Hatred. Revenge. Justice. Vengeance. A Reckoning. Vindication. Keeping distance.
These and many other words describe the mindset of someone who has been hurt. Now you hurt need not be the same as the hurt I experienced growing up, but it is a hurt none the less. When we are hurt, we naturally was someone to acknowledge that that we are hurt. Hurt, pain, sorrow, discomfort, abuse…all these, whether intentional or not, are indicative of a greater knowledge that all humanity is subconsciously aware of: they are wrong.
There is something inside everyone that knows that something is not right with the world. Whether you skinned you knee as a child, were involved in a fight you didn’t start, were verbally abused and called out of your name, or simply were a child whose parents neglected them, we know this, while sadly normal in our world, is still wrong.
Sometimes we kick and scream, crying out immediately for solace and justice, and sometimes we stuff it deep down inside us for years, where it turns to hatred and we cry for vengeance. These emotions are not inherently evil. It is right to want justice in a world filled sin. It is right to hate sin. However many times we forget, in our pursuit of justice/vengeance, in our hatred of the pain and the cause, that we are sinners too. We have hurt people also. We have been the abuser, the Jabez (the pain-bringer) ourselves.
According to the Word of God, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Thus, the justice we want for others is also the justice which must be imposed upon us as well. “But Jason!,” you may say, “the rest of the verse says that the gift of God is eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord. I have accepted Jesus, and so I get the gift instead of the wages!” This is true. However, we do not get to be forgiven and not offer forgiveness to others.
The Lord’s Prayer is instructive on this point:
1 Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be thy name
2 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
3 Give us this day our daily bread
4 And forgive us our debts (transgressions), as we forgive our debtors (those who transgress against us)
3a And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
2a For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
Structurally, the request for forgiveness is the center of this text. This means that the request for forgiveness of sin is the goal of the prayer. It also means that my forgiving those who offend me is also the heart of the prayer. Forgiving and being forgiven: this is the will of God and the heart of the kingdom of God. Forgiving and being forgiven: these are why we are delivered from temptation, not led into evil, and given daily bread.
Does Jesus actually mean what he says here? If my forgiveness dependent upon my being forgiving? In a word…YES! It is a command from his mouth. “Jason”, you may say, “this sounds like works salvation to me!” Well it’s not.
Let’s use church as an example. Sister So-and-So is rude belligerent and rude, always talking down to people ad gossiping. Let’s say one day I get wind of something she said about you. So I walk over to her and give her a piece of my mind. Later that evening I kneel before God and sincerely ask Him to forgive me for my unchristian behavior. He does this, as the Bible says. However, when I wake up in the morning, I are still enraged with Sister So-and-So. I have determined to not speak to her. I avoid her in church. I tell all the other people what she has done , when they ask me what happened.
What is happening? I are holding a grudge. According to Jesus brother, James, in the 5 chapter and 9 verse of his letter, grudge holding brings condemnation on the grudge holder. This means that grudge holding is a sin. Even if I am validated to be angry at the sister, I am still to forgive her and let go of the grudge. If I don’t, I do not stand condemned for the sin of giving her a piece of my mind. That was forgiven the night before. I stand condemned for the sin of grudge holding. God will not forgive that sin until I am willing to let go of the grudge, offer Sister So-and-So forgiveness, and ask God to forgive me for grudge holding.
Holding grudges, being unforgiving feels powerful. We are keeping the other person out of our life. Our hate is palpable. Our demands for justice valid. The issue is that grudges must be held. That’s takes energy, focus, time, determination. It is draining. Additionally, it is contrary to the character of God. God forgave us. How can someone who is given a reprieve on the wages of sin turn and not give others a reprieve?
Forgiveness for the Christian is not optional. It is not a suggestion. It is not theoretical. It is real tangible and visible. It was demonstrated by Jesus. It is based on his sacrifice. It is based on being forgiven by God. Forgiveness is a verbal command of Jesus. That makes it the Law.