Thursday, May 5, 2011

On the Issue of Forgiveness

A documentary recently aired on the Public Broadcasting Service about the subject of forgiveness. Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate, a brilliant film directed by Helen Whitney, didn’t claim to have all the answers, but in the wide variety of circumstances covered, it posed the question: Can we forgive?

I found it fascinating and evocative, covering a miscellany of scenarios worldwide—from a bank robbery turned murderous to a nation’s social-cleansing genocide. How people forgave, as individuals and as a whole, spattered from personal reflection and prayer to the language of anger and righteous indignation.

Some found it possible to forgive heinous acts against humanity, while others believed that once a line is crossed, a boundary of human rights violated, there is no forgiveness…it becomes unforgivable.

I felt for the victims. The circumstances proved crushing. Yet, when a former perpetrator in South Africa had a spiritual conversion and experienced great remorse for the deeds he once undertook, he journeyed to the home of a man whom he tortured during apartheid. There, he asked for forgiveness from the family of this man whom he essentially killed. I could comprehend the anger when the family lashed out. However, when one of them struck the perpetrator in the head with a glass bottle, I experienced an emotive sensation almost tangible—like a stab in the heart. Yes, I grieved for the repentant one.

In the film, a scholar, from a religious perspective, made a statement that when someone infringes upon human life in such an appalling manner, such as torturing or slaying, God offers no forgiveness for that person. His or her crime, though potentially instilling great guilt and shame, is unforgivable.

Recently, an individual who had read my book, The Unforgivable, asked me about degrees of sin—if I honestly did not believe in Degrees—which is a chapter title in the novel. My answer is still no—I don’t believe in degrees of sin, just as I don’t believe in degrees of holiness. This person countered, “Really? Seriously? When someone has hurt others in that capacity, you truly believe there’s forgiveness for them?”

Forgiveness is the basis of Christianity. When Christ died, he looked to the one beside him, a vile and corrupt individual but who had a repentant heart, and he forgave him, granting him peace and eternal salvation in paradise. Jesus himself was beaten and struck down, body broken, crucified—a slow and agonizing way, by the way, to send someone into the afterlife. Yet, there, in one of his last breaths, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

Biblically based, nothing is unforgivable but this one thing, which, as Craig S. Keener supplies in The IVP Bible Background Commentary, “Jesus thus regards blasphemy against the Spirit—permanently rejecting his identity (Matthew 12:18) as attested by the Spirit's works (12:28)—as the worst of sins.” A complete rejection on one side will bring about a complete rejection on the other. Everything else is gravy.




“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans 3:23

A former contemporary dancer, Tessa Stockton, who was also active in politics and human rights groups, now writes Christian political intrigue novels. The Unforgivable is her first book in the Wounds of South America series.


  1. Thank you, Tessa. Apart from Christ, forgiveness is unthinkable. I believe that only someone who has experienced forgiveness is able to truly forgive. At the same time, the Bible tells us that only as we forgive can we experience forgiveness. A powerful paradox. I am glad Osama ben Ladin has been stopped, but we will never have peace until we can forgive each other.

  2. Thanks Tessa for writing on a subject I care deeply about. I speak on this topic also.
    Look forward to reading the book:-)

  3. A wonderful post. I'm thankful every day for the forgiveness Christ gave me. Thank you for writing about it.

  4. What moving statements, LeAnne, Wendy, and Jessica - thank you. I'm glad forgiveness is all-inclusive. I'm grateful He died for me.

  5. You are so right, Tessa. There are no degrees in sin. We must always remember that it is the heart that God looks upon. An act of coldness, apathy, a gossipy word are just are offensive to God as murder or adultery. Good posting.

  6. Good to be reminded, Tessa. Where would any of us be without God's forgiveness? Only as we know His forgiveness can we forgive others.

  7. I've discovered unforgiveness to be a sly attitude. And like a nasty bacteria, it can fester where you think it's safely buried. It's only as the Lord shines His light on the deepest part of our hearts that we see it for what it is. Thanks for the great reminder, Tessa!