Forgiveness and Consequence
One of the fallouts of what is being called “cancel culture” is a marked lack of mercy and forgiveness. If you’ve ever said or done something that culture considers anathema, then you are done. Canceled. From this point on, you will have zero credibility with little to zero chance of redeeming yourself. Some offenses are seen as virtually unforgivable, no matter what you say or do subsequently. You will never be able to say or do enough to appease the anger. Repentance has little effect and often seen as conveniently suspicious.
Let’s be clear. There are things that people have said and done that are egregiously offensive and evil, and for which repentance is necessary. There is no defense for these things. What people say, particularly in public, has consequences, and Christians, of all people, should know this (cf. Matt 12:33-37). I bear guilt, too.
Unfortunately, it seems to be the human tendency to twist the knife hard and make someone pay dearly for their offenses. Mercy is seen as a weakness, an excuse, a way of justifying the evil that has been done. We cannot forgive lest others think that we are excusing the evil. Sadly, this view of forgiveness and mercy will leave us reeling, caught in the despair of knowing we are all guilty of sin with little hope of restoration.
God shows a much different and needed perspective. While human beings are often merciless toward each other, God provides mercy and forgiveness. That forgiveness is offered to any and all, no matter the offense, no matter the depth of evil said or done, no matter the past. God will forgive. The depth of His love and the extent of His offer of grace is on full display in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. To think that there are some sins God cannot by means of this sacrifice forgive is to minimize the blood shed along with the power and will of the God who offered Himself up. This is not redemption through silver and gold, but with something eternally valuable.
One of the misunderstandings I believe to be prevalent is the notion that forgiveness necessarily entails the removal of all consequences for sin. This is simply not the case, and if there is any doubt about that, just note that when God forgave David of his horrific sin involving Bathsheba, there were still consequences David had to face: “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.’” (2 Sam 12:13-14)
Forgiveness does not automatically cancel out all temporal consequences, but it does remove the consequence of eternal separation from God. Granted, some sins result in more severe earthly consequences, and forgiveness will not always change that (e.g., a murderer can be forgiven by those most affected but still be required to face temporal justice). Keep in mind, though, that some of these consequences come as a direct result of the sins involved. We need not manufacture additional consequences or penance requirements out of some sense of vengeance or because we want to see someone suffer. This is not the Spirit of Christ.
We are not God, and only He has eternal perspective. When we seek to break another human being over something said or done, we ought to be careful that we aren’t sawing off the limb on which we sit. If I am merciless, I should expect no mercy (cf. Jas 2:13). If I am going to give no room for forgiveness and compassion, I should expect none for myself. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt 5:6). I need to know that the measure by which I am measuring others will also be used on me (Matt 7:2), which is one reason this section of Jesus’ teaching includes, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…” (Matt 7:12).
We ought especially to be concerned with both justice and mercy. We want to see justice done, but we also want to be people who can be merciful, knowing that we all are (I am) in the position of needing mercy. To be sure, problems will come from the cascading consequences of our evil, stupidity, and lack of wisdom. Yet the one thing we don’t ever want to become are people who offer no hope of redemption, no mercy or pardon, or no sense of restoration. To become this is to lose sight of our humanity and, more importantly, to lose sight of the God in whom is found hope, mercy, and restoration—the God in whose image we are made and who serves as our pattern: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Let us, then, be careful that we do not become a blood-thirsty people who know little of mercy. Instead, seek repentance and reconciliation. Above all, seek restoration with God first, knowing well that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).