cannot know every customer and how much he owes each one). In that case we are told to give charity to a communal fund that can be used for the betterment of the community as a whole.
In order to be able to seek forgiveness, we must be able to give it. The Lord’s Prayer asks God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. It would seem from this that the first action is dependent on the second. Jesus was very specific about this requirement.
Matthew 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Matthew 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Matthew 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. Matthew 18:24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. Matthew 18:25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. Matthew 18:26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Matthew 18:27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
Matthew 18:28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. Matthew 18:29 And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Matthew 18:30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. Matthew 18:31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Matthew 18:32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Matthew 18:33 Should not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? Matthew 18:34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. Matthew 18:35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
The ability to forgive not only benefits the one who
is forgiven, it also has benefits for the one who gives forgiveness (aside
from assuring God’s reciprocal forgiveness). Holding hatreds and grudges is
self-destructive and allows the person who hurt you to continue to exert
power over you, and perhaps inspire you to act out in rash emotionalism or
do things you would later regret. Harboring hatred also uses up emotional
energy which could be used to benefit yourself and others.
Second, God's forgiveness is permanent. God does not hold grudges. God realizes that we humans are far from perfect. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes and use them to grow in love and understanding.
Perhaps the perfect example of this is the thief on the cross beside Jesus. He had probably been unrepentant all his life. But when confronted with the injustice of Jesus' crucifixion, he realized his sin and repented. The response of Jesus was, "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise". I believe He was speaking for His Father as well.