Have you ever wondered why we forgive, or why we seek forgiveness? Is this a byproduct of social evolution? Does the animal kingdom forgive? Does the mountain lion seek forgiveness from the remaining herd of deer after it has taken the life of one of their own? Have you ever wronged someone and sought forgiveness? If yes, why did you do that? Let’s explore a little bit on why forgiveness is important, why it’s unique only to humanity, and what it ultimately means.
My guess is that some of the people you’ve wronged most in your life are probably people you cared about, and at some point there was a recognition of a trespass. After which you either sought or sought not, forgiveness. More often than not, especially in the case of your spouse, your most important physical relationship on earth, you sought forgiveness. Now why would you do that? Certainly a big question from an evolutionary standpoint is why would you be wired to even care to do this?
We need to understand what it is to fracture a relationship with someone either by words and deeds, and once that relationship is fractured, we have a decision on whether we mend it. In the case of wanting to mend it, we seek forgiveness from that individual because of the fracture we caused; or vice versa, they seek it from you. This mending of the relationship is called reconciliation and it is unique to human beings.
When the fracture is not mended there is no reconciliation.
Now this reconciliation is vital if we want to sew up the fracture in the relationship and move forward in a loving union with that person. We do have a choice where sometimes we choose not to mend this fracture. When the fracture is not mended there is no reconciliation. And in some cases you may have perfectly good reasons for not wanting to mend the relationship. That is okay too. I once heard forgiveness is part of a three-legged stool of reconciliation, with trust and respect being the other two legs. It is understandable and warranted, even from a Christian perspective, of being able to forgive, but still not wanting to be reconciled based on lack of trust and/or respect.
So moving forward with the responsibility for the seeker, if God exists, then God chose to bring us into being, which implies we are valuable to Him and there is some desire, on His part, of a relationship with us. How are we to understand this and understand our part in this?
Do you really know anybody who would say they are a perfect person? If not, then the implication is there is a standard of perfection.
Well, similar to the people we care about on earth that we hurt; we think, say, and do things on our part that fracture our relationship with God. And nobody is immune to this. Romans 3:23 reminds us ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (KJV). Do you really know anybody who would say they are a perfect person? If not, then the implication is there is a standard of perfection. I submit this is what we think of when we say God.
So what is the effect of this fracture in our relationship with God, this rebellion on our part? Again the apostle Paul tells us a little further on in Romans 6:23 ‘for the wages of sin is death…’ (KJV). So death is what we earned with our rebellion of God. But don’t misinterpret this, Paul isn’t telling us we earned physical death, we already had that. Paul is talking about spiritual death and separation from God. And we know this intuitively in our own life when we don’t seek reconciliation with the person we’ve wronged, or they don’t seek it on their part, the two people will remain separated, the relationship severed.
So what is a human to do? What can we do to get this relationship, if we choose, back? Well Paul tells us in the rest of Romans 6:23 when he says ‘but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (KJV). So it’s a gift, we don’t have to do anything? Does that make any sense? Isn’t religion supposed to be about people doing stuff?
The previous chapter in Romans 5, verses 8-10 provide us an idea of this gift. Paul says ‘(B)ut God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life’ (KJV).
We forgive and seek forgiveness because we understand the value of a loving relationship and want to continue in the union of that loving relationship.
What this means, for the person not acquainted with the suffering of Jesus, is that the penalty for our sins, our rebellion against God, was mended completely and wholly by Jesus of Nazareth on Calvary’s cross. We don’t HAVE to do ANYTHING. That is what we mean by grace (see Grace section). That is what we mean by love. That is true reconciliation and why we forgive others in this life. We forgive and seek forgiveness because we understand the value of a loving relationship and want to continue in the union of that loving relationship. The only difference with our relationship with God is that God did all the mending through Jesus, and it was sacrificial, because God knows in our hearts the greatest act of love any of us could ever do is to lay down our life to spare the life of someone else (John 15:13, (KJV)). And Jesus’ death spared us all from spiritual death, the eternal separation from God.
…we still have to WANT the relationship. God will never force this on us.
So what is left for us? Well, we still have to WANT the relationship. God will never force this on us. He will never force it because a loving relationship cannot be one of compulsion, it has to be free. Yes, one cannot MAKE anyone FREELY do anything. I will repeat that one more time for clarity. It is logically impossible to MAKE anyone FREELY do anything. So this is where your free will comes in. You can choose whether you want to live in that blood-bought reconciliatory relationship, or not. Paul explains further in Romans 10: 9 ‘(T)hat if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved (KJV). And in Romans 10:13 ‘(F)or whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (KJV).
My prayer for you is that you can swallow your pride and call upon His name. He desires you. Before my dad passed away from cancer he sent me a text one morning, out of the blue. It said, ‘He has healed us, and He has saved us. Ours is to let go and trust.’ That is forgiveness my friend and a desire for a relationship with you from a loving God who has reconciled all to Him.
(KJV): Bible, King James Version