Thursday, May 8, 2014

Forgiveness (framed) against justice and righteousness

Preamble: My long-distance pastor friend, Ps Prentis, recently wrote a blog entry entitled, “What ever happened to forgiveness”; in it he touched on the tension between forgiveness and justice and righteousness.  He touched on tolerance, and selective tolerance. I commented on that entry; from that comment, with some additional points, I put up this entry, here, below.

Does it mean, to be just and righteous is to mean we cannot be forgiving?  Or is it we MUST still be forgiving, even as we are to be just and righteous.  Are we to tolerate injustice and unrighteousness? Or do we tolerate some but NOT others, like we tolerate when we are NOT directly hit by it (or NOT yet!), the injustice or unrighteousness? And, tolerate means we can numb our conscience? Such issues cannot be easily addressed in an article of a few pages; what I write below is just touching the surface only, so to speak.

Indeed we should be a people of justice.  The Word has it (in Ps 89:14) that the foundation of God’s throne (and therefore, rule) is the twin pillars of justice and righteousness.  And it added love and faithfulness (mercy and loving-kindness) [be allowed] to come before Him.  And so, rightly, we should be indignant with all these horrendous crimes/sins we hear and seen on the news (TVs, etc) all over the world.  We should NOT numb our conscience to all of these, and could just regard all these as “it is like that-one-lah”.  We read that Jesus was indignant before; He was indignant when He saw the Temple was used as a “den of robbers”. 

Should we be tolerant of such wrongful acts or sins (like those we hear and seen on the news)? I think a simple yes or no, is NOT the way to answer such issue, for different people have different idea of what tolerance is to include and mean.  Then, is there or is there NOT an issue of we need to forgive the people who did those wrongful acts or sins that we are NOT directly being impacted by it at the moment?

The perspective from the Word I believe includes this:

Sins we do NOT tolerate, meaning we should NOT just let these offences just continue on, unrestrained.  It means we cannot apply caveat emptor into this and say, “Each is to beware; you just watch out yourself; it is like that, ‘a dog-eat-dog world’; if you get mugged, too bad for you-lo.”  No, that is the animal world; we are NOT animals.  We are Man, NOT animals (No, I don’t believe we are/from monkeys!)  Sin is to be hated, and NOT to be taken lightly.  We don’t condone sins, or just ignore them, or excuse them.

Even if the wrongs or sins are NOT done to us, directly (but on other people, like we hear or see them on the news), still wrongs/sins are wrongs/sins; they should NOT be tolerated, and so, when we are in position of influence, we should influence accordingly.  For example, if bullying is happening in the school where you are a teacher, even though the wrong is NOT done to you, you are in a position of influence and you should try to influence, so that such a wrong (bullying) will cease.  The attitude of “Nowadays, it is rampant in schools, I will just teach my subject (like Mathematics), that’s all”, is NOT right.  There are channels which we can use to influence (so that the wrong/sin will cease), and we should use them.

We still love the sinner!  Does the Word prescribe that?  I believe so.
(But if you are asking if the phrase of “love the sinner but hate the sin” is from the Bible, DIRECTLY, it is NOT.  Its origin is believed to be from St. Augustine’s Letter 211 (c. 424) [Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum - translates roughly to "With love for mankind and hatred of sins."] Some say that Jude 1:23 pointed to it; “Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.” {NLT version – other versions read differently}  Others said that the story of the adulterous woman who was NOT stoned pointed to it.). The phrase is NOT directly from the Bible, but the way is.

How does it work; hate the sin but NOT the sinner?  It cannot make sense until you and I identify with God.  I repeat you can be hating sin and loving the sinner only when you are identified with God.  In this respect, identification with God, means “That is what God, in His holiness and love, would like to see happening, and we agree to it, subscribe to it, and give effect to it, we having been a recipient of it.” 

Justice and righteousness is the foundation of God’s throne; we can see it said in Ps 89:14 (as mentioned above), and we can also see it repeated in Ps 97:2.  This means God actually have all the right to “do sinners in” immediately, so to speak.  He has [however] allowed love and faithfulness [mercy and lovingkindness] to come before Him. 

What does the second part of Ps 89:14 about love and faithfulness to go before Him, mean?  It means in His administration of His rule with justice and righteousness as the pillars, He allows love and faithfulnesss [mercy and lovingkindness] a voice – to speak for the offender or mediate, so to speak.   And so, God, in His mercy has often refrained from punishing immediate (letting out His wrath) (But note that still, it does NOT mean He has given up His right to punish or chastise, immediate. It also does NOT mean the foundation of God’s rule is love and faithfulness; that would be wrong.  The foundation is still justice and righteousness). 

The overall counsel of the Word tells us that God in His love, wants to give people opportunities to turn from the wrongs or sins, or to repent.  God is a holy God, and accordingly, justice and righteousness is foundation of His rule and Kingdom. It is NOT His desire that we be destroyed from His holiness (holiness’ demand); rather it is His desire that we be forgiven, so much so that, He gave His own Son, Jesus, to be the atonement for our sins. We have been a recipient of such love and faithfulness of God, haven’t we?  Yes, we have; otherwise, we would have been “dead-meat” a long time ago!

How do we go from here?  I perceive this:  “We do NOT administer justice ourselves”.  What do I mean by that?  One, we are NOT to administer justice according to our own righteousness and justice.  The justice and righteousness are those of God, NOT our own.  Two, we do NOT administer justice ourselves in that we do NOT administer justice for our own case. 

Then, there is no justice?  No, God deals with the justice on our behalf; and it is we have to let God deals with the justice as He wishes.   But why?  Because He is your master! We turn to the metaphor of a slave-master relationship or we can look at a child-father relationship, in our attempt to understand this proposition.  I will try to be brief and use the child-father relationship. 

Now, suppose a child of yours [A] (and so, you are the father) bullied another child of yours [B], who incidentally, has previously bullied his younger sister(!); how should this be handled? Is B to administer his own justice, in that B is going to take matters into his own hand?  The answer is no.  Is B to administer his own justice, in that, according to his own sense of justice and righteousness, he would do A in, so to speak, like maybe get a friend to push A off a tall building!  It is a no, too.  B is NOT to take things into his own hands, and he also cannot apply his own justice. [Sound familiar? Cain and Abel story?!]

What would you, the father, say to B?  What is the thing that B is to do?  B has to tell himself this: “I will tell daddy (you, the father), and let daddy deal with A, that A have bullied me”.  B has to remind himself that he, too, previously has done wrong (he did bully his younger sister or did other wrongs to his siblings). 

Now, you, the father, do you tell B this, “You should hate your brother, A; he has done you injustice!”? Or do you tell B NOT to hate or bear grudge or harbour resentment and bitterness against A? 

You, the father may say this to B, “My son, remember, the last time you bullied your sister, I forgave you, should you NOT also forgive your brother, A?  Son, you should just forgive him, A; and let me deal with him.”  A word to sum this, is “deference” (Believers are slaves to Christ Jesus, the Master; slaves don’t administer their own justice [when injustice is done to them]; they defer it to their master, and it is up to their master to deal as the master deems fit – same idea). 

We can see, it is NOT bullying is NOT wrong, but it is that B is to forgive A; it is that B has no longer the right to matter of forgiveness, he (B) is to forgive; the right to forgive or NOT to forgive, lies with the father.

We have wronged God and wronged other people, but God has forgiven us, by grace.  We, as a believer, no longer has the right to “NOT forgive”; we are to forgive, and defer justice for wrongs done to us, to God for Him to deal with, as He knows fit.  Scripture said vengeance belongs to God (and so, NOT to us [no longer, to us]). 

Why all over the world (thank God, it is still so!), do we find, we do NOT take the law into our own hands?  When wrong is done to us, we don’t take the law into our own hands; someone, the authority (police, judge, etc), administers justice for the case.  And these “magistrates”, they are under-magistrates to the Great Magistrate (God).  “Under-“ means there are matters which we may have to defer to the one above (this idea, also applies to under-shepherds; we [pastors, spiritual leaders] are under-shepherds; the Lord is the Great Shepherd).  We can understand, the man-magistrate, he does NOT deal with the (personal) forgiveness matter; and rightly, it is so, for the forgiveness matter is a matter between the offender and the victim.  And so, our forgiveness for another who offended us, is independent of legal proceedings of a court or any out-of-court settlement.  Forgiveness is NOT “if or when I get the damages/compensation [the court is going to award to me], I will forgive him-lo!” If it is merited by the offender [compensate you back], it is no forgiveness!  Forgiveness is to be BEFORE THAT, independent of any recompense.

In this sense, a court does NOT damn a criminal to Hell, directly; the only case of it is “helping” one (though NOT culpable) to Hell is when there is immediate capital punishment, where unrepentant offender is summarily executed, leaving the death-convict little or no time to repent.  As a side, so my view on capital punishment is that it should be reserved for extremely bad cases, if at all, we do NOT want to do away with it; and when there is capital punishment, actual execution should NOT be soon, to give time and opportunity for the death-convict to come to the Lord, and/or repent (I know it still costs money to keep a death-row convict in prison; but I still say, “So what!”).

Bro Anthony, are you saying, when we are wronged, we cannot ask for compensation of sort?  No, I am NOT saying that; but you must forgive first (in your heart; our [believers’] forgiveness is rendered [out of] “unto the Lord”), and it is independent of any recompense.  You can ask for recompense, but whether you get or get NOT the recompense, you must in no way to double-back on your forgiveness (which you have done so, in your heart).  If NOT getting a recompense would put you in hardship, you can tell God about it, and trust that God will make a way for you.  Also, do bear in mind the overtone in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18:23-35). Matt 18:35 (KJV) reads, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” [The lord of the unmerciful servant delivered the servant to the tormentors].

Ps Prentis is right (in this blog entry) to say “We should be [a] people of justice. Forgiveness is putting ultimate justice in God's hands. Forgiveness refuses to seek revenge and hopes for repentance.”

I just want to explain a little more on the “forgiveness hopes for repentance”, although I have said above that forgiveness is independent of recompense.  We are to forgive, by grace, for Col 3:13 said that we are to forgive as God forgave us, meaning forgiving in the same way God forgave us, meaning, we, too have to forgive by grace.  By grace, means the offender does NOT need to provide any merit; and so, I was NOT wrong to say we no longer have the right to “NOT forgive” another.  We are to forgive, rightaway.

What if the offender is NOT repentant at all, even still deviant?!  We are still to forgive, rightaway, in our heart!  A distinction needs to made between forgiving (in our heart, we forgive or have forgiven) and releasing forgiveness. 

To forgive, we have to, rightaway.  You forgive first, and then you hope for repentance on the part of the offender, and so, it is forgiveness hopes for repentance.  If you have forgiven NOT, there is no forgiveness, and so, there is NOT the “forgiveness hopes for repentance”.  It is NOT the other way round, as far as what you (the one who has been wronged) are required to do; you don’t wait until the offender has repented before you forgive!  If it were the case, it wouldn’t be “forgiveness hopes for repentance”. 

It is only in the releasing of the forgiveness, already wrought in our heart, to the person (offender), we look for prima facie repentance.  When there is no prima facie evidence of repentance, you hold back the releasing of forgiveness to the person (BUT NOT the forgiveness of the person in your heart).  Why we do it this way, the RELEASING of forgiveness, is due to the doctrine of, we are our brother’s keeper, which much emphasizes that we must NOT mislead a brother.  If you release forgiveness to the offender, before any (prima facie) evidence of repentance, you could be signalling to him (and it is wrong) that it is alright for him to have done what he/she had done (the wrong or sin). 

Now, a test of you have NOT already forgiven another (in your heart) [which you must do], is when the person shows repentance, even just prima facie evidence (like he/she says, “I am sorry”), and is before you waiting for the releasing of forgiveness by you, to him/her, you will NOT give it.  So, do NOT deceive yourself; ask yourself, this question, “If the person is before me, now, and ask for my forgiveness, will I be able to release the forgiveness?”  If you cannot, you have NOT forgiven the person in and from your heart, which you must do.

You don’t want to forgive!  Then how are you going to deal with Matt 6:14-15, Ps Prentis has given, as his opening scripture text for his blog entry? 

Matt 6:14-15 – 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Or are you going to say, “My overly grace preacher/leader tells us that we don’t need to ask God for forgiveness anymore, once we have become a believer; and so, I can ignore that text!”  Listen to me, we have to continue to ask God for forgiveness, because we do sin.  Stop kidding yourself! By being unforgiving, you hinder your blessing from God (including, at times, the receipt of healing from the Lord for pains/sickness in our body).

Finally, before I end, I will touch on whether or NOT there is the issue of forgiveness from us for those wrongs or sins done NOT on us, directly, like those we hear or see on the news.  For the “victims”, they have to forgive; it is personal to them, and in their personal way, they have to forgive the offender(s).  For us, the “general people”, we too, forgive. 

For many, these wrongs/sins do NOT “haunt” them, in so personal sort of way, and they do NOT find it too difficult to “NOT hold resentment and hatred” towards the offender(s).  The test is still the same (the one suggested above), if the offender(s) is/are before you, and he/they ask you for forgiveness (which is unlikely the case, that the offender will ask you [who are NOT directly wronged]), will you release it?!   So, unless it “haunts” you, you only need to have the right understanding and resolved in your heart that you forgive all such non-personal offences (done to other fellow men); you don’t necessarily have to come before the Lord, over every wrong/sin in the world, to say that you forgive the offender(s), for each case, specifically; it is in your heart you forgive them all (you can and should intercede against wrongs/sins, though); and the test above applies.

For some, such non-personal offences/wrongs/sins “haunt” them in a personal sort of way, nonetheless!  For example, when a bullying incident has a racist overtone, some people let the offence hit them in a personal kind of way, and bear resentment against the race (race of the offender(s)).  When the wrong/sin hits that way, you have to specifically forgive the offender(s) in your heart, as if the wrong/sin was done to you.  The point is that as believers, we have to forgive, and cannot bear any grudge, resentment or bitterness.

Bro Anthony, are you saying the law should NOT go after the offenders?  The presence of the law (of the country) or legal system does NOT contradict the ways of God.  From Scripture, we can see a society judicial system was developed in the time of Moses, with his father-in-law’s suggestion.  It is what is in the law or how it is being administered that can offend the ways of God.  

Laws is necessary for law and order, so that there will NOT be chaos, so that there will be restraints on the part of men, so that the wrath of God does NOT get incurred so very often and to the extent that God has to mete out His wrath.  I have already said a little of my personal view on capital punishment; generally, the laws (country laws) serve to chastise, and that generally speaking, is NOT against the ways of God.  I believe, to God, He is the only one to decide on the Heaven or Hell issue (punishment in finality); and meanwhile, chastisements (punishment in chastisement) are expected and generally speaking, is part of His ways.  Some people said the saying, “You reap what you sow” is NOT from Scripture.  No, it is in Scripture, in Gal 6:7 – “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Generally speaking, that a person has to pay for his crimes/wrongdoings is NOT out of line with Scripture.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions
PS: I know I am far from arrived.  And so, even as I know, I still have a long way to go, in living out the truths and ways of God.

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