Vol. 3, No. 5
No sooner had the smoke cleared from the school massacre in Littleton, Colorado than some were saying that they have already forgiven the murderers. Often we hear of a victim who says he has forgiven an assailant before and without them even asking to be forgiven. This brings up the question, is it our duty to forgive those who sin against us when they neither ask for nor want our forgiveness? The answer is no.
Those who claim to do this are suggesting that forgiveness is the elimination of bitter and uncharitable feelings toward those who sin against us, substituting a disposition of good will for the offending party, and they insist that such is to always characterize Christians. But, God never entertains bitter, revengeful and uncharitable feelings toward even the vilest sinners among us, yet he forgives only those who repent (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38).
Forgive means "to send forth, send away," and thus denotes the restoration of a peaceful relationship that the offender had interrupted. Jesus said, "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). Paul wrote of a censured and sorrowful brother asking the Corinthians to forgive and restore love to him (2 Corinthians 2:4-7). If one sins against us, we must not nurse either malice or revenge against him. Forgiveness requires repentance on the part of the offending party and the extending of it on the part of the one offended.
A disturbing trend in our society is "blame shifting." People have found some very imaginative ways to absolve themselves of personal responsibility for their actions. It is more than an ancient practice. It is also a phenomenon with a new face.
Do you remember the Flip Wilson TV show of the early 1970's and his character "Geraldine"? She always had a way out of any predicament. Her famous line was, "The devil made me do it." Flip Wilson hardly invented original material. Adam and Eve both played the blame game (Genesis 3:12-13). Saul was an adept blame shifter (1 Samuel 15:3, 13-15).
The new repository of guilt has been found in the Freudian concept of "I'm not guilty, I'm sick." Some thinkers among us have concluded that something has gone seriously awry in the human moral code. Along with that, a certain word has become conspicuously absent from our modern vocabulary -- that word is sin. In his 1973 book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin? Dr. Carl Menninger lamented the disappearance of the word sin as involving a shift in the allocation of responsibility for evil.
One of the most interesting books to come along in recent years is A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character by Charles J. Sykes. Winford Claiborne reviewed this book at the 1995 Freed-Hardeman University lectures and said, "If I had the money, I would like to give all of America's leaders a copy…" Mr. Sykes mentions that most misbehavior can be re-defined as disease. There is an Anonymous club for almost every physical or mental problem imaginable: Alcoholics Anon., Gamblers Anon., Pill Addicts Anon., Nicotine Anon., Unwed Parents Anon., Workaholics Anon., Youth Emotions Anon., Debtors Anon., Dual Disorders Anon., Batterers Anon., etc. He mentioned a church in Colorado that had twenty-four different "Anonymous" groups meeting in its facility. We live in a "no fault, no responsibility" society.
Are we all victims? In place of evil, a therapeutic culture has substituted "illness." San Francisco supervisor Dan White invented the "Twinkie" defense during his trial for the murder of that city's mayor and a fellow supervisor. White claimed that his addiction to junk food had clouded his brain and induced his violent behavior. The Bible says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). Jesus Christ will judge the souls of men (2 Timothy 4:1). The fact of judgment implies personal responsibility and accountability. Our great Judge will take care of those who are not responsible due to insufficient mental capacity and unaccountability due to age. Others will be treated as accountable for their actions and judged accordingly (Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 14:10-12). Ours has become a non-judgment society. Our cultural shift, however, will not determine how God will one day deal with the human family.