Pt.5 —Should Christians Forgive Unconditionally? Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Posted: November 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

As a busy part of my semester comes to an end I am finally able to take a bit of time and continue my thoughts on unconditional vs. conditional forgiveness. So far I have argued that (1) we forgive as God forgives (Eph. 4:32); (2) repentance consistently precedes forgiveness in the Bible; and (3) forgiveness is an interpersonal issue.

The next point considers what the desired outcome of repentance and forgiveness should be. That is, once someone has repented and forgiveness has been granted, what should happen between the two parties that were at odds? Simply put, the two parties should reconcile to one another.

Once someone has repented and forgiveness is granted, reconciliation should follow. Thankfully, this is how God works with us. When we repent and believe, and are thus forgiven, there is immediate reconciliation with God. For those who argue for unconditional forgiveness they believe a person may forgive an offender without reconciliation taking place. For them, forgiveness can be granted without reconciliation immediately following. Instead, reconciliation may come after the offender repents. This seems odd because the pattern found in Scripture seems to be the granting of forgiveness (remember, a transaction between two parties) resulting in reconciled relationships (acknowledging that consequences to past actions may remain).

Those who argue that reconciliation does not necessarily flow out of forgiveness create an awkward situation. They create a situation in which a person says that they do not hold a sin against another person (they have “forgiven”), and yet something is keeping reconciliation from taking place. What is this “something” that is keeping the two parties from coming together? There are at least two ways to consider the issue:

1. The offended party has “forgiven” (defining forgiveness in the way the unconditional camp does) the offender and is simply waiting on the offender to repent and reconcile.  This option lays the blame for failure to reconcile on the shoulders of the unrepentant.

2. The offended party says they have forgiven the offender but do not seek reconciliation because repentance has not taken place. The offended party is not willing to reconcile due to the lack of repentance.

Of these two, the first point might make some sense. However, what seems to be the case in the first option is that the offended party has let go of anger, bitterness, wrath, etc. and is ready to reconcile. That is, they are eager to restore the relationship. They are pursuing it, laboring to see the relationship healed. This is right and good. Yet, it assumes that forgiveness is equated with overcoming our sinful emotions and having a posture of forgiveness. As argued previously, this is a skewed definition of forgiveness (i.e. therapeutic forgiveness). In reference to the first situation described above, it seems better to say that the offended party has put to death the sinful emotions they may have had due to the wrong committed. Now they are unconditionally offering forgiveness and stand ready to grant forgiveness and be reconciled.

The second point simply does not make sense. How can a person say that something is forgiven (i.e. let go) and yet claim the wrong committed is still keeping reconciliation from occurring? Evidently what has been let go (i.e. forgiven) is still present in some way to prevent a restored relationship. Furthermore, and as stated in an earlier post, where in the Bible does forgiveness precede repentance? We have stated in that this seems absent from the Bible (see link in the next paragraph). Instead, repentance precedes forgiveness and reconciliation follows (e.g. 1 Kings 8:47–50; 2 Chron. 6:37–39; Acts 2:38). I can find no instance in the Bible where someone is said to forgive another and the relationship remained broken.

The pattern we find in the Bible is that repentance precedes forgiveness (see the previous post for multiple examples). And when genuine repentance takes place, forgiveness happens and reconciliation is immediate. According to what has been argued in the previous post, the idea that forgiveness may not result in reconciliation because repentance may not have taken place would not be an option. For we have argued that forgiveness does not happen until repentance is a reality.

Interestingly, in one sense we agree that reconciliation does not take place until repentance has occurred. However, in the view argued for here, forgiveness would never precede repentance. Thus, in sum, we forgive as God forgives. We understand forgiveness to always follow repentance and to be between two parties. Lastly, just as when we repent of our sins the Father is faithful to forgive and reconcile us to himself, so we are faithful to forgive and reconcile with those who have sinned against us.

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