Wednesday, February 25, 2015

True Forgiveness vs. Fake Forgiveness

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Matthew 18:21-35

            Many people today, including Christians, or especially Christians, have their understanding of forgiveness mistaken.  Many believe that forgiveness can be given one sidedly even
when the offending party does not ask for it.  And worse is when they base such practice on the Scripture.  Why worse?  Simply because the Scripture never teaches one sided forgiveness.  The most often quoted passage is taken from Romans 5:8: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The problem with using that passage is that they do not read the words carefully.  The language used is not one of forgiveness, but of sacrifice.  The act of sacrifice is done way before we are even conscious of ourselves.  This is due to our limited nature in time and space.  But the act of sacrifice is not yet translated into forgiveness until the plea for it is spoken or asked.  And this is laid out by the apostle Paul in Romans 10:9-13:

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The confession and the belief must happen.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we rely on man’s strength or capability to do so, for it too will be impossible.  The fact of the matter is that we all have died in our sin.  Our being able to confess and believe we owe it to the Lord.  Just as explained by Jesus in the gospel of John, in John 3:3: “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  One is not born by the strength of him/herself.  But by the strength of others.  And for sure in this case by the strength and will of God.  Our faith comes from the Lord.  Now, the faith in action right after someone is born again will result in remorse of one’s sin.  After the rebirth from the Holy Spirit, we are alive again.  We see again.  Our conscience is made alive.  And we realize our fate.  We understand our offence against the Holy Lord.  And the sentence for such offense is eternal death.  So we approach the Lord with humility.  Praying to him alone and pleading with him for forgiveness.  The person reborn cannot just assume that, “oh I am already forgiven and I do not even need to ask for it.”  Such scenario would be absurd.

Besides, one sided forgiveness is unfair.  Unfair to the person considered to be the offender.  Because there could be the case that the person considered to be the offender might not be the offender after all.  And second, the offender might not think that he/she is offending anyone.  And third, the offended or the one giving the one sided forgiveness is just uplifting him/herself high above by giving the one sided forgiveness.  The issue of fairness must be solved.  If we apply this matter on God, then we need to understand that God is a fair God.  He is a just God.  He would not be unfair in what he does.  He would not forgive someone who does not think he/she is offending God.  He could not.  He would not elevate himself by giving one sided forgiveness.  It would not be forgiveness anyway.  For the plea for forgiveness must be brought up voluntarily and in humility.  Such act requires understanding of self, position, the offence, and the one being offended.  All in all, the requirement for forgiveness to happen is the truth.  Truth must surface.  Truth must come out if true forgiveness is to be produced.  Anyone can lie that he/she is offended, and therefore claims to deserve an apology.  The event of the offense must be clarified.

Jesus’ parable is consistent with the notion of forgiveness in the entire Scripture.  The servant owed the King so much that he could not pay back the King.  The case is clear that the servant had debt.  That case is undeniable.  And the King demanded that payment must be made.  So within his authority and right, the King ordered for the servant to be sold together with his family so payment could be made.  In this case the King did not break any law whatsoever.  This is when the servant broke down and fell on his knees, appealing for the King’s mercy.  And the King took pity on him, so he cancelled his debt.  The result was that he and his family did not need to be sold for payment of his debt.  Now, forgiveness is a matter of absorbing the demand of justice.  In the case of the King cancelling the debt, something was still missing.  The debt was missing.  The King suffered because he did not receive back what he rightfully owned.  The ten thousand talents were used up by the servant who did not have the right to do so in the first place.  When the debt was cancelled, someone had to absorb the ten thousand talents that were not going to return.  The servant and his family could not.  And the King being a just King, he did not then require other people to absorb it.  But instead, the only person who could absorb it was himself.  Because he was the offended party.  He was offended because the servant promised to pay back but yet he did not.  In this case, the servant was the offending party.  When it is said that the King forgave the servant the debt, the King absorbed the debt.  By doing so, he suffered.  His rightly owned property was not returned.  And the result was that the offending party no longer was considered to have debt.  So he was free.

The King forgave upon the request of the servant.  The servant knew his position, his offense, and the one being offended.  When the requirement of justice was decided, he immediately realized his doom.  So he asked for forgiveness.  In great humility he pleaded with the King.  The King was not a cruel King.  He was a gentle and merciful and loving King.  Looking at the servant pleading sincerely and in humility, the King proceeded to give the servant what he asked for, forgiveness.  This is the nature of forgiveness, simply that it couldn’t be given without the offending party asks for it.  The offending party needs to understand that he/she is offending the offended party.  Now, this is contrary to the way many Christians currently see forgiveness, isn’t it?

Now, the other reasoning many Christians give, which I think is selfish, is that one sided forgiveness frees his/her soul from the burden.  When one “forgives” psychologically he/she is releasing a great burden.  And therefore considered good for one’s psychological state.  No more grudge.  No more demands for justice.  However, is it good to the offending party?  No.  Besides, is it really good for the offended party?  Or is it just a deception?  Don’t we know that since Adam and Eve we have been masters of deception.  And the one we deceive the most is ourselves.  We think we forgive, but in reality we don’t.  One sided forgiveness is not forgiveness.  It is just letting our mind off of the natural demand of justice.  Mostly because there is nothing we can do about it.  We have no power over the offending party so that the only “power” we can resort to is the “power” to “forgive.”  By doing so, one betrays the demand of justice.  And consequently one elevates oneself too high above just to cope the unsettling feeling.  Or in Nietzsche’s words: “the will to power.”  The will to power exists in every man, according to Nietzsche.  How we achieve power is discussed extensively in his “On the Genealogy of Morals.”  Now, the parable shows that the King is sovereign.  He has power for sure.  But yet the King did not use his power to force justice over the servant.  He certainly would not be wrong to execute justice on the servant.  But yet he chose the route of mercy, of forgiveness.  This depicts the character of God, that he is truly a good God.  He is not a tyrant.  Contrary to how many people think about God.  Now, the question for us then is when we have power, are we going to act mercifully?  Are we going to forgive when we have power in our hands?  The real test of forgiveness is not when we have no power.  The real test of forgiveness is when we have power in our hands.  Especially when the power is combined with the right to execute justice.  The servant certainly had his right to demand payment from his fellow servant.  And he had power too.  That’s the real test of forgiveness and mercy.  And he failed.  He did not have it in his heart mercy and forgiveness.  Now, if the motive for giving forgiveness is selfishness, then it is not genuine forgiveness.  One sided forgiveness is not forgiveness.

Asking for forgiveness must then be genuine and sincere.  Giving forgiveness, consequently, must also be genuine and sincere.  Many Christians falsely think that giving forgiveness is mandatory.  Simply because they misunderstand the second part of the parable.  As we know it, the second part of the parable points out about the ungrateful servant whose debt was just cancelled, whom then forced his fellow servant who only owed him small amount of money compared to his own debt.  The point that Jesus is making is about gratitude.  Gratitude should have sparked similar attitude as the King had shown to him.  Gratitude should have sparked mercy in the heart of the servant who just had his debt cancelled.  There is no way forgiveness then can be taken as duty.  Because forgiveness must be voluntary.  Forgiveness has the consequence of absorbing the offense and thus sacrificing oneself.  The matter of sacrifice can’t be a duty.  For sacrifice to be meaningful it has to be voluntary.  The servant could not forgive just because the King ordered him to do so.  The fact is the parable does not say that the King ordered him to forgive.  If the servant were to forgive, it was supposed to be voluntary, out of his own gratitude, prompting his mercy to surface, and pity be shown to his fellow servant.  When he did not show mercy to his fellow servant, it followed then that he might not even be grateful of the forgiveness he was given from the King.  Now, when that was the case, then there was a big problem.  Because then his asking forgiveness was not genuine.  Then it meant that the forgiveness that was offered genuinely by the King was not accepted properly as forgiveness.  It was more accepted as a way out of problem.  A way of avoiding the punishment of not being able to pay the debt.  So the servant did not see the King’s forgiveness as forgiveness, but he instead manipulated the King’s mercy so that he could get away from the undesirable condition he was supposed to be into.  And that’s why when the King knew about his merciless act toward his fellow servant, the King was furious.  He had to punish the ungrateful servant.  Here we then also can draw a very important understanding that forgiveness can never be one sided.  Forgiveness that is not accepted as forgiveness by the offending party can never be forgiveness.  If one sided forgiveness is forgiveness, then the King could not then take back the servant and put him in prison in order to get him to pay his debt, simply for the reason that he was already forgiven.  But the fact of the matter was that he was not yet forgiven.  Not that the forgiveness was not offered, but that it was not accepted as it should be.  Therefore, forgiveness must not be one sided, from the offending party genuinely asking it, from the offended to give it, and then concluded by the offending party accepting forgiveness as forgiveness.  The natural consequence of accepting forgiveness is gratitude.  So, the lack of gratitude raises a huge question whether the servant actually accepted the forgiveness as the King had mercy on him.

Misunderstanding this parable leads to a grief mistake.  Forgiveness must be understood in its true form.  Many times, people ask for forgiveness not with the motive of humility and realizing their mistakes, but only as a means to avoid punishment.  When that is the case, forgiveness is exploited.  This exploitation is even more wicked than their initial “debts,” simply because by doing so they take lightly, misuse, and contempt the forgiver’s mercy and the forgiver himself who has genuinely forgiven as he willingly absorbs the debts and thus sacrificing himself for the sake of the debtor.  No wonder in the parable it is told that when the servant did not show any sign of gratitude, the King was furious.  Hebrews 10:28-31 says this:

28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The servant in the parable is the depiction of those who trampled underfoot the Son of God and who profaned the blood of the covenant and who has outraged the Spirit of Grace.  With this understanding we thus ought not mistake the practice of false forgiveness – the one sided forgiveness – as true forgiveness.  Such practice comes out from the heart full of wickedness.  It is at the core selfishness and the very foundation of sin, which is to exploit God for the sake of indulging in sinful desire.  A lot of people who say that they are Christians actually are not true Christians.  For they only believe in Jesus and seemingly accept God’s forgiveness only for the purpose of avoiding the eternal punishment of eternal death in hell.  For such people, God says “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”  For “The Lord will judge his people.”  And the author to the Hebrews in trembling and fear writes: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

            The scenario of forgiveness that God gives to humans becomes the foundation of the scenario of forgiveness between humans.  Just as God cannot forgive without the offender actually asks for it, any offended party can’t also genuinely give forgiveness without being asked.  Letting go of the grudge is not the same as forgiving.  Letting go of the demand for justice is not the same as forgiveness.  They are certainly important elements in the process of forgiveness.  But the prerequisite of forgiveness is that the offender must ask for it.  Without it the process of forgiveness cannot be started.  Without the plea for forgiveness, the only route to take is justice.  Justice precedes forgiveness.  For without justice forgiveness cannot be understood.  If justice doesn’t exist, there is no forgiveness.  One may not understand why forgiveness is needed and even necessary.  The parable too starts with justice.  The King ordered for justice to be carried on.  The servant understood the weight of justice, and realizing his inability to bear it, he then asked for forgiveness.  Therefore, apart from justice, forgiveness cannot be formed.  The acknowledgment of justice requires truth.  Everybody who understands how justice works must admit that there can be no justice without the truth.  Deception may bring people to punishment, but punishment is not indication of justice.  In the same way, deception may also bring people to be released from punishment, but being released from punishment is no indication of forgiveness.  Punishment is one of the results of justice.  Being released from punishment is one of the results of forgiveness.  Just like goodness can be faked, forgiveness and justice also can be faked.

            Forgiveness is not as easy as forgetting the offense.  In the structure of justice, an offense must meet its payment.  Exodus 21:23-25 lays out: “23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”  Within that structure, any harm as consequently produced from the offence must be paid back.  Now, if forgiveness to be given, somehow the demand of justice must be met.  It cannot be forgotten.  Human sinfulness attempts to nullify the structure of justice when they are the offender.  God is a just God.  He is the God of justice.  Therefore he can’t let justice go.  Even when his love prompts him to save the people under his wrath, his holiness demands that justice be fulfilled.  If his justice is not necessary to be met, then the Son of God does not need to die on the cross.  His death on the cross is a testimony of the necessity of God’s justice.  Without the death of the Son of God on the cross, there can never be forgiveness of sins.  With this model in mind, we then need to understand that human forgiveness too must meet the demand of justice.  When the Son of God dies on the cross, the demand of justice is met.  The demand of justice, that is the punishment of sins – eternal death, is absorbed by the Son of God himself, who at the same time is also the Son of Man.  Therefore forgiveness can be given.  God as the offended party absorbs the punishment of sin.  By doing so, the requirement of justice is fulfilled.  Only then can God forgive the offender whenever they ask for his forgiveness.  In the human case, we do the same thing.  Even though not at the scale of God’s forgiveness of sins.  That’s why the comparison of the debts in the parable is huge.

The servant owed the King ten thousand talents.  The fellow servant owed the servant only a hundred denarii.  Now, one denarii is about one day’s wage of ordinary worker.  So one hundred denarii is about 100 days’ wage of ordinary worker.  If an ordinary worker’s daily wage is $100, thus 100 denarii is about $10,000.  Now, let’s count ten thousand talents.  One talent is about 6,000 denarii.  So, 6,000 denarii is 6,000 days’ wage of ordinary worker.  6,000 days equal to about 16 years.  And that’s only one talent.  10,000 talents then equal 60 million denarii.  60 million denarii equal 60 million days.  60 million days equal to about 164 thousand years.  There is no way the servant was able to pay the King.  If in average people live 70 years and work effectively 50 years, then he would have to live about 3,280 times.  And that’s with the servant never used his wages for his own life.  Whereas his fellow servant only needed to work 100 days to pay off his debt.  With that comparison, we get the idea of the huge gap between what the servant owed the King and the fellow servant owed the servant.  It’s a parable to tell of the difference between the debt we owe God and the debt other people owe us.  The gratitude of the servant must be unspeakably exceedingly great.  But no, he was not grateful.  So, not forgiving a fellow human being is a reflection of one’s ungratefulness.  With that being said, as people who have received God’s true forgiveness, we can forgive those who ask for our forgiveness.  God absorbs our debts by dying on the cross.  That’s a huge sacrifice.  No debtor can ever pay God if his justice is to be demanded of us.  So he has to pay it for us.  Now, when a fellow human being offends us and asks for our forgiveness genuinely, then what we need to do is to absorb the demand of justice on ourselves, so then justice is paid, then we may proceed by forgiving our offender.  This process must take place.  Without it there is no forgiveness.

Forgiveness must be voluntary.  It must come out of the good heart.  In our case, it must come out from the grateful heart.  That’s why forgiveness can’t be duty.  Just like other things can be faked, forgiveness can also be faked.  People fake it because they want to avoid being punished by God just like the King punished the servant for not forgiving his fellow servant.  As we know it already, such reading of the parable is mistaken.  The King did not punish the servant because he did not do his duty of forgiving, but because he exploited and mocked the King’s forgiveness and mercy.  No, forgiveness is not a duty.  It can only be voluntary.  When forgiveness is voluntary we can be sure that it is genuine and true.  Only the forgiver and God himself know whether the forgiveness is true.  In the same way, only the offender and God himself know whether the plea for forgiveness is true.

Such is the difference between true forgiveness and fake forgiveness.

-The Business of Christian Education XCVI -

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