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Forgiveness Requires Faith

faith“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:3-5)

With such a steep standard of forgiveness, no wonder the disciples said in essence, “If this is the way things are, we need more faith!”

Why does forgiveness take faith?

First, we have to believe that when we release the offender, we can be okay. We’re essntially saying, “I trust You, Lord, to take care of my needs.” For example, imagine a woman deeply hurt by divorce. She now lives in poverty but sees that her ex buys an expensive home and takes his girlfriend on exotic vacations to places like Hawaii and Europe. She feels all the hard work she invested in her twenty-five years of marriage have left her with nothing. Will she find faith to believe that God will provide good things for her as well? That her life is valued and important even though she’s been rejected, replaced, and left destitute? That God alone is enough? Without this kind of faith, forgiveness would be very difficult.

Second, it takes faith to believe that God will act justly when we’ve brought Him our case. Romans 12:19 says,

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.

Forgiveness takes faith because justice may be delayed. Not until the end, on Judgment Day, will God make all things right. However, when it appears that offenders are not held accountable, we secretly fear that God won’t judge; He won’t be fair. After all, we are well-acquainted with His mercy.

Jonah felt this way. He got so frustrated with God he wanted to die:

“Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

It takes faith to forgive because this means we accept that God has a right to extend mercy to our offender. However, if we understand that the blood of Jesus bought mercy for us, why shouldn’t His sacrifice provide mercy for our offender when he repents?

As we can see, forgiveness is risky in the sense that we have no guarantee that our offender will be held accountable in the way we might demand. God asks us to trust Him completely with the right to judge and to sentence.

If we don’t like this, what’s the alternative? Carrying around the offense. All the time. Decaying on the inside as the shell of bitterness hardens more and more each year. Living in despair and hopelessness.

It is infinitely better to forgive than to rot in resentment. If releasing someone is a struggle, why not pray like the disciples: “Lord, increase my faith!”