Can forgiveness and justice live side by side? Does the one really have anything to do with the other?
First of all, I believe God’s grace and mercy abounds. Jesus came to earth to make it possible for the impossibly big chasm that was created between us and God to be bridged. We are human – thus we we will sin and fall short – daily… thus repentance is important. And thank God that God forgives because we deserve justice and punishment but received pardon. But here is where it gets complicated…God forgives us when we don’t deserve it – but do we forgive others when they don’t deserve it? If we don’t – can we really expect to embrace God’s forgiveness? What do we do with this? Does it matter? What does that even mean?!?
Scenarios help me visualize… Let’s say you have a friend who you found out said some bad stuff about you to someone else… it gets back to you and it hurts deeply… If they beg you for forgiveness – it’s hard to completely forgive right? I mean that was a betrayal… How do we know they won’t do it again? Will we ever be able to really trust them anymore? What if they don’t ask for forgiveness? What if they feel justified in what they said because they meant what they said? Shouldn’t there be some measure of justice before forgiveness?
Jesus said in Matthew 5:39 & 43-48 “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Ouch! Think about what Jesus is saying!! Somebody slaps you (or talks about you or cusses you out or whatever) – not only don’t retaliate – step right back to them and let them do it again. Is that possible to do if you haven’t forgiven them? Does that mean that all anyone has to say is SORRY!! and it’s “get off the hook?”
Think about an even tougher scenario… I met with a family several years ago that their daughter had been molested by a friend of the family! They were struggling not just about how it could be possible to forgive him but how to keep the dad from actually murdering him. Takes it up a few notices doesn’t it? Here is where things get so very messy … when we talk about forgiving someone like this!! I talked a lot with them… We cried together a lot and my heart was literally broken for them, for the loss of innocence and the long path that they would have to walk together because of the evil brought on them by a “family friend.”
The hardest concept about forgiveness is that forgiveness is more about something internal for us than it is about the person we are forgiving… it is also not a matter of the person we are forgiving not facing consequences. There are things that people need to face consequences/punishment over – i.e. read previous example. (There really is not a punishment that could be too severe for him in my mind!!) But our forgiving someone doesn’t have anything to do with them not facing punishment. It has everything to do with us cleansing our hearts of bitterness. The reality is that no matter how terrible the acts we commit on this earth – God can and will forgive us – the eternal “us” – i.e. our soul – IF we truly seek and find Him. Liars, thieves, rapists, murderers, and yes – even child molesters can find God and live with Him forever. But it does not, nor should it, free the physical “them” from punishment. Read what it says in Romans 13 and you’ll see that punishment and justice are appropriate and in fact ordained. Your forgiveness does not free anyone from justice.
SO yes – forgiveness and justice can live side by side… and really one has nothing to do with the other.
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.