Forgiving the Unforgivable

Can you forgive someone who did that


There are a lot of possibilities for what that could be. A spouse cheating on you. The betrayal of a friend you thought had your back. A physical or sexual abuser. Someone who hurt a person you love. A parent who left the family or failed to show affection and love to you.


There are an infinite number of hurts and experiences we can endure in life that require us to forgive others. Some of those pains are so devastating that the thought of forgiving them seems impossible.


I outlined my family’s story in a previous article. We had to learn to forgive the surgeon who made a surgical mistake on our son Kaleb. That surgical error is the catalyst that led to his eventual death fifteen years later. This man removed our son’s kidney and altered his life forever. To make matters worse, he didn’t even act remorseful about it. 


As a parent, that felt unforgivable. I can’t forgive the man who did that to my son, right? I know Jesus’ words about forgiveness (article), but surely, he understands the gravity of this situation. Surely, he knows this isn’t some petty grievance. This devastated us. This feels unforgivable.


In Acts 3, Peter and John walk into the Temple after healing a man who had been lame from birth. This man that people passed countless times begging for money was now standing and rejoicing at God’s grace toward him. Crowds of onlookers see the man and ask how this happened. He immediately points to John and Peter. The stunned worshippers rush over to John and Peter and question them on how this miracle has occurred. Peter seizes the opportunity to share the gospel with them. But the content of his message reveals some incredible things to us about forgiveness. 


Peter tells the people gathered around him that they had delivered over and denied the Holy and Righteous One, Jesus, and asked for Pilate to give them a criminal instead. He’s referring to the choice, between Barabbas and Jesus, that Pilate gave the crowds the Friday Jesus was crucified. He is talking to them not simply as Jews associated with the crowds the day of that choice. They are the crowd. They killed the Author of life, and Peter boldly declares that he and John were witnesses to it. 


Think about this statement. Peter charges them with guilt for the blood of Christ. He says they killed the Author of life. They did. Is there a worse possible thing that a human being could do than be responsible for killing the Author of life? Does it get worse than killing God’s Son? Is it possible to stoop lower than crucifying the Lord of Glory? 


My answer is no. I don’t think you can name a worse sin to commit. Killing God incarnate who created the universe, including you, is the top of the list for me. If there was a sin that seems unforgivable, killing the Messiah sent from the Father would have to qualify. We could understand a scenario where no forgiveness is available or offered to those guilty of this heinous crime. But Peter says something we do not expect. He tells them in verse 19, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” To blot out their sins is to forgive them. 


Forgiveness was offered to the people who handed Jesus over to be crucified. Those guilty of killing the Author of life are offered forgiveness. If God is willing to forgive like that, why shouldn’t we expect that we could forgive lesser things? Nothing done to us or against us rises to the level of being the people actually responsible for Jesus’ death. Yes, people can hurt us badly with the things they say and do. Some of those experiences are horrific and ugly. But the way we press forward in forgiveness is by looking at the freeness of forgiveness God is willing to give to those who have done the unthinkable. 


As was discussed in a previous article, forgiving others begins vertically before it can go horizontally. We must look at the forgiveness we’re required to offer and recognize it pales in comparison with the forgiveness we’ve received. We remember that God forgives greater sins than we are being asked to forgive. Now before you jump to conclusions about what forgiveness entails, I’m not suggesting that forgiving someone of something means reconcilinga relationship with them. My next article on forgiveness will address the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. But it does mean that we are responsible for forgiving as Christ has forgiven us. And if we begin to think that the sins we are expected to forgive are just too grotesque or heinous, Acts 3 slaps us in the face with the radical extent of God’s willingness to forgive. Through the grace of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit, we discover the example of God’s forgiveness to help us break free from our inability to forgive. There is truly nothing unforgivable. 

Forgiviness doesn't always lead to reconcilliation.

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Erik is the Lead Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon. He also founded Knowing Jesus Ministries, a non-profit organization which exists to proclaim timeless truth for everyday life. He is married to Katrina, and has three children: Kaleb (who went to be with the Lord), Kaleigh Grace, and Kyra Piper.

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