This headline annoys me: Dixie refuses to forgive the Chicks. Its assumption is that there is a reason why "the South" should forgive the anti-American country-western band "The Dixie Chicks," and that it refuses to do so.
In 2003, during wartime, the Chicks were enjoying their freedom in a foreign country, and used that opportunity to — sing? Heavens, no; liberals seemingly never simply shut up and sing. No, they attacked our Commander in Chief. When outrage was expressed back home, they ultimately simply dug in their heels and maintained their opposition and refused to admit just how wrong their action was.
Immediately afterwards, there was a mealy-mouthed non-apology — but now they have retracted even that.
So now they're not selling well in the South, and having to cancel concerts.
So my question is: whyever would the South, or anyone, "forgive" them for what they proudly maintain was the right thing to do? What does "forgiveness" mean, anyway?
I've had people tell me they "forgive" me for being a dispensationalist, and I don't generally do much more than grin, because I know it's just a tease. But if I seriously thought someone was telling me he'd forgive me for holding to something that is a conviction of mine, something I am persuaded is true, I'd react very pointedly. I might say, "Please don't. I haven't changed my mind. Taking all of the Bible seriously is not a moral crime crying out for repentance and forgiveness."
Similarly, I'd decline anyone offering me forgiveness for loving my wife, for being devoted to my children, or for liking fried chicken and "24." Please don't. I don't regard any of those as moral wrongs, as sins, and I don't ask for forgiveness. So don't give it to me.
There's this traditional notion that Christians are required to forgive unrepented wrongs. I simply have never seen it in the Bible. What's more, I simply can make no sense of it.
On the contrary, Jesus says, "Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him..." (Luke 17:3).
If he sins, I am not told to forgive him, but to rebuke him. Tell him that what he has done is wrong, and why. And then, if he repents, if he admits that what he has done is a sin, then I am to forgive him. But Jesus says nothing about what to do, in this section, if he does not repent.
Not that He never speaks of such a circumstance. Take Matthew 18:15-18. Now, there is a situation where a brother sins, is rebuked, and refuses to repent.
What does Jesus say to do? Forgive him? Not at all. He says to rebuke him again and again, with increasing intensity. And then, if he still refuses to repent, kick him out of the church and regard him as an unbeliever.
So where does the idea come from that I am morally obliged to forgive every sin, whether it is repented of or not? I do not know. God doesn't do that (1 John 1:9), and I know of no passage where He says I must.
What would it mean, anyway? When I ask you to forgive me, I am thereby telling you that I have come to regard what I did as being wrong, as being immoral and sinful, as being indefensible. I am saying that I should not have done it. I am asking you to let it go, not to hold it against me, on the basis that I too have let it go, insofar as I no longer embrace the mindset that it was a right and justifiable thing to do.
But forgiving an unrepentant person makes no sense to me. He doesn't regard what he did as being wrong. He doesn't see it as immoral and sinful, and indefensible. He doesn't think that he should not have done it. In a sense, it is insulting to him to "forgive" him of something he defends, embraces, clings to.
Let's say I'm the president of a seminary, and T. D. Jakes expresses an interest in teaching there. A representative approaches me. I say, "No, I don't think so; there's good reason to believe that Jakes is a modalist and rejects the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. That's contrary to our position."
The representative expresses shock at my response, and says "Brother, that is such an unforgiving spirit!"
I blink. "Sorry?" I might say. "Come again? 'Unforgiving'? Did Jakes admit that he was a modalist, repent of it, and embrace the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity publicly and unambiguously? Did he ask the Christian community to forgive him his past heresy?"
"No, of course not."
"Then how could I even 'forgive' him for holding a position he still holds? What would that even mean? 'Brother Jakes, I'm so glad you're teaching here and admitted that you once held to heresy, but no longer do?' He'd be outraged — and he'd have a point! Of course I'm 'unforgiving,' because he's 'unrepenting'!"
So what does it mean to be unforgiving, in such circumstances? Simply to regard the sin as a current issue, and deal with it as such. I must not take vengeance, but must rather bless, love, and do good (Matthew 5:43-47; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9). There may sometimes be consequences for another's sin (Matthew 5:32; 18:15-18), but the motive is not revenge and the attitude is not bitter hatred.
If anyone ever convinced me of a Biblical obligation to forgive the unrepentant of their unrepented sins -- to regard them as not having done what they have proudly done and will do again, gladly and without concern, at the next opportunity -- his next task would be to help me see what possible sense it would make.
As the first has never been done, I don't anticipate the second anytime soon.
UPDATE: since I wrote this post, Chris Brauns came out with a wonderful book on the subject, titled Unpacking Forgiveness. I reviewed it here. Get the book, read it. You won't regret it.