Today we will be exploring the topic of forgiveness, and how forgiveness is a quality that comes from a mature heart, a heart that knows and understands how powerful forgiveness is.
Yeshua stated it this way:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:36-37
This teaching of Yeshua instructs us to not criticize others. It also highlights several different aspects of judgment and forgiveness, so let’s take a look at some of these ideas.
UNIVERSAL BALANCE AND EQUITY
Firstly, it implies that there is a balance, or a universal equity that God maintains. This is brought out in similar passages speaking of this aspect of God’s nature. There are national examples of this as well as personal examples. Let’s look at a couple of national examples to start.
National justice – Israel
Ezekiel 7:8-9 – I will pour out my wrath on you very soon; I will exhaust my anger against you and judge you according to your ways. I will punish you for all your detestable practices. I will not look on you with pity or spare you. I will punish you for your ways and for your detestable practices within you. Then you will know that it is I, the LORD, who strikes.
National justice – Babylon
Jeremiah 25:14 – “For many nations and great kings will enslave them [Babylonians], and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.’ “
Personal justice as consequence of actions
Job 4:8 – In my experience, those who plow injustice and those who sow trouble reap the same.
Galatians 6:7-9 – Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.
2 Peter 2:1 – There were indeed false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.
In this same way, Yeshua teaches that if an individual is overly critical of others, the same level of critical judgment will be applied to them.
Matthew 7:2 – “For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.
Therefore, if we desire to be forgiven by God and others, we should be forgiving and God will then use the same measure of forgiveness with us.
FORGIVENESS: THE OTHER SIDE OF JUDGMENT
While condemnation and judgment are the focus of Yeshua’s teaching, forgiveness is introduced as a quality that sits outside of judgment, as a counter-balance to judgment on the scale of overall mercy.
When judgment is the primary objective, the focus of forgiveness becomes diminished, and mercy wanes. However, when forgiveness is the primary objective, judgment and condemnation are diminished, and mercy increases. Like two sides of the same coin, both judgment and forgiveness have a role in the merciful life of a believer. Both are necessary, but both serve different purposes.
Judgment provides a needed distinction between right and wrong. We rely on our judgment to ensure that fairness is being practiced or demonstrated. This is not a complex function.
For example, when two young children are playing together, they can become possessive of their belongings. Even toddlers can recognize when playmates are being fair or unfair when it comes to sharing toys.
Forgiveness is a more complex quality that requires an increased level of maturity. To express forgiveness, there not only has to be a recognition of a wrong that has been committed (that is, a judgment), but another “something” beyond that judgment that goes beyond and reaches out to the other individual to maintain a positive relationship.
Forgiveness is the counter-intuitive solution for bringing closure to unresolved conflict or to reducing an escalation of aggression. This takes maturity of wisdom, as the natural base response is almost always to respond to injustice in kind. It also takes maturity through humility, as it is more godly to simply accept being personally wronged for the sake of forgiveness in a relationship than trying to continually force your rights upon others.
1 Corinthians 6:5-7 – I say this to your shame! Can it be that there is not one wise person among you who is able to arbitrate between fellow believers? Instead, brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers! As it is, to have legal disputes against one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
1 Peter 2:21-23 – For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth; when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.
Our perspective should always be to entrust ourselves to God; this is where the capacity and the ability to forgive others can come from. When we do so, we are fulfilling our objective of acting and reacting in the same way as our Father.
We see all through God’s word that he is forgiving and slow to anger. This is why God’s judgment may not at times be recognized by others because the timing of this judgment by God does not always immediately follow an infraction.
Nahum 1:3 – The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will never leave the guilty unpunished…
Psalm 86:15 – But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth.
Psalm 103:8 – The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.
FORGIVENESS AND BALANCE EXEMPLIFIED
This theme of God being slow to anger is related over and over again throughout the Bible. However, there is a passage in Nehemiah that highlights and contrasts his long-suffering compassion with the universal balance of justice we have been talking about.
Nehemiah 9:16-25 – But our ancestors acted arrogantly; they became stiff-necked and did not listen to your commands. They refused to listen and did not remember your wonders you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love, and you did not abandon them. Even after they had cast an image of a calf for themselves and said, “This is your god who brought you out of Egypt,” and they had committed terrible blasphemies, you did not abandon them in the wilderness because of your great compassion. During the day the pillar of cloud never turned away from them, guiding them on their journey. And during the night the pillar of fire illuminated the way they should go. You sent your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. You provided for them in the wilderness forty years, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell. You gave them kingdoms and peoples and established boundaries for them. They took possession of the land of King Sihon of Heshbon and of the land of King Og of Bashan. You multiplied their descendants like the stars of the sky and brought them to the land you told their ancestors to go in and possess. So their descendants went in and possessed the land: You subdued the Canaanites who inhabited the land before them and handed their kings and the surrounding peoples over to them, to do as they pleased with them. They captured fortified cities and fertile land and took possession of well-supplied houses, cisterns cut out of rock, vineyards, olive groves, and fruit trees in abundance. They ate, were filled, became prosperous, and delighted in your great goodness.
Even though the people had not listened to God’s commands, he did not immediately crush them and deliver them over to others. His long compassion and slowness to anger allowed them to accomplish many great things for his power and purpose to be known.
However, as amazing and enabling as God’s compassion and forgiveness can be, the Bible is also clear that justice will be realized in the balance of God’s Creation, in his time. Even if it is not something that occurs right away, it still comes to pass.
Nehemiah 9:26-30 – But they were disobedient and rebelled against you. They flung your law behind their backs and killed your prophets who warned them in order to turn them back to you. They committed terrible blasphemies. So you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them. In their time of distress, they cried out to you, and you heard from heaven. In your abundant compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the power of their enemies. But as soon as they had relief, they again did what was evil in your sight. So you abandoned them to the power of their enemies, who dominated them. When they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven and rescued them many times in your compassion. You warned them to turn back to your law, but they acted arrogantly and would not obey your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, which a person will live by if he does them. They stubbornly resisted, stiffened their necks, and would not obey. You were patient with them for many years, and your Spirit warned them through your prophets, but they would not listen. Therefore, you handed them over to the surrounding peoples.
So through all of this we can see the contrast of judgment and forgiveness, back and forth, over and over again. God is patient and compassionate, but if rebellion continues there comes a point where justice is needed to restore the universal balance. And all of this occurs in God’s timing, not our own. When this lack of immediate justice happens, we may feel as the prophet Habakkuk did:
Habakkuk 1:13 – Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. So why do you tolerate those who are treacherous? Why are you silent while one who is wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself?
This is why God may appear to us to be hidden or not taking action when we think he should. It may just be that the cycle of his long-suffering compassion is in play before the universal balance of justice needs to be restored.
This is also why we are commanded to refrain from our own vengeance.
Romans 12:17-21 – Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
Our role as God’s people is to not focus on the natural response toward judgment and retribution, but instead to let God be God and to focus instead on doing good through forgiveness.
Through recognition of the reality of this universal balance that God maintains, on even the most basic of levels we should be challenged to grow in maturity in our relationships and our dealings with others. As we encourage the seeds of this nascent maturity of forgiveness to thrive, they are enabled to grow into acts of mercy, and ultimately to blossom into genuine love.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.