Is There Justice in Forgiveness?

“Some people do not deserve forgiveness, because by forgiving them, we are letting them get away with it!”

This was a comment from one of my friends about whether all offenses are forgivable.

In the previous article on Top 5 Reasons You Find It Difficult To Forgive, I stated that people struggle because they misunderstand what forgiveness actually is! We fail to forgive because we feel that we are condoning lousy behavior or minimizing the impact of an offense. Given the radical nature of forgiveness, it is easy to see it this way. When I forgive you, I choose to let go of the pain you caused me, including the need for retribution. From the Biblical perspective, forgiveness is understood as God’s promise not to count our sins against us. But God is known for being just, and we likewise must observe the principle of justice to keep the world sane and maintain social harmony.

Does Forgiveness Contradict Justice?

At face value, forgiveness seems to contradict justice since it involves releasing someone from the consequences they deserve for their actions. Theologians and philosophers have debated this topic for ages, and they seem to have settled on a simple conclusion: scandalous forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive but can coexist in a meaningful way.

To begin, it is essential to understand the nature of justice. In its simplest form, justice refers to fairness and righting wrongs. The principle seeks to ensure that individuals are treated equitably and that actions have appropriate consequences. From a theological perspective, justice is deeply rooted in God’s character. The Bible affirms that God is just and righteous, and His justice is considered a fundamental aspect of His nature.

Consider the story of Pope John Paul’s attempted assassination. Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City while the pontiff rode in the Popemobile on May 13, 1981. Agca ended up spending almost three decades in prison in Italy and Turkey. Moments after the shooting, Pope John Paul II asked people to “pray for my brother [Ağca] … whom I have sincerely forgiven.” The Pope survived two gun wounds and later met his would-be assassin in 1983 at Rome’s Rebibbia Prison, where he was serving a life sentence. The pontiff asked for a private meeting, so the details of their conversation remain unknown.

They struck up a friendship, and in June 2000, Agca was pardoned by the Italian president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, at the Pope’s request. Although he was extradited to Turkey to serve another sentence for the murder of left-wing journalist Abdi İpekçi and bank raids in the 1970s, he was finally released in 2010 after spending 29 years in prison. Justice was served, but the Pope’s forgiveness created a ripple effect that saw Agca’s life sentence reduced, even for crimes that never related to the case.

Two Perspectives: Restorative Justice and Divine Justice

The first perspective, restorative justice, emphasizes repairing the harm caused by an offense and seeking to bring healing and reconciliation to all parties involved. It moves beyond a punitive mindset and focuses on addressing the root causes of wrongdoing and promoting the well-being of individuals and communities. Restorative justice recognizes that forgiveness plays a vital role in the healing process, both for the victim and the offender. By offering forgiveness, the victim has the opportunity to let go of bitterness and resentment, finding personal healing and growth. For the offender, forgiveness can serve as a catalyst for transformation and a chance to make amends.

Restorative justice aligns with the teachings of Jesus, who emphasized the transformative power of forgiveness and the restoration of relationships. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciples to forgive their enemies and to seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:38-48). This call to forgiveness is rooted in the idea that true justice goes beyond retribution and aims for restoration and redemption.

Another perspective to consider is the divine justice of God. While human justice often focuses on punishment and retribution, God’s justice encompasses a broader perspective. The Bible teaches that God’s justice is intertwined with His mercy and grace. Psalm 103:10 states, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” God’s justice involves both punishment for sin and the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus Christ. In this framework, justice is not about exacting vengeance but about restoring the broken relationship between God and humanity.

The cross of Christ provides a powerful example of justice and forgiveness coming together. On the cross, Jesus bore the punishment for our sins, satisfying the demands of justice. Romans 3:26 states, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Through His sacrifice, Jesus upholds God’s justice while extending forgiveness to humanity. This demonstrates that justice and forgiveness can coexist through the redemptive work of Christ.

Final Remarks

In the context of forgiveness, justice takes on a different meaning. It acknowledges the reality of the offense and the pain caused but chooses not to seek vengeance or hold the offender accountable in the same way. Instead, it seeks a different kind of justice – a restorative justice that focuses on healing, reconciliation, and transformation. When extended, forgiveness does not mean that justice is ignored. Rather, it redirects the focus from punishment to redemption. It recognizes the humanity of the offender and offers an opportunity for growth and change. In this sense, forgiveness aligns with a higher form of justice that seeks to restore broken relationships, promote healing, and foster personal and communal transformation.

Forgiveness does not negate the need for accountability and consequences. While it involves pardoning the offender, forgiveness does not necessarily imply the absence of justice in the form of appropriate consequences for their actions. In cases of criminal offenses, for example, forgiveness does not exempt the offender from legal ramifications determined by the justice system. Forgiveness has never meant turning a blind eye to wrongdoing but rather addresses the spiritual and relational dimensions of healing.

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By God’s grace, I have done a wonderful book on Forgiveness: Love and Grace Unchained, which will be dedicated and launched on September 3, 2023. You can get in touch through +257 16 890 985 or email kimeudanielk@gmail.com to pre-order your copy.

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