From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 12 – What it really meant by forgiving others, and what does it involve?
ndeed, basic forgiveness, without the involvement of any other added features, is achievable by all of us, and on every occasion. That is because it is a pure decision. It does not involve anything further or wider or deeper than simply deciding to step aside and leaving the judgment of that person to Jesus.
In particular, it need not involve our emotions, over which we have no direct control. That is why God never commands us what to feel, but only what to do or say. Our speech and our actions are always within our power to control and to alter, whereas our emotions and feelings aren’t. Realising that one simple fact might enable you to make a breakthrough and to discover that forgiveness, at least by its narrow definition, is possible after all. Indeed, it is always possible, no matter what the circumstances are.
That said, there are some times where we see characters in the Bible going further than the basic definition of forgiveness. We see them showing mercy and grace to the wrongdoer, being reconciled to him, working together with him and re-establishing trust and close personal friendship etc. But, where such things occur, they are going beyond what we are ordinarily commanded to do. That is because there may be circumstances where God would want us to go further than basic forgiveness.
But, if He does, we need to realise that we are doing something additional, which goes beyond the narrow definition of forgiveness. If we mistakenly think that the command to forgive always includes being able to do all of these other things, and to their fullest extent, then we are likely to become confused and also discouraged by the size and difficulty of the task.
Therefore, the reality is that we can obey the basic command to forgive without necessarily going so far as to do any of those additional things. When you realise that, it can be tremendously liberating. You suddenly discover that you are actually capable of forgiving people, even those who have wronged you very badly, and even those who are continuing to wrong you.
So, if you find that you are not presently able to go further than basic forgiveness, i.e. recusing yourself, it is not necessarily a sign that you have not genuinely forgiven the wrongdoer. It could be that, in your circumstances, all that God is asking of you, at least for the moment, is basic forgiveness, without any of those other things.
Of course, it could also be that you are not genuinely forgiving the person. But we are not entitled to arrive at that conclusion based solely on the fact that you do not currently feel able to go beyond basic forgiveness. We would need to know quite a lot more about the facts of the situation in order to say whether God is requiring you to go any further than that at present and, if so, what exactly you should do.
So, the starting point for real forgiveness, as narrowly defined, is realising that you are not the one who has been appointed to judge the world. That judicial appointment has already been made. The position has been given to Jesus Christ and He will, one day, fully perform that role. When you grasp that the judging, sentencing and punishing of other people is what Jesus alone is going to do, and that He really will do it, then you will also realise that you don’t need to and, secondly, that you are not authorized to do so.
It’s all going to be dealt with by Him, and only by Him. Nobody else is either worthy to do it, or capable of it, whereas He is. Moreover, you can be fully confident that He will judge every person, including the one who has wronged you. Grasping that last fact is vital, because it helps you to ‘step aside’ and let Jesus handle the wrongdoer’s ‘case’. You can be sure that the wrong done to you is not being forgotten about, or ignored, and that justice really will be done.
Furthermore, when Jesus judges people, nothing will be overlooked, mishandled or misunderstood, whereas they would be if you or I were the judge. There is therefore no need for you to bring forward the Day of Judgment for the wrongdoer by seeking to handle his case yourself now.
More importantly, it would be wrong for you to try to form a judgment of him, and to punish him now, before the appointed time. You are not capable of it and you have no right to attempt it. Only Jesus can properly judge the wrongdoer. We are therefore commanded to leave it all to Him and not to interfere or usurp His position:
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.Romans 12:19 (NASB)
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbour?James 4:12 (ESV)