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Forgiveness: Remorse or Repentance?  part 1 of 3
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Forgiveness: Remorse or Repentance?  part 1 of 3


Since the days of Cain and Abel, humanity has had to deal with how to deal with the kind of sin that damages others. That damage may be serious, as when Cain murdered Abel; or it may be slight, as when a sister borrows clothes without asking and ruins them. It may only damage goods or it may wound the soul and destroy the body.

Whatever the wrong done, forgiving the offender and moving forward in a healthy way is one of the most difficult tasks humanity faces. Time itself takes care of the “moving forward” part. What is much more difficult is identifying how to be healthy and how to forgive as one moves forward.


I think what makes this task particularly tricky in our current age is that we have lost the understanding of what it means to repent. Instead of seeing repentance as a life-giving act, we view it as demeaning and shameful or, conversely, as a purely emotional state regarding something one has done.


Neither of these definitions is connected with the concept of repentance found in Scripture and the foundational writings of our predecessors in the faith.


The linkage of one’s emotional state with forgiveness is particularly troubling, for it makes it impossible for some to enter fully into new life in Christ while allowing others an easy out of the consequences for bad behavior.


Neither repentance nor forgiveness is an emotion, though our emotions will almost certainly arise and interweave themselves into situations. They are instead both evidence of the power of God’s grace through Christ at work within the human soul.


The emotional state most often confused with repentance is that of remorse. Remorse is feeling sorry. The problem is that one can feel very, very sorry without being motivated to change. One of my favorite scenes from a movie that captures this truth is in “Gone With the Wind.” Scarlett O’Hara, the tempestuous heroine, is weeping heartily. Her friend and soon to be husband, Rhett Butler, isn’t impressed and says to her, “You are like a thief that is not at all sorry he stole, but is very, very sorry he is going to jail.” That’s remorse in a nutshell.


Remorse, even when intense, focuses on the feelings of the person who has done wrong. Repentance focuses on how one’s behavior has violated God’s will and justice, damaged others, and displays an understanding of the need for and commitment to change.


Remorse can and often does accompany repentance. However, too often remorse stands alone, and the injurious behavior continues unabated after a brief lull in destructive behavior. Again and again, the offender apologizes for her or his actions. And again and again, the actions are repeated with little or no attempt on the part of the offender to change in any significant way.


What is the victim of such a pattern of abusive behavior to do? Christ instructed us to forgive “70X7” times. Is Jesus asking us to enable bad behavior? Absolutely not!


My next blog will address these questions.


Pastor Vivian, Executive Pastor

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