Q. Can I forgive one who has betrayed me if he is not repentant?
A. Were we to wait for those who have hurt us to repent first, we will almost certainly wait a long time. We also give ourselves ‘reason’ to remain bitter the rest of our lives. And there is already too much of that in the Church while the secular world speaks of reconciliation.
Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, pray for them, and do good to those who have hurt us. We may get the theology, but not the graciousness that He taught and exemplified.
While there was only total contempt, and no repentance at all, while Jesus hung on the Cross, yet He prayed, “Father, forgive them …”
Most people who hurt us don’t think they have done anything wrong. It’s probably the same with us towards others!
JosifTson, imprisoned and beaten for his faith by the Communist government of Romania, once said to a betrayed brother, “You must totally forgive them; unless you totally forgive them, you will be in chains.” Once you forgive in your heart, it ceases to be an issue whether they repent or not. That’s victory! And it shows.
Jesus loved Peter and the other disciples knowing that they would deny Him in a few hours. Yet, when He appeared after his resurrection behind their closed doors, He did not berate them; instead He said, “Peace be with you!”
Instead of asking, “Must I forgive them?”, let us ask rather, “How am I able to forgive?” We forgive because God has forgiven us!
The signs to know you have totally forgiven are:
- You do not tell anybody what they did to you (avoid punishing);
- You do not try to intimidate them;
- You do not let them feel guilty;
- You let them save face;
- You adopt total forgiveness as a way of life;
- You pray that they will be blessed and let off the hook.
What about their repentance? Leave that to God; He alone gives repentance. You can neither demand nor legislate it; it has to be a work of Grace wrought by God in their hearts. Accountability and correction are related issues but do not negate our need to forgive – even as Christ forgave us!