God’s Forgiveness is Conditional. Our Forgiveness Is To Be Unconditional.
There is a difference between God and the Christian in the matter of forgiveness. Let me try to explain my thoughts. Let’s look at a pertinent passage:
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
Here is God asking us to unconditionally forgive someone their sins against us, in other words, without their repentance, confession, and contrition. Yet at the same time stating that His forgiveness of us is conditional, based on our forgiving others.
How to Work this Problem Out
Here is how we can navigate this subject. Take a look at this passage:
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
We are not to avenge ourselves but are to rather forgive and let go of the animosity, desire for retribution, and right to payback. As a matter of fact, we are even to go a step further: if our enemy is hungry and thirsty: feed him and give him drink. For this can be useful in God’s hands in leading our enemy to “come to his senses.” Our acts of mercy and kindness – forgiveness and providing the needs of our enemy – can be used in God’s hands to cause him to think and ponder and consider these merciful acts. And this divine blessedness of “having your conduct honorable among” our enemies may lead them to, “by [our] good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
No. We aren’t to avenge ourselves, but rather give place to wrath – God’s wrath – for vengeance is His. NOT OURS. The opposite of forgiveness is paying back our offenders, and requiring them to pay their debt to make everything right for us. You can’t have both. Either vengeance is ours, or it is God’s. If it is God’s, it it not ours… we are to forgive and give it to God.
So yes. It is GOD’s prerogative for wrath. It IS NOT OURS!
Why God Requires Us to Forgive and Then Give It to Him
God can do things WAY better than we can.
God can apply His wrath without violating righteous retribution, in other words without inflicting more than is warranted. Are we always able to do that?
His motives are always righteous. Can we always say the same about ourselves?
He has purposes and intentions with His retribution that are always good. Ours could conceivably just be to angrily pay our enemies back without regard for their relationship to God, or their instruction in righteousness.
His methods can bring back the results He desires: repentance and contrition. Our methods can actually exacerbate the situation.
Here is a scenario to illustrate. It is right for a dad to tell his son, “Forgive that offender. Don’t take this matter into your own hands. The concern with retribution and the built-up animosity in you can crush you, and poison you, and your anger could ruin you… Let me take care of it. I will take care of this situation and this person. Trust me.”
This isn’t a case of God asking us to do something that He’s not willing to do, in other words, asking us to unconditionally forgive when He isn’t willing to do so! No, no, no.
It’s a case of God saying: “Release and let go of the bitterness and resentment and anger. I will take care of this situation.” And remember: He has MANY options at His disposal. One of the many tools in His hand is the government ruler in authority:
Romans 13:4 But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
God can lead an offender to repentance and forgiveness with His incremental imposing of consequences. He is patient! He wishes to lead an offender to contrition and righteousness. He asks us to forgive and then leave in His hands. He will be longsuffering not wanting to inflict full retribution. And will use varieties of ways to accomplish those ends. He will inflict wrath, according to His perfect plan, that has the righteous and beneficial intentions of bringing the offender to a relationship with Himself.
So the charge or claim that God is asking us to do something that He isn’t willing to do, on second glance, isn’t a fair charge. It doesn’t exhibit some hypocrisy on God’s part. It simply recognizes that God’s way of dealing with the personal offense of an offender is way more righteous and able to produce godly results. It simply is a case of God saying this:
Forgive the offender.
Turn it over to Me.
I will handle it.