There are too many people in this world today who have been so hurt, so violated, or so unjustly treated that there doesn’t seem to be any justice possible for them. And if you tell these victims that they should forgive their assailant in order to begin healing they might misinterpret what you are saying.
For the victim this may seem to imply that the crimes committed against them were not as bad as they made them out to be, that perhaps they weren’t as innocent as they claimed; or that the damage was insignificant; or that the offender does not deserve to be hated for what he has done.
Where does forgiveness fit with justice? How can we forgive without losing more of ourselves to the crimes against us? I think these are fair and real questions that deserve consideration. To be honest, there is not enough space in an article (perhaps not in a lifetime) to truly address this but I genuinely feel that we need some place to start. As a Christian, I find my comfort in the Word of the Lord.
Peter writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23 NIV).
While this passage is not directly about forgiveness, it is about the basic principles that Jesus exemplified so we might be able to better practice things like forgiveness.
The first thing we need to understand from this passage is that Jesus Christ suffered and died because He loves you. “Christ suffered for you.” He did this because of His love for a people who rejected Him, turned on Him, and committed crimes against Him that deserve death not forgiveness. And He did this because of His unfathomable love for us.
Second, Jesus did not condemn those that He had the right to condemn. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” He was completely innocent of any injustice or crime; yet instead of calling down fire upon those who made themselves His enemies, He chose to follow through and make the ultimate sacrifice for their sake.
Finally, Jesus forgave because “He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” For so many people today, there is no justice that man can carry out that will fully restore whatever was robbed of them. For Jesus the same was certainly true. But His trust is in the final judgment because the Father loves the oppressed and broken and judges justly. (Luke 4:18-18).
Peter’s passage is about our call to be Christ-like life even when life may seem unfair. This can help us to answer the question: How can it be good to forgive if we are innocent?
Mark Twain once said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” The reality is that forgiveness does not mean ignoring or dismissing as harmless, trespasses done against us as harmless; forgiveness means acknowledging that you were unjustly hurt but that by your act of forgiveness you can leave something with your offender that might bring about a real change of heart in him. It is the ultimate act of loving your enemy.
This is the example that Christ has left for us; to love when it is least expected, to forgive for the sake of others, and to trust that God will exact perfect and undeniable justice.
What fragrance have we left upon those who have offended us?
Please come join us as we fix our eyes on Jesus. We meet Sundays at 9 a.m. for Sunday school and 10 a.m. for worship. Everyone is welcome!