It is one of those questions that seems to rattle around in my mind for days after its been asked. Some times its been addressed to me about something that had been said or done that was hurtful. More often its been asked to a husband or wife in my presence as we worked to try to save a marriage. It seems to be the case more often than not that one of the two has been involved in a sexual relationship with someone outside the marriage. Either they have now been caught or the guilt has eaten away at them to the point they are ready to confess the whole sordid affair. Usually it is with lots of tears, fears and guilt that the one who has slipped will asked, “Can you ever forgive me?”
I’ve heard lots of different answers to that question through the years. Some times the answer has been shocking in its honesty, as when the answer was, “I can forgive you, if you can forgive me. I’ve also been involved in an affair for the last six months.” Suddenly the one who felt all the guilt became overwhelmed with righteous indignation. “How could you do such a thing to me?” A few times the answer has been a clear “NO, I cannot forgive you. The next thing you will hear from me will be through my lawyer.”
But most of the time, when someone has asked, “Can you forgive me?” the answer has been some variation of “Yes I will forgive you. It won’t be easy and it will take a long time to forget or to trust you again with my heart. But if God can forgive my sins, I can forgive yours. But I’m just not sure things will ever be the same again after this.”
When God forgives he removes the sin from our record. It is never brought up against us again. When we forgive it is extending grace like we have received from God to someone else. Forgiveness doesn’t mean it will never come to mind again. It doesn’t mean the relationship can go back to where it was before the incident happened. It means I’m not going to hold this against you and I won’t bring it up every time I’m upset about anything.
It is far easier to say, “You are forgiven” than it is to go back to trusting another person. If you forgive someone for not repaying a loan, it won’t mean that you are ready to give them another loan the next week. Sin leaves a wound even when forgiven.
When you think of the question of forgiveness, whether as the one asking another if they can forgive you or as the one being asked, it is important to remember some things the Bible says on the subject. Jesus is our greatest example, though in horrible pain and suffering on the cross both physically and spiritually as he took on the sins of the world the first thing that Jesus said was “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.” This statement is recorded by Luke in chapter 23 and verse 34. Luke says, “Jesus was saying Father forgive them.” The point is that he was repeating this same statement over and over again. If he could pray such a prayer at such a time, surely we can be forgiving as well. If you think to yourself, “Yes but that was Jesus and no mere man can do that” think again of the first martyr for Christ, a disciple called Stephen in Acts 7. They stoned Stephen to death but as he was dying he prayed that the Lord wouldn’t hold this sin against the people.
Another statement from Jesus is found in Luke 17:1-5. Jesus noted that offences will come. But he says, if a man sins, rebuke him. If he repents forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day and turns to say, “I repent” then you forgive him. It is not in our power to judge another persons repentance. Only God can know a person’s heart. We are to judge every person as honest and sincere and forgive.
Finally, in Ephesians 4:32 God had Paul to write, “Be kind to one another, forgiving one another even as God, for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” If you were to look at this verse in the original language you would find that what Paul literally says is “Be kind to one another GRACING one another even as God for Christ’s sake has GRACED you.” Forgiveness isn’t earned or deserved. It is given as a matter of grace.
Can you forgive? Yes anyone can but whether we will or not is a very different story.