A holocaust survivor embraces the Nazi who 70 years ago conducted cruel and demented experiments on her as a child. 1
The wife of a missionary returns to share the gospel with the primitive jungle tribe that brutally murdered her husband who once shared Christ with them. 2
A pastor whose wife and infant daughter were killed by a drunk driver asks for a diminished sentence for the offender and has built a life long friendship with him. 3
A Rwandan woman’s entire family was wiped out during one of the worst genocides in history. She forgave the men who committed the atrocity and wrote a book that has spurred national healing and reconciliation in the aftermath. 3
What do all these scenarios have in common? They are some shining examples of radical forgiveness under circumstances very few of us could manage to bear gracefully let alone survive with our faith intact.
Nazis, warlords, drunk drivers and the like are the poster children of why justice is required of sinners. Their deeds are such that for such things to go unpunished would seem an offense against the very notion of justice itself.
Yet where did these heroic people get the the inner power to extend such radical forgiveness? Who else but God could provide such grace? To befriend the man whose irresponsible drunkenness cost the lives of the two most precious people in your life is almost unthinkable. Yet we who are informed in the heart and mission of the Messiah cannot help but admire it. We know intrinsically this must be the power of Gods love at work in a persons heart.
However have we stopped to consider that this woman who was killed had a mother and father. How do they feel about this forgiveness? Does it represent an affront to their sense of justice for their daughter? Is the daughters life dishonored by her husbands forgiveness of this man?
What about Elizabeth Elliott (in case you had not figured it out) who went back to share Christ with the very tribes that murdered her husband. Where is the justice for that mans mother and father? It’s one thing for Mrs. Elliott to forgive them but what does that say about the damage done to them having lost their son? One could argue that this radical forgiveness dishonored their deserved justice.
And yet still there is the Rwandan genocide. So many countless people died and yet the nation is beginning to heal due to the work of a woman who forgave the men that slaughtered her family.
It is in these astonishing and transformative accounts we begin to see the unfolding of a great human mystery being unlocked by a divine hand. Perhaps the grand secret to saving humanity from its own depravity is not the destruction of evil doers, but the destruction of the the evil that is within in them through love.
As it is written, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Yet the most ardent disciples of Christianity who would celebrate these accounts themselves demand that harsh and interminable justice be done in the afterlife. Sinners must burn in hell forever because anything less is an affront to justice and the ones who suffered because of their depravity. This is a primary argument for why endless punishment is the only possibility for sinners. Yet when we read those stories we applaud these heroes of grace and we pray that somehow our own hearts could become half as strong in grace as theirs: the very ones who set aside justice to forgive the unforgivable, the very ones the entire world would have understood and appreciated if they had asked for death to the offenders. How can we want to be like them and yet want sinners to burn forever? How can we say we don’t want sinners to burn forever and yet insist God does?
Could it be that God was accomplishing something truly rare and precious in their hearts. His will was being done on earth as it is in heaven. Nowhere had his kingdom come more powerfully and present than in the hearts of these who laid down all rights to justice and chose to say “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
So now we must turn the tables on the demand for eternal punishment for sinners. Do we think that God would so dishonor those whose lives had so shined with the grace of Christ in radical forgiveness by sending their offenders to hell forever anyway? How could those forgiven on earth not be forgiven in heaven without dishonoring the love of those on earth who sacrificed so much to forgive them?
Furthermore, how can God not forgive those who were forgiven on earth when it was His own grace and spirit inspiring the forgiveness? Was it not Christ in them performing this forgiveness? Why then would Christ express forgiveness through our hearts on earth only to hold unforgiveness towards the same people in the afterlife?
It is at that point the familiar argument arises, God must judge people forever or else it would be an affront to justice. Well it would seem God has been affronting justice a lot through history by allowing sinners to be transformed by forgiveness.
Forgiveness destroys hate and evil. Was it not Jesus who said that the one who is forgiven much loves much?
So what is Gods goal? Is it to judge the sin and destroy the sinner, or to forgive the sin and change the sinner?
It is difficult to look at the stories of radical forgiveness and conclude these are the working of a God who will send sinners to hell forever. Love does not require justice like we do.
God has every reason to be more hurt and offended than we are yet He moves on hearts to radically forgive. In this life or the next life there is no reason why God would not continue to forgive sinners and liberate them from the evil within them.
Man made artificial deadlines on grace only serve to prop up human ideas and set themselves against the beautiful history of radical forgiveness to likes of Saul of Tarsus, John Newton, Nikki Cruz, and others.
These questions defy the simplistic and defiant assertions that Gods love could be so arbitrary and contradictory to mysteriously close off the sinner when brain waves and heart beats cease.
This leaves us with one great question. Where does Gods love for the sinner go when they die? Traditional Western theology teaches us it was once there but upon death it somehow evaporates.
But the testimonies of such radical, sacrificial, Christlike, cross bearing forgiveness seem to gently insist something else is true besides the contradiction we have held to.
The sinner may die, but mercy will not. For mercy already died for the sinner and mercy will never die again.
As it is written, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His mercies endureth forever.”