Forgiveness Does Not Erase Consequences

Forgiveness Does Not Erase Consequences

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.
–Romans 12:19

Dave is an umpire for a recreational baseball league in his community. One day, he is pulled over for speeding. He says, “I am so sorry. I was not thinking, and I will do better next time. Please do not give me a ticket.” The policeman says, “If you don’t like it, take it up with the court.” A couple of days later, Dave is umpiring a baseball game, and the first batter who comes up is that policeman. He recognizes Dave and says nervously, “How did that thing with the ticket turn out for you?” Dave replies, “All I can say is you better swing at everything.”

Revenge is sweet, even if it is short-lived. But when we forgive somebody, we are releasing our right to revenge; we are letting go of our right to hurt somebody for hurting us. Yet one thing forgiveness cannot do is erase the consequences our offender may face from other people. Good grace recognizes that forgiveness does not erase the consequences of wrongs.

There is a great illustration of that in Acts 7:60. Stephen, the first martyr, was being stoned to death, and the Bible says, “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” Even in his last moment, Stephen forgave those who were killing him. He was saying, “God, do not hold this offense against them.” That is a wonderful thought, but really, he did not have the ability to withhold God’s judgment from them. The fact is, God held them accountable for what they did to Stephen. It is the same way when we forgive somebody. We can release our right to seek vengeance, but we cannot relieve them of the punishment they may face from others.

There is a difference between vengeance and justice. Vengeance is our desire to make others suffer for the wrongs they have committed against us. The Bible says we are to give up vengeance. In Romans 12, Paul said, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . . Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (vv. 17, 19). When we forgive somebody, we are giving up our desire to see them suffer for what they have done to us. But we are not to give up our desire for justice–the payment that God or others might seek from our offender. Psalm 37:28 says, “The Lord loves justice.” Somebody has to make things right, but it cannot be us, the ones who have been offended. The Bible says that when we forgive somebody, we give up our desire for vengeance, but we never give up our desire for justice.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Good-Grace Decision-Making” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2020.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org