Does society need to become more forgiving?

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaking on ITV News last week has said that society needs to be more open and forgiving. During the discussion, he was asked about Prince Andrew and said, the Queen's second son was trying to make amends, which was a good thing. He later clarified that there is a difference between consequences and forgiveness, but both are part of Christian teaching. Leaving aside the debate about whether Prince Andrew is guilty of anything illegal, or truly sorry for anything immoral, the archbishop raises some interesting questions about forgiveness and restoration.

My sense is that society is quite confused about forgiveness – we don’t really know why, when, or how to forgive – and as a result, we are less forgiving. Since our predominantly secular society has no concept of God (or indeed any higher authority), it has no real tools for working out what to do when someone has done wrong. With the addition of mass media, we have almost regressed to the Medieval market square, where the lynch mobs rule.

It is indeed a strange irony that we probably have a much higher bar for wrongdoing – many things like sexual immorality, blasphemy or drunkenness are overlooked as trivial. For these ‘sins’, we are extremely tolerant but for the big public failures, when they are finally admitted, atonement is almost impossible. How now does one redeem themselves? A public apology or act of penance seems necessary but who decides how much is enough and is there ever really any way back?

God demonstrates true forgiveness

It is only by listening to God that we can truly understand forgiveness and he demonstrates the only basis by which anyone can be forgiven. It is not that God overlooks our sin and decides to just forget about it and move on. At the cross, the debt we owe for our sin was paid by Jesus, and so we can be truly forgiven. He offers us free unconditional forgiveness because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Yes, there will be consequences for our wrong acts. They might be the natural outcomes when things get broken, or the state may have to act to punish and deter criminal acts. But for everyone from the convicted criminal to the unfaithful spouse, forgiveness by God is possible.

It is the reality of being forgiven by God that is the basis for us being able to freely offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us. 

Christian forgiveness recognises evil acts for what they are but chooses not to personally extract the debt from the guilty. It is a recognition that we are recipients of God’s undeserved mercy and also that he is the ultimate judge. God will make sure justice is done and sin will be punished, even for those who may seem to have got away with it in this life. This frees us from needing or wanting to exact revenge.

We offer forgiveness to all who genuinely seek it as God demonstrates to us and for those situations where we cannot see that justice is being done, we can confidently trust God knows what he is doing.

Graham was interviewed on TWR concerning this topic, the conversation can be watched below.


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