Thursday

Unpacking Forgiveness Responding to the Unrepentant Part 3


One of the most notorious crimes in history was committed the day Jesus was nailed to the cross. He was a rabbi, or teacher, one who did not incite a rebellion against the Romans, but who encouraged people to love and follow God's law. The religious leaders at the time feared the way he spoke against their behaviors and attitudes. Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor, did not want his position threatened by riots incited by Jesus' detractors. He allowed Jesus' execution through crucifixion.

Crucifixion was and is one of the most inhumane forms of torture. Usually, the victim died from suffocation, unable to breathe properly, slumped forward while hanging from the cross.The victim suffered excruciating pain, exhaustion, thirst and psychological torture. Birds of prey often picked upon people dying on the cross and they were vulnerable to attack by wild animals as well.

Yet, according to Luke 23: 24, Jesus uttered, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Isn't that why we should immediately forgive people who have wronged us? Did Jesus really forgive those who crucified him? Author Chris Brauns says "no". In his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers to Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, Brauns writes, "Jesus did not forgive them. If you think carefully about this passage, you will see this is the case. Jesus prayed that those who crucified him would be forgiven in the future - he did not thank God that they were already forgiven. If they had already been forgiven, such a prayer would have been superfluous."

This answer flies in the face of church tradition, which says that Jesus did forgive his tormentors at the time of his crucifixion. Throughout the centuries, many martyrs and other Christians have used this idea to forgive their persecutors. 

We recently watched a movie called "For the Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada," which chronicles the Cristeros War (1926-1929); a war fought by the people of Mexico against the atheistic Mexican government (IMDB). Shortly after the Mexican Revolution, the newly formed government took religious freedom away from the people and the brutal Cristeros War followed. One of the scenes depicts a man forgiving his captors just before they shot him. This made me think all of the other saints I had read about who had done the same thing. It also made me think of Jesus and what Brauns had to say about his statement from the cross. Was Brauns' wrong in his assessment? I would say no.

First of all, scholars are not sure that Jesus said this. A little note in my Bible says that certain manuscripts from the past did not include this verse. However, this statement from Jesus fits his character. It also fits the way Luke wrote his book so it is included in today's manuscripts. Brauns did not write about this. I included it because it helped form my opinion about what Brauns' writing on this.

Secondly, in the same chapter of Luke, according to Brauns, we see that Jesus forgave the thief with obvious language, "Today, you will be with me in paradise." This was after the thief asked forgiveness. The men who crucified Jesus did not ask forgiveness at that time. Jesus prayed that God would forgive them at a future time. 

Remember, according to our study, if we are to forgive like God forgives, we must remember that forgiveness is conditional. Take a look at Matthew 6: 12, 14 - 15 and 18: 21 - 22. Jesus is not explicit in requiring a condition for repentance but he is implicit, Brauns writes. 

I like this quote from Reformed theologian John Murray that Brauns included in this chapter:
Forgiveness is a definite act performed by us on the fulfillment of certain conditions ... Forgiveness is something actively administered on the repentance of the person who is to be forgiven. We greatly impoverish ourselves and impair the relations that we should sustain to our brethren when we fail to appreciate what is involved in forgiveness.
Whether the statement that Jesus made from the cross actually happened, or not, I like the fact that scholars have included it. It shows me how to pray for people who are hurting me or others. "God, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing." Yet, even if they know what they are doing, we should still pray that way as well. As Christians, we should not want anyone to suffer eternal punishment, nor should we want them to suffer on earth because of their decisions. The sooner they allow God's spirit to convict them and they repent, the better it will be for them and everyone surrounding them. As we pray for our enemies, our compassion for them will increase.

I think this is why Jesus told us to do that.