Through heaves of sorrow from a broken heart, he asked “Does repentance have to come before forgiveness? They have no idea how they have destroyed me. How do I forgive?”
They are unaware. Oblivious to how much they have hurt my friend. So is there any theological (or otherwise) position to forgiving those who hurt him BEFORE they have even realized what they’ve done? Or for that matter, they even care?
Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing - Jesus
There is some debate on this topic, so let me put my cards on the table. I think love is the precursor to genuine repentance. God demonstrates this repeatedly in the way God is relentless in love; persistently calling to us, initiating with us. Even while we were still sinners, God sent Jesus. Jesus, the best picture we have of the nature and character of God, repeatedly taught and demonstrated - forgiveness precedes repentance. For example:
Without the light of love, we cannot see our own shadows. How this love-light is often expressed is through the free gift of forgiveness. Divine love (which includes forgiveness by nature) is the gift of God for a sense of conviction leading to transformative repentance and reconciliation. This is NOT an encounter with a theology, a law, religious obligation, or the bible but with the God-who-loves.
But here is some good news: we don’t have to wait for the offender to realize they have wronged us, be convicted, and find the courage to repent/ask for forgiveness. To do so only serves to keep us enslaved to a debt that we have no power to collect. By withholding forgiveness we remain stuck. Staying stuck in unforgiveness for too long is the perfect alchemy for bitterness and bitterness poisons a whole life.
God isn’t in bondage to our sin.
Because God is love, God can’t help but forgive (Super Important: forgiveness is never an approval of wrongdoing or a free pass of the natural consequences of the wrong doing). Rather forgiveness is preemptive love that makes a way through offense towards the healing of relationship and our hearts.
For us, we can practice self-care by choosing preemptive love. Choosing to end the cycle of violence and hurt by forgiving. This is hard to do. I know all too well. I have to keep choosing to forgive those who have hurt me deeply, sometimes daily.
As the ark of the cosmos is towards love, there is a graceful energy that flows through all creation to help us choose (and keep choosing) to forgive. This grace-filled love energy manifests towards healing, wholeness and yes, reconciliation. As we choose to enter and go with the flow in the Spirit, we become partakers of the divine nature.
Perhaps for you, it is yourself you need to forgive? In our shame we can get caught in the lie of alienation and that God rejects us until we confess enough. The good news is the God-who-loves forgives you, rushes to meet you in such a way that sooner or later provokes a response to in turn to love in return.
Love well, Friends.