The other day I wrote a piece on the state of our union and how we as a nation have lost the ability to forgive. I want to take a deeper dive on this even though I’ve written on this previously and share what forgiveness really looks like in our current culture and how we need Jesus to actually pull it off.
I believe that there are four areas of forgiveness we need to consider:
- Forgive others of their transgressions against us
- Seek forgiveness for your own wrongs
- Forgive ourselves for our own mistakes
- Forgive God when you are embittered toward Him
As I wrote earlier in the week, as Christians forgiving others in not an option and we must forgive them every single time they do something that wrongs us. And we must forgive them whether that ask for forgiveness or not!
You see, forgiveness is not between you and them it is between you and God.
Let that sink in for a moment.
If we think about it when someone wrongs us most of the time they don’t apologize and ask us to forgive them. This doubly hurts our feelings because not only have they wronged us, but they don’t care. But God commands us to forgive even when there is an injustice because unforgiveness is a cancer that eats away at our soul.
You know that the other person who hasn’t apologized doesn’t really think they did anything wrong or were justified in transgressing against you. They don’t really care if you forgive them or not. So, by not forgiving them the only person you’re actually hurting is yourself. God knows this which is why He commands us to forgive – it’s for your own good not necessarily the good of the transgressor.
So, what about the transgressor? Well, that person is commanded to seek forgiveness (we’ll get to that in a moment) and that, too, is between the transgressor and God not between you and the transgressor. Certainly, it’s always nice to have someone apologize for their inappropriate words or actions. But don’t hold your breath and don’t make it between you and them.
Scripture tells us that God is the judge and His justice is perfect. Allow God to do His job. If the person doesn’t seek forgiveness scripture is clear that God won’t forgive them either.
Let’s apply this to our current cultural situation.
We can’t ignore the social injustices that have occurred in our nation and the racism that exists. And as Christians we have a significant role to play in changing that culture because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who has the power to reconcile these issues.
However, I don’t believe that will happen if people cannot forgive those who transgress against them. Yes, that means if you are a person of color who has been experienced racism, microaggressions, cultural appropriation, gentrification, and more you forgive those who transgressed against you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t fight for change; it means you fight for change the way God says not the way your pride, anger, and hurt do.
Let me share a couple scripture verses that outline what that looks like.
Proverbs 25:23-23 says:
21If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.
Romans 12:19-20 agrees:
19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[a] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[b]
What this means is when people treating you badly you respond with love and kindness because it not only shames them but more importantly God will reward you for it!
This begs the question: Who are you trying to please by your actions yourself or God?
When an injustice happens to us our natural reaction is to get ticked off and want to respond in kind. If we can’t respond in kind, we stew about it getting more and more angry. Our nation hit a boiling point within the black community as they have been suffering for centuries simply due to the color of their skin. And the black community is right when they say the white community discriminates against them. It’s an ugly truth in our society.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:15, ” But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” I want you to think about this for a moment. If you don’t forgive causing the Father not to forgive you then you will not be judged on Jesus’ righteousness but on your own which means you’re not getting into heaven because you didn’t love Jesus enough to do as He commanded!
This is a HUGE consequence for not forgiving no matter how justified you may feel or how ugly or even evil the situation.
So, I would plea with my black Christian brothers and sisters to stick to scripture and allow God’s plan to work. Forgive as Jesus forgave the very people killing Him. Love as Jesus loved – sacrificially even unto death. Follow the command in Ephesians 4:31-31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
This is what changes the world. Definitely fight against injustice but do so with a right heart and pure motives that glorify God. Shine His light to drive out the darkness. Protest peacefully – make your voice heard! But do so with the goal of Godly reconciliation not revenge or seeking to find your own worldly justice.
Last thought on this: when someone does apologize accept that apology, offer forgiveness and move forward. Too often someone will apologize, and we’ll say we forgive but we really don’t. We still hold it against them, question their motives, don’t trust them, and hold a grudge. That’s not forgiveness. Forgiveness is reconciliation. When we forgive someone, we’re leaving that issue in the past. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t have boundaries with people who are serial transgressors. But it does mean that we can move past issues and work toward a better future relationship – something you can’t do if you’re holding on to the issue you supposedly forgave.
People suck at saying they are sorry and seeking forgiveness. It is a sinful pride issue. Nobody likes to be wrong and most people are experts at finding an excuse or justification for their inappropriate actions. But we are commanded to seek forgiveness when we transgress against someone even if we feel justified in responding the way we did!
I’m preaching tonight on a topic I call “There’s No Right Way to Do the Wrong Thing.” Not seeking forgiveness is always wrong in God’s book no matter how right we may feel about it.
Jesus tells us this in Matthew 5:23-24: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
This is an extremely powerful statement! Before you come to God to worship Him you are commanded to go apologize and seek forgiveness from someone who has something against you. God doesn’t want to see you until you’ve reconciled with your brother. That is how important reconciliation is to God!
Time for the medicine – with a sober judgment you need to examine yourself closely and admit where you have transgressed against somebody or some group. Are you a racist – disliking or even hating others because they look and/or act differently than you? Are you a bigot – disliking or disdaining others who have a different opinion than you? Are you hard hearted and mean spirited not loving others when you disagree with them? Are you prideful or even arrogant feeling as if you are justified in treating others as less than you? Are there people to whom you owe an apology for your words or actions?
The answer is probably yes to at least one of these questions. And if so you must humble yourself and reconcile – or at least do your part before God and seek forgiveness for your actions in the situation. Again, this is not necessarily between you and the person or group; it is between you and God and there are significant consequences for not doing as God commands.
Okay, let’s apply this to our cultural situation.
I don’t think anyone has to apologize for being white – nobody controls what color of skin they have when they are born. I also don’t think anyone has to apologize for the sins of their ancestors or historical figures. Scripture is clear that one is responsible for their own sins – Ezekial 18:20 – The person who sins will die. A son will not be punished for his father’s sins, and a father will not be punished for his son’s sins. The righteousness of the righteous person will be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be his own.
What we do need to apologize for is if we are unloving, bigoted, biased, hard-hearted, hateful, disdainful, or if we in any way whatsoever treat a person of color differently than we would someone who is white. That is unacceptable in God’s eyes because every single person you see is made in God’s image and when you treat them inappropriately you are treating God’s creation inappropriately.
But this is a knife that cuts both ways. People of color also have a responsibility before God not to treat people who are different than them any differently than they would someone who looks like them. As an old white guy, I am made in the same image of God any black man. We are all brothers and sister made in God’s image and our His children.
So, no matter who you are, the color of your skin, your national origin, or any other identity you may ascribe to, if you have transgressed humble yourself and seek forgiveness first from God and then from the person or group against whom you have transgressed. Then you will be doing what is right and pleasing before the Lord.
There are a ton of people who have issues forgiving themselves. It crushes their self-worth, undermines their confidence, and leads to depression, anxiety and general worry.
Here is what you have to consider if you have trouble forgiving yourself: If the God of the universe has forgiven you (and He has if you’ve asked) then who are you not to forgive yourself? You’re basically saying your opinion is more important than God’s! Believe me, it’s not. If God has forgiven you it is finished! You are okay! Dust yourself off and move forward. Don’t be that person who says, “Well, I know God has forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” That’s from Satan not from God. Satan wants you to live in shame and guilt instead of forgiveness and regret which is a state of ease with the understanding that you’ve learned from your mistake.
How does this apply to our current cultural situation? Like this:
If you’ve been a racist, bigot, hard-hearted or any of the other things I have mentioned you don’t have to live in that space. I saw a meme that was perfect for this idea: “No matter how long you’ve traveled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around!” That’s the beauty of our faith. We can always get forgiveness from the Father, repent and turn our lives around with the help of the Holy Spirit! But you must accept forgiveness from God and forgive yourself. If you don’t forgive yourself, you’ll just keep walking right off the cliff!
Once you come to the conclusion that you did something wrong and you do the Godly thing by seeking forgiveness don’t forget to forgive yourself for the mistake you made so that the issue doesn’t become an anchor keeping you from moving forward with the Lord!
Church folks will think this is a weird idea. Forgive God? What? God is God! He doesn’t need our forgiveness! That is true but what also is true is we can become very embittered by the way God runs things and we need to get that out of our hearts and the way you get that out of your heart is through forgiveness.
Why would we be embittered toward God? Well, it’s because He’s God! He’s sovereign. We’ve learned that He is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere at once! We know that He is in complete control of everything that happens. So, even when bad things happen, He is allowing it!
And that is the issue.
It’s the age-old question of why God allows bad things to happen to good people.
Why in the world would God allow men to subjugate other men into slavery? Why would God allow in this day and age racism? Why wouldn’t He just heal everyone of this scourge?
This is one of the toughest areas of theology to accept but one we must if we truly believe there is a God!
Let me start with a few broad statements.
- If there is a God, He must be perfect or He is not God.
- If God is perfect than all His actions must be correct
- As mortals – not God – we cannot understand what God does or why
- If we cannot understand what God does or why we either have to accept on faith that what He does is correct because He is perfect or reject that God is perfect and thus there is no God.
I choose to believe God is perfect and He is who He says He is in the Bible. He is loving, merciful, full of grace and truth, yet righteous, holy, and full of justice.
Let’s get back to our question then: Why would God allow bad things to happen to good people? There are a few reasons.
First, God has given every man free will and the ability to exercise that free will for good or evil. God cannot take away the free will of just the “bad” people because we’re all bad people and have sinned/rebelled against Him. He allows us to use our free will which is why many of us realize how badly we need a savior! However, people use their free will for evil, hurting other people instead of loving them as God commands. It’s cliché but racism is not a skin problem it’s a sin problem.
Second, it is easy to practice our Christian faith when things are good, and we are among like-minded people. Where we are tested is when things are bad and we must still practice our Christian ethics of forgiveness, grace, mercy, non-judgment, love, and forbearance. We only grow in our trust and faith in Jesus as we are challenged to put our faith into action during difficulties.
Third, God tells us He brings good out of all things for those who love Him. As we practice our faith during injustice and hardship God bring blessings out of it! He cannot, however, bring blessings out of our hardships if we respond them in a worldly way. And sometimes we will not see how God brought good out of hardship for years! But if He is God, He will keep His word and do so.
For people of color, God has not forgotten you or turned a blind eye to your historical oppression or current degradation. He has allowed people to use their free which has harmed you. It is completely understandable for you to ask, “Where was God” when all this was happening. It’s also fair to ask, “Why did you let this happen if you are sovereign?” But part of our faith is understanding that God will bring good from all this in His perfecting timing and regardless of how evil people use their free will.
It’s equally important to know that God will punish those with perfect justice who have used their free will in sinful ways. Nobody gets away with anything!
So, if you’re in a position where you feel as if God has ignored you, not intervened as He should, or has embittered you because of His actions or perceived inaction you must forgive Him in your heart and in faith believe that His plan is perfect and that your role is to practice the tenants of your faith to the best of your abilities so that He can bring good out of things for you!
Now that all that has been said let me tell you that not one of us can do any of this without Jesus. It is impossible in our fallen state to humble ourselves enough to forgive as God calls us to. That is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us, giving us the power to forgive in ways that are unnatural to us. And it is why those who don’t have the Holy Spirit will never be able to forgive or take responsibility for their actions as we’ve discussed.
Forgiveness is a big deal! If you want racial reconciliation it must start by everyone forgiving everyone else and moving forward as brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s going to take a culture change where we see everyone not based on their outward appearance but based on the breath of God that is in them. And church, it starts with us! We are the ones with the power of the Holy Spirit to make this kind of radical change! We must reach out and share the love of Jesus with those who have been mistreated, marginalized, and oppressed.
Friends of every color – humble yourselves before the Lord. Seek and give forgiveness readily and God will do amazing things. It’s never too late to turn around.