When discussing forgiveness, do we have the ability to punish the person who wronged us? Oftentimes, when making the case for the ability to forgive with conditions, we quote Bible verses where God’s forgiveness included a punishment. It is true, there are examples of God forgiving and then punishing those He forgave. We find an example of this in the Old Testament when God forgave the Israelites, but still punished them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord”.
While this statement is true, God does not give us the authority to punish someone we forgive. There are many reasons for this, with the most obvious reason being, we cannot judge someone’s heart. If we could properly judge someone’s heart, we could be trusted to understand his or her motive and true intentions. There are two key difference between God and us; He judges the heart and all of His actions focus on saving souls. Our punishments are based on preconceived notions and the desire for self-aggrandizement. We do not like being wronged and believe an apology is the least someone could do to earn our forgiveness.
Romans 12:17-21: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Christians are not encouraged to punish the actions of others. Instead, they are commanded to leave the wrath to God. James explains why, as the wrath of man does not bring about the righteousness of God (Jam 1:20). Even if someone only required an apology to forgive another… are they not seeking to avenge their mistreatment? Whether the person apologizes or not, Scripture makes is very clear we are to treat everyone (friend or foe) with love. The Apostle Paul states, any action completed without love does not benefit us (1 Cor 13:3). We are to forgive others in love, because God loves and forgives us of much more. If we require some form of penitence, how did we determine what was required? By compelling an apology, can we be certain someone has repented? Since repentance is a change in one’s heart and mind, only God is able to determine matters of the heart (Jer 17:9-10). We can only judge by outward appearance, which is unreliable because we are judging based on our personal dispositions (1 Sam 16:7). We must rely on God’s vengeance and not our own.