Forgiveness, Repentence, & Bitterness

I struggled with bitterness this week against a certain Southern California city. I got a parking ticket even though I had paid to park. Their rules about displaying the receipt don’t work for motorcycles, but that didn’t win my appeal. So I begrudgingly paid the ticket, end of story…or is it?

This story has some similarities to my May 26 post about Power Struggles. In fact this parking incident occurred on May 29, but I just settled it this week. In both cases, I didn’t feel I was getting the “justice” I deserved. (Side note: Many scriptures talk about seeking justice for others, but I haven’t found any that command me to fight for my own justice.) In the first story, I eventually prevailed and got my way. This time, I lost.

But God’s hand is in these “trials”, win or lose. For me, these are both opportunities for God to be glorified by my response. Specifically, I’m challenged to consider whether I’ll allow these situations to become seeds of bitterness within me.

It was easier to let it go when I eventually won than when I eventually lost. Do we still forgive when there is no repentance on the part of the one who wronged us?

God requires repentance before we receive His forgiveness, and that makes sense to me. God is holy, and cannot allow our sin to continue in His presence. So repentance is essential. But is repentance required before a human forgives another human?

Some theologians say yes, some say no. There are scriptures that can be read to support either case. I think both views are wrong. It’s another example of our wanting to define a formula where only relationship provides an answer. The right answer, I believe, is “sometimes”. How do we know which times to forgive? By seeking first and foremost to please God with our response.

I’ve heard wonderful God-honoring testimonies, like the woman who publicly forgave her husband’s murderer without requiring repentance. I’ve also heard stories of withheld forgiveness leading to eventual repentance. The answer is not in knowing and applying the right formula, but rather in being in close enough relationship with God that we recognize His leading.

It might also be appropriate in some cases — damaging in others — to forgive internally without expressing it externally.  Choosing to forgive releases that seed of bitterness from my own heart. Whether I express forgiveness to the other person should be a love response that results in what’s best for that other person.  I get a good clue as to whether I’ve actually forgiven by how I think and talk about the incident: With a mind toward my self-righteousness, or with grief for the unrepentant offender’s loss.

So how am I doing at forgiving to get past the bitterness even where there is no repentance? Let’s just say I’m doing better than I’ve done in the past, but not as well as I hope to in the future. Sanctification is a process (sigh).


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