A debate I keep bumping into in various places, “is repentance necessary for forgiveness?” Is it a requirement, a pre-requisite? Wintery Knight has a post that provides much food for thought and while I am not completely disagreeing, I am not fully on board either. Clearly repentance is required in order to come to Christ, one cannot very well receive grace without recognizing one’s own sins and the need for grace in the first place.
I am thinking more in terms of our relationships with each other. First off, I believe Christians are called to discern, to judge even, to be angry sometimes. To everything there is a season and a time and a purpose, but being a Christian does not mean checking your brains at the door and lying there like a pile of mush in a perpetual state of forgiveness of others no matter what they do.
However, unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, is like lugging around a bag of rocks. We do not want those things in our hearts for very long, because than there is room for little else. If one is in a personal relationship with Christ, than one must set their burdens down and make room for well, Christ. Unforgiveness corrupts our own hearts.
It is not that we forgive so much for the benefit of the other person, but for our own selves. This is not the same thing as condoning their behavior or agreeing with their sin, it is freeing our own selves from the harm that was done there. If our own ability to forgive must be conditional on someone else’s repentance, than we may well be waiting a very long time to free ourselves from the harm that was done. Those wounds will only fester and grow.
Also, I am reminded that I am not the one in charge of doling out mercy, grace, and redemption. That is Christ’s job. In the grand scheme of things my forgiveness means nothing beyond freeing my own heart. If someone repents there is the possibility of reconciliation there…or not. One may forgive a violent criminal, to come to understand and forgive, but that does not necessarily indicate a desire to have tea with them.
The idea that I am not in charge of mercy, grace, forgiveness is a tough lesson to learn, but it is the truth. God judges, not I, and He may well see into the hearts of those I deem unworthy. I may actually be the one at fault there, one never fully knows. Or perhaps God set someone in my path so I would learn to empathize or to forgive or to gain some humility? I have no way of knowing, but if I do not seek that path, I can never gain those fruits. To refuse to forgive is a bit like walling yourself off from the Holy Spirit who may wish to do some work within you.
Ultimately if we refuse to forgive until somebody has repented we are handing them all the power. Christ did not go to the cross because we were all repentant and worthy of His sacrifice. Even in the midst of His torment He called out, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That is “Father forgive them,” not us forgive them. Who does the doling out of forgiveness ultimately belong to? We are not the ones with the Authority there.
Somebody smart said, “nobody gets under your skin unless you want them there.” That is so very true. When we hang onto something it is always because there is something unfinished within us that will not let us go.
This is such a huge issue, one might even call it Christianity 101. We do not speak of forgiveness nearly as much as we should and it is the very first step! Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. Luke 7:47 It is not so much the sins of others we are supposed to be seeking repentance for, but rather our own.
All in good humor here, but solipsism, this idea that it really is all about you, it really is all about you! That is why we say, Lord search my heart, Lord wash me clean. If we do not do that, then we tend to try to create God in our own image. A harsh, judgmental, ostracizing God, is a false projection from a soul walking in its own judgment and condemnation.