Questions about Forgiveness
On October 28 we talked about Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers from Gen 50:15-26. You can find that message in our sermon files on the website. That Sunday evening and next we looked at a few questions about forgiveness. I want to include some of them here. There are many more questions we could have asked and answered. Forgiveness requires real biblical wisdom in the specific details of a person's life. Hopefully these will be a help to you.
What’s a Definition of Forgiveness?
The definition of forgiveness is promising…
Not to bring it up to the person's face
Not to bring it up behind the person's back
Not to dwell on it
This is not original with me, but I like this definition because it lines up with how God forgives us.
What If You Didn’t Sin, but They Are Offended? Should You Ask Their Forgiveness?
For example, someone expected you to call them while they were in the hospital, but you didn’t. They are angry with you for not calling. In fact, they’re giving you the cold shoulder. You didn’t promise you’d call them, but they expected you to. Is that sin? Probably not.
So the break in the relationship is real, but the sin is not. Do you ask forgiveness just to reconcile? One question to ask is who has sinned in this relationship? It’s not you; it’s them. They didn’t get what they wanted and now they are responding sinfully.
You shouldn’t ask forgiveness in order to appease someone. Forgiveness is not mine; it’s God’s. He invented it so to speak. I cannot use it for whatever I want. Don’t use forgiveness as a gimmick. Don’t use it to patch things up unless you think you have actually sinned. Don’t cheapen it.
So what can we do in those situations?
•If it’s a pattern, we can confront their sin.
•I’ve said, “I wish I would have done that” because I really do wish that. If it would have prevented them getting offended I really do.
Do You Need to Forgive God?
Some Christians will recommend that you pray and forgive God for certain tragic events. For example, if your child is born with a serious and terminal health problem, you might need to forgive God for that.
God is the absolute standard of right and wrong. He never does wrong. He is not unjust. Therefore, it’s blasphemy to accuse Him of doing wrong to you by telling Him you forgive Him.
The reason we would think that God has done wrong is because things didn’t turn out the way we thought they should turn out.
We are told that everything that happens in a believer’s life is for their good (Rom. 8:28-29). Therefore, when “bad” things happen in a believer’s life, the proper attitude is one of thanksgiving (1 Thess. 5:18).
So it’s always wrong to be angry with God—to think we need to forgive God—but it’s right to bring our questions to God with a heart of faith. The Psalms are full of questions to God when life seems inexplicable. However, they brought their questions to God in faith. They didn’t accuse Him of wrongdoing, but they did have doubts about His dealings. They moved towards God, not away from Him. We should too.
Do You Need to Forgive Yourself?
Maybe you’ve heard this view before—that you need to forgive yourself. What you did was so horrible that it demands not just God’s forgiveness and the offended person’s forgiveness, but you must also forgive yourself.
Do you now what the Bible says about forgiving ourselves? Nothing. It doesn’t show up in either example or command. Scripture teaches vertical forgiveness—God forgiving us. It teaches horizontal forgiveness—us forgiving others. But it doesn’t teach internal forgiveness. Clearly that is significant. It indicates that this idea of self-forgiveness didn’t come from careful study of Scripture but from somewhere else.
So, when someone tells us that “I just can’t forgive myself”, can we help them? Yes. Someone that expresses this thought may actually be telling us something else.
They might be expressing an inability or unwillingness to receive God’s forgiveness. We say this because we really doubt that God has forgiven us.
They may not be willing to acknowledge the depth of their sin. Sometimes this means “I cannot believe that I did that.” This is a form of pride; as if this type of sinful failure was beneath me. It’s an indication of self-righteousness and a lack of realistic self-knowledge.
They may be venting regrets for not achieving a certain cherished desire. I had an opportunity and I threw it all away. When desires are thwarted, the result is self-reproach and a case of “if only I had….” In this case a more careful use of language is helpful. They should say, "I regret how I blew that opportunity."
Self-forgiveness is unbiblical because you are the offender, judge, and the forgiver. Only Jesus Christ can fill all three roles. When you or I do it, we are trying to be God.