Jacquelyn Rebekka Bonner
Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always. – Gandhi
As a former human rights attorney, I’ve never advocated for rushing forgiveness. Unless there is repentance, unconditional forgiveness–canceling the debts of those who intentionally harm us, whether or not they acknowledge what they have done–withholds important spiritual benefits from transgressors as well as their pardoners.
The Bible guides us to forgive as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). God forgives when we repent (Acts 3:19): we become conscious of our guilt, acknowledge God’s mercy in Christ’s death for our own sins, and turn away from sin and back toward God.
Repentance is critical because that is a transgressor’s only hope for real change. Unless we admit our sin and reconcile with God, we cannot adjust our lives’ direction and be transformed. Repentance demonstrates that we all need God to help change our thinking, behavior, and beliefs. An unrepentant person maintains an illusion of control over life through personal pride, often leading to further transgressions (Proverbs 16:18).
Repentance is equally critical for those extending forgiveness. Rather than
retaliating, we can soften our hearts when we humbly admit that we, too, have hurt others. Only by God’s grace do we enjoy His goodness and mercy. We can trust that God will avenge as He sees necessary (Romans 12:19-21) and have faith that He will hold every individual accountable (Romans 14:12). We don’t need to worry that our pain goes unnoticed by God (Psalm 147:3). We can be moved to pray for those who’ve harmed us, as did Jesus on the Cross: “Father, forgive them, because they know not what they do.” Interestingly, Jesus didn’t wait until his murderers repented to pray for them; neither did He rush to offer forgiveness himself. Rather, Jesus prayed: Father, you forgive them.
Sometimes the most loving response to being harmed is to wait for true change of heart before offering forgiveness. Repentance opens opportunities to grow in Christ, to heal relationships, and—in this oh-so-imperfect world—to allow for reconciliation and a collective return to God.
Friends and members of our Christ Church family have prepared these daily reflections as a means for you to consider how forgiveness informs your faith walk during this holy season. They are a richly diverse group from many different geographies around our nation and globe, formed by a wide variety of traditions.