The Necessity of Love and Forgiveness
Paul the apostle said that love “does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7).
When we have been wronged, solutions that seek to get even or that assume the worst about others are unloving. If we accept what Paul said about love, we must accept an attitude that is honest about problems, and willing to address problems even if it exposes failings on our part. We must also be willing to forgive the mistakes of the past to move forward. Most of the discussions in our culture lack this attitude, and these discussions will continue to fail in bringing people together. In fact, the absence of the kind of love that Paul described is to blame for the absence of solutions in our world.
Forgiveness is a key factor in our love for others. If there was no sufficient price to pay for the wrongs that we committed against God, then there is probably no sufficient price to pay for the wrongs that we commit against others. There is only a commitment to repentance, given in good faith, and complete forgiveness on our part to move toward a better relationship. This is how God forgives us in Christ. True repentance requires a commitment to stop doing things that are wrong, and true repentance will mean giving back what we have taken or working to minimize the harm of our actions. We don’t get to enjoy the fruits of sinful behavior. Yet, the offended can and should meet offenders halfway by graciously refusing to exact the full penalty from those who are honestly seeking reconciliation because this is how we would want to be treated. This is love and it is an exercise of great power. Those who came to Jesus for healing often asked Him to have mercy on them. Thus, mercy should never be thought of as weakness.
Another problem that is realized by the absence of love and forgiveness is that none of us can live without offense. An eye for an eye is a good standard for judges who are trying to decide court cases, but if anyone was actually held to the standard of an eye for an eye perfectly no one would be able to keep both of their eyes or all of their teeth. Retaliation only perpetuates a cycle of abuse and mistreatment (Matthew 5:38-42). Jesus said that we should love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In doing this, we follow the example of God Himself. This is the only path to peace with God and peace with ourselves. Can you envision any joy in the life of a person who is trying to keep up with all of the eyes and the teeth that people supposedly owe them? Do we want to be constantly looking over our shoulders for those who may be coming for our eyes and our teeth? No. We can forgive and we can have peace knowing that God has forgiven us and that we are walking in His love.
If we believe in Jesus, then we should realize that human governments are very limited in producing great solutions to the problems of humanity. There are things that we can debate and defend through political dialogue, but until we can make Biblical love the starting point for our discussions there is no reason to think that these discussions will produce permanent solutions. Individuals can be converted and this will be reflected in the culture, but we can’t expect the world to act like the church. It is hard enough for the church to consistently act like the church.
The gospel overcomes the groups that divide us: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, Christians must treat people as individuals, and we must be willing to extend love and forgiveness to everyone. We don’t hold individuals accountable for the sins of history or the sins of a group. The consequences of bad actions can be generational, but guilt is not. Peace and reconciliation requires honesty about the past, but it also requires a willingness to forgive. In reality, none of us can completely pay the price for the bad things that we have done to God and to others, even when we do all that we can to minimize the harm of our actions. God loved us and offered us forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Love will bring people together in a meaningful way through forgiveness, but without love we will always just be people who happen to occupy the space next to one another.