One of the recent sermon series we had was “Forgiveness” by Adam Hamilton. There was a lot of discussion about forgiveness and sharing how forgiving and being forgiven has made a difference in people’s lives. Some of the questions asked are some Adam Hamilton also shared in his book.
Is forgiving the same as condoning?
No, forgiveness is not the same as condoning. Forgiveness means letting go of the pain in our own lives and putting down the stones we have carried in our own hearts. Yet we are also putting down the stones we might have thrown at those who wronged us. Having said that, we can, and usually must, choose to let go of these stones, while still being clear that what happened was not okay. We are choosing not to allow these wrongs to continue to affect us. We are choosing not to give the wrongdoer any more power over us.
Does forgiving dismiss the consequences?
Often forgiveness means setting aside the right to retribution, but sometimes there are consequences that cannot be avoided. If someone lies to you or betrays a confidence, you may forgive that person, but it may be a long time before you trust the person again. This loss of trust is a consequence people face by virtue of their dishonesty or betrayal, even though you may have forgiven them.
When my children were small and they did something that required punishment, we would put them in time-out. As they got a little older, we would ground them. At some point during the punishment, one of my daughters, Danielle or Rebecca, might say, “Dad, I’m really sorry. I know I did the wrong thing. I shouldn’t have done that.”
And I’d say to her, “Thank you for saying that. I love you so much. I understand, and it’s all right now.”
“Am I still grounded?”
“Yes, honey, I’m sorry. You’re still grounded.”
Her being grounded was not retribution; it was a way of teaching her and forming her character so that she would avoid repeating the transgression in the future. Forgiving my daughter was a way of restoring our relationship. Both punishment and forgiveness were essential to her development, and they were not mutually exclusive ideas.
If the aim of a punishment is only retribution, then this punishment must be set aside once forgiveness enters the picture. But if the aim of a punishment is redemption, then that punishment may be essential, even after forgiveness happens. God works through consequences and punishment. Punishment can be important not only for teaching the individual, but also for maintaining order in society. It is possible to forgive someone who has committed a crime against you, while still feeling that society, and perhaps the redemption of the individual is best served by Incarceration.