One of the things when dealing with forgiveness is the matter of justice. I am very mindful of the fact that if it were not for God’s mercy towards us, none of us would be forgiven, but all of us would remain under God’s wrath for our sin. Thankfully, God’s mercy and justice met in the person of His Son Jesus Christ and hence we, repenting and believing may be assured of our own forgiveness. Of course this is also true for those that sin against us, and especially so if they are Christians. Ultimate their sin is also paid for through the cross if they repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
However, how do we reconcile that as far as justice ‘here and now’ is concerned? It seems so easy to apologise and to say you’re sorry, and hopefully everyone moves on. But what if you have been terribly wronged by a person who claims to be a Christian? When some very serious sin has occurred, it seems rather cheap to say to someone that they should forgive and move on, because that person’s sin has also been paid for by Christ.
I certainly wish to state that if someone genuinely repents and asks for forgiveness, their sins are covered by the broken body and shed blood of Christ. The Apostle Paul speaks about ‘godly sorrow’ that leads to repentance and salvation (2 Cor 7:9-10). However, that doesn’t mean there are not consequences to our actions for the ‘here and now’.
For instance, if a Christian is found guilty of ‘putting their hands in the money till’ it would be foolish to place them in charge of the ‘purse’ from then on. In fact, if it is very serious, it would be appropriate that the police are called and they face the consequences of their crime in the courts. It’s not that this person isn’t forgiven, but it is just common sense, prudent, wise, smart, not to put that person in a position where they could easily offend again.
We could even take a more serious sin of sexual misconduct, whether it be child abuse, adultery, or some other sexual misconduct. If such a sin is committed by a Christian, then not only do we have a responsibility to notify the authorities, it would be extremely foolish to place such a person in a position where they can offend again. This doesn’t mean there is no forgiveness, it simply means there are consequences to our actions. Justice must not only be seen to have occurred, it must occur. King David was forgiven for his adultery and murder, but the consequences were devastating nonetheless.
So where does this leave the victim(s)? In the past I have been involved in cases where pressure has been exerted on the victims to ‘forgive and move on’. On occasions Mat 6:15 or Romans 12:17-19 are quoted as a further encouragement to forgive and even to forget.
Well, it is not always a question about whether someone has been forgiven and it’s certainly not a question about forgetting. Ultimately, forgiveness is between the perpetrator and their Lord (2 Sam 12:13). Sometimes our forgiveness of one another is a question of timing. When the offence is serious, it takes time to forgive and even to demand instant forgiveness at a horizontal level may be very unwise.
We are emotional human beings for that is the way the Lord has made us, and forgiveness and healing takes time. And just as it takes time to forgive and to heal it may even take a lot longer to move on. What we do need to do is to pray that the Lord will bring forgiveness into our hearts so that healing can take place in the lives that have been broken by sin. JZ