A gracEmail subscriber in Delaware writes, “Someone in a Bible class recently said that we don’t have to forgive everyone because some people are purely evil. I have always thought it our duty to forgive anyone who wrongs us.”
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Jesus said that we are to forgive anyone who sins against us and asks for our forgiveness (Lk. 17:3-4). Refusing to forgive is really not an option if we expect to be forgiven ourselves (Matt. 6:14-15). The Christian is called to imitate God. That means, among other things, that we are to forgive others just as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). As a practical matter, only those who know their own need of forgiveness usually find the grace to forgive others who wrong them. In the same way, the ability to forgive others is strong evidence that the person forgiving has experienced the grace of forgiveness by God.
Even though we forgive another person who wrongs us, the wrongdoer cannot experience and enjoy that forgiveness without acknowledging the wrong done and accepting forgiveness. However, our forgiveness does not depend on the wrongdoer’s attitude or conduct. We are to have a heart ready and willing to forgive. We are not to hold grudges or keep account of evil done to us. We had certainly dare not turn anyone away who asks forgiveness for a wrong done to us.
Forgiveness is a relational event between persons. For that reason, the only human being who can forgive a wrongdoer is the individual who has been wronged. Unless you and I lost loved ones in the September 11 terrorist attacks, for example, we cannot forgive the perpetrators of those horrendous deeds. Nor does human forgiveness eliminate the need for divine forgiveness. Finally, even divine and human forgiveness combined do not remove the legal, personal or social consequences of criminal acts or other evil deeds.