Forgiveness and Repentance

Forgiveness and Repentance

Recent events have compelled me to revisit the issues of forgiveness and repentance. 

We are called to forgive those who have harmed us.  Yet, forgiveness does not mean we have to invite the offender back into our lives especially if their past behavior suggests a pattern of abuse that could wound others again.  For instance, if someone caused great harm (emotionally, physically, or spiritually) to you or your loved ones you are not under any obligation to invite the possibility of a recurrence.

So, what then is meant by forgiveness?  A close friend of mine once gave me a good definition for forgiveness.  He said forgiveness is "choosing not to seek revenge."  Seeking revenge can take many forms--retaliation, reprisal, or retribution or other forms of 'getting back.'

This does not mean that you open yourself up to ongoing abuse from an abuser.  For instance, assume for a moment a financial planner squandered your retirement by spending your money on himself instead of making sound investments on your behalf.  You might forgive them but forgiveness does not mean you would invite them to handle your finances again.

When a brother who has wronged you asks for forgiveness and repents of their wrongdoing what then? 

First of all repentance is an expression of godly sorrow--it is a turning away from the sin (and actions) that gave rise to the need for repentance in the first place.  Restitution is required when warranted by the circumstances of the offense.  In Matthew 3:8 Jesus recounts an encounter John the Baptist had with the Pharisees and Sadducees.  He told them to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance."

The lack of fruit (restitution for instance) may be indicative of a counterfeit repentance.  It is very easy to ask someone's forgiveness and to express repentance yet not produce "fruit" in keeping with the repentance expressed.

You can choose to forgive (not seek revenge in word or deed) regardless of "fruit" in keeping with repentance but you do not have to invite the perpetrator back into your life.  The honesty of one's repentance for harm they have caused is validated when they provide restitution for the wrong they have committed.  You have a right to be a bit suspicious when the "fruit" is missing.

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