Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Conditions of Forgiveness

A few days ago, I wrote [here] about the requirement of Matthew 6:12 that we forgive, as we have been forgiven.  And then, a few days after that I wrote [here] about the requirement in Matthew 5:23-24, that we affirmatively seek out those whom we have wronged and ask for their forgiveness.   When read together, the effect of these two passages is even more striking than either one read alone. 

It seems to me that if making an affirmative apology is on one end of the stick, and extending affirmative forgiveness is on the other end of the stick, then we are left with no excuses on our end:   

  • We apologize without regard to whether the Other will forgive us. 
  • We forgive without regard to whether the Other will apologize to us.

Taken together these mutual requirements deprive us of any excuses.  Read jointly, these scriptures disallow us from imposing legalistic conditions on either our acts of apology or our act of forgiveness. 

This is in sharp contrast to the legal principles of condition precedent and condition subsequent I learned in first year contracts class in law school.  According to the Restatement of Contracts § 250, a condition precedent is a condition which must exist or occur before a duty of immediate performance of a promise arises.  A condition subsequent, on the other hand, is a condition, the happening of which "will extinguish a duty that would otherwise exist under the contract. 

I love contract law.  It’s so logical, and it all fits together like a puzzle.  If A, then B.  If not A, then not B.  When in doubt, pull out the rule book and plug the facts into the formula.  He did A, therefore I have to do B.  He didn't do A, then I don't have to do B.  Problem solved.

We legalistic humans would like our duty of apology or of forgiveness to be like a formula to which we could apply one of these conditions.  We want our duties to be logical and according to our rules.  We don’t want to have to extend forgiveness unless the other person apologizes first (condition precedent).  Or, we think that maybe we have a duty to forgive, except maybe we can get out of the requirement because the other person didn’t apologize (condition subsequent). 

To our chagrin, in God’s law of love, no such legalistic rules apply.  God’s love for us is not logical, it’s unconditional.  As is amply demonstrated by the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21--35, God requires that we forgive.  Period. We may not impose conditions on either our seeking of forgiveness or our act of forgiveness. 

I will be the first to admit that this forgiveness does not seem humanly possible.  Perhaps it is not, indeed.  Perhaps, in matters of forgiveness, we must rely on the Grace of God. 

Bouguereau, Two Sisters (1901), courtesy Wikimedia Commons

1 comment:

  1. So, how does one deal with an abusive christian leader in a tight-knit church setting whose words and actions are seen as sacrosanct while in actual fact the said leader sees himself as "an aggressive, tough, go-getting, choleric!". Already, the rest of the system puts up with it; this is my second year in the church but i don't know if you can relate to how damaging it gets when leaders mess up their own team synergies with negative emotional flows.

    in the light of the foregoing scriptures, would you advice continuing to receive abuse (especially as you are shouted down, labelled as rebellious for calling leadership to question and targeted as a dissident at the instance of observing the oddity of such trends etc).

    is there anywhere the scriptures justify allowing some other person or system to make a victim out of you?

    PR 14:17 He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.

    PR 22:24 Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go:

    PR 29:22 An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.


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