If you Google the phrase, “the power of forgiveness,” as I just now did, Google will let you know that there are “about 115,000,000 results (0.76 seconds)” on the topic from both secular and religious viewpoints. That number is a bit overwhelming, but it does make a statement regarding the significance that forgiveness plays in our lives.
In the opening paragraph to an article titled, “The Power of Forgiveness: A Quick Bible Study on Choosing to Forgive,” by Keri Wyatt Kent on SmallGroups.com, she writes:
Jesus often told people, “Your sins are forgiven.” What a stunning statement. Forgiveness is powerful. Unforgiveness can also be powerful: when we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us, we ironically and powerfully hurt ourselves. Lewis Smedes once said, “Forgiving is the only way to be fair to yourself. Would it be fair to you that the person who hurt you once goes on hurting you the rest of your life? When you refuse to forgive, you are giving the person who walloped you once the privilege of hurting you all over again—in your memory.” (Quote source here.)
Unfortunately, forgiveness is most often the least likely thought to cross our mind when we have been wronged by someone. Many popular movies produced in the past several decades glamourize the theme of “revenge” or “getting even” in some way with those who have wronged us. Forgiveness is viewed as “wimpy,” and it certainly doesn’t bring in the megabucks that revenge-type movies make for their producers. We have been saturated with images of violence and “getting even” from the time we were small. Is it any wonder why our culture has become what it is today with acts of violence being at least one of the main headline news stories on a daily basis?
In an article published on December 12, 2022, titled, “What Too Little Forgiveness Does to Us,” by Dr. Timothy Keller, theologian, author, and founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, on GordonConwell.edu (originally published in The New York Times), he states:
Virginia is reeling from two mass shootings in less than a month in Chesapeake and Charlottesville. From what we know, the races and politics of the two people accused of the shootings were quite different.
But there seem to be common threads: They both seemed to have bitter resentment and unresolved anger toward individuals, groups or even society as a whole. The Chesapeake shooter wrote that his former Walmart colleagues “gave me evil twisted grins, mocked me and celebrated my downfall.” The brother of the man accused of the University of Virginia shooting said he’d been picked on in school and then reached a “breaking point.”
The most common explanations for the root causes of mass shootings—a mental health crisis and overly lax gun laws—have merit. Another factor is the fading of forgiveness in our society. It is no longer valued or promoted as it was in the past. And a society that has lost the ability to extend and receive forgiveness risks being crushed by the weight of recriminations and score settling…. (Quote source here.) Dr. Keller’s latest book published in 2022 titled, “Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?” from which this essay is adapted is available at this link and at other booksellers. A review of Dr. Keller’s book is available on The Gospel Coalition at this link.
In an essay published on September 16,2021 on Comment.org by Dr. Keller titled, “The Fading of Forgiveness,” he addresses four specific topics that have lead to the fading of forgiveness in our culture, and they are titled “Offended by Forgiveness”, “Our Therapeutic Culture”, “Religion without Grace”, and “No Future without Forgiveness” which can be read at this link.
In an article titled, “Whatever Happened to Forgiveness?” by Peter Crumpler, a Church of England minister and author of “Responding to Post-truth,” he writes:
Western society struggles with forgiveness. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter, the #Metoo movement or other victims of discrimination and abuse, it’s deeply controversial when people suggest that the perpetrator might merit any kind of forgiveness.
Quite rightly, many would say. It’s the victims that need our compassion and concern. Those committing the offences deserve nothing less than judgement and punishment.
But where does Jesus’s command to “forgive other people when they sin against you” (Matthew 6:14) and Christ’s teaching around forgiving others as a sign of our faithful discipleship, come into this?
Where does the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” fit into this landscape?
Is Christ’s teaching on forgiveness really suited for our 21st century world and its widespread ‘blame culture’?
These are just some of the topical, urgent questions confronted by American pastor and author Timothy Keller in his latest book, “Forgive” published this month. Subtitled “Why should I and how can I?”, Keller sets out to explain how Jesus showed his followers how to live with a spirit of forgiveness and how that could apply in today’s world…. (Quote source here.) He continues in his article describing Keller’s book.
In an article published on January 16, 2023, in The Gospel Coalition–Australia Edition titled, “What the World Needs Now–FORGIVENESS,” by Stephen Liggins, lawyer, author and pastor in Sydney, he writes:
…The problem, when it comes to seeking forgiveness from others, is that the world today is such an unforgiving place! The unforgiving nature of the contemporary Western world has been highlighted in recent books such as Glen Scrivener’s “The Air We Breathe,” and Tim Keller’s “Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?”
Scrivener notes how Christianity changed the world by promoting values like equality, compassion, consent, freedom and forgiveness. These were not qualities that would have been valued in other ancient non-Judeo-Christian cultures. Today in the West, many have rejected God and the Christian faith, but still appreciate most of the ethical values just cited. There is, however, one value that is not widely promoted—that of forgiveness!
Scrivener quotes the prominent English author and political commentator Douglas Murray, who sees “forgiveness” as a lost art in modern life. Murray argues that in the West we have kept Christianity’s sense of sin but forgotten about salvation. We have kept the guilt and shame but forgotten about redemption.
In place of forgiveness today we have “cancel culture” (a new phenomenon) and “revenge culture” (a response as old as humanity), which says “don’t get mad, get even.” It is the instinctive human response, and the stuff of pretty much every second contemporary movie we will ever see. Our instinct when wronged is to get back at the other person.
Tim Keller quotes the view of New York Times correspondent Elizabeth Bruenig who once said: ‘I [see] in American culture how offended people seem to be by the very idea of forgiveness itself. They seem to find it immoral’…. (Quote source here.) There is much more to read in his article which you can read at this link.
Regarding the comment made by Elizabeth Bruenig in the last paragraph above when she stated, “I [see] in American culture how offended people seem to be by the very idea of forgiveness itself,” I had no idea that forgiveness had become so offensive to some as to be deemed immoral.
So, of course, I had to Google for more information on the idea that forgiveness could be thought of as being immoral, and I came across an article published on May 6, 2019 in Psychology Today titled, “Can Forgiveness Ever Be Selfish or Even Immoral?” by Robert Enright, Ph.D., professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a licensed psychologist. In his article he states that “there are three major issues that we must scrutinize to accurately address these very interesting challenges (see his article) to forgiveness.” Since you can read his entire article at this link, I will only list below the three areas, and you can read more about each of them in his article: The three issues are:
- First, forgiveness is a moral virtue, as are justice, patience, kindness, love and other qualities centered on goodness. As Aristotle reminds us, all moral virtues concern goodness that is in the best interest of others (Aristotle, 1999). He further explains that none of us is perfect in our expression of any virtue and so we will not necessarily get the expression of any virtue 100% correct on any given attempt.
- Second, is it ever the case that true forgiving will enable the other’s inappropriate behavior to continue unchecked? The short answer is no. I say this, again because of Aristotelian wisdom in which he warns us never to practice the moral virtues in isolation. For example, the exercise of courage by itself could get a person killed, if for example, he is a non-swimmer and courageously dives into a raging river to save the life of a drowning dog. The courageous non-swimmer needs the virtue of wisdom to come alongside the act of courage so that, instead of jumping into the turbulent water, he instead picks up his cell phone and dials 911.
- Third, will true forgiving lead to the other scoffing at the forgiver? Yes, this can happen. The other could laugh and say something like this: “What?? I did nothing wrong. You are being overly sensitive!” In such a case, the forgiver has yet another forgiveness situation toward this person, this time for the scoffing. Also, if a forgiver suspects such behavior from the other, then the forgiver does not have to proclaim the forgiveness. Instead, the forgiver can show the forgiving by, for example, a smile, or a returned phone call, or some act of kindness. Scoffing by the other need not deter the decision to forgive.Is forgiveness ever selfish? No, it never is when truly practiced as a moral virtue. Is forgiveness ever immoral because it enables bad behavior? No, it never is immoral precisely because it is a moral virtue and all moral virtues are good in and of themselves. Forgiving does not enable bad behavior because forgiveness and justice need to be a team. (Quote source here.)
Three of the key verses regarding forgiveness found in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray (known as “The Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6:5-15) are in verses 12, 14-15 (in bold)–NKJV:
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
I’ll end this post with Paul’s words on forgiveness found in Romans 12:17-21 (NIV):
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil . . .
But overcome evil . . .
With good . . . .
YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac ft. Lacrae:
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