Let me tell you about forgiveness.
Two years ago, Emily Conrad and I met via Twitter, and I've considered her a friend since our first conversation. She constantly casts light and encouragement with her words, whether in her work as a Christian fiction writer or over on her own blog. I'm so excited to have her here sharing some thoughts about redemption and forgiveness as they relate to her debut novel, Justice, which releases TOMORROW.
It's a joy to welcome Emily to the blog today!
I may have titled my debut novel Justice, but it’s forgiveness that keeps popping up in the notes I’ve received in response to the advance reader copies I sent out.
Among them was Allie’s sweet email, quoting her pastor, who said, “Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation—but it is required for redemption.”
This is certainly true for Jake and Brooklyn, the hero and heroine in Justice. There are some relationships that don’t experience reconciliation in the book, but in order to move into their futures, Jake and Brooklyn must both embrace forgiveness and apply it to themselves, each other, and their enemies.
Forgiveness comes easier to us in some situations than in others, but redemption is precious enough to pursue despite the difficulties.
Without the forgiveness of God, we would still be lost in sin. We would have no hope. To redeem us, Jesus came and died in our place, paying our debts so that we might become the children of God.
My soul dances a little at glimpsing that verse. Clearly, redemption and forgiveness are closely linked.
But if we stop there, at God’s forgiveness to us, we’d miss out, as Jesus explains in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18.
The king in the parable forgives his servant a gigantic debt he could never hope to pay. The servant goes out and demands one of his fellow servants make good on a much smaller amount. When this second servant can’t pay, the first throws him in prison. The king calls this first servant wicked and throws him in jail.
Jesus’s warning at the end of the parable should give us all pause: “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35, NET)
The Lord’s Prayer also insists we practice forgiveness: “and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:13, NET)
These are strongly-worded warnings. If two kinds of forgiveness are required for redemption—God’s forgiveness toward us and our forgiveness toward others—what’s an imperfect forgiver to do?
The same thing we do as we follow any command: rely on grace and pursue Jesus. We have responsibility or we wouldn’t be told to forgive, but we’re also not in this alone. Salvation is not the result of works.
If God is the one who creates clean hearts in us in the first place, the power to forgive others comes from Him, too. We can share the struggle with God, pray for changed hearts and minds, and continually cast the grudges we’d rather hold at the feet of Jesus.
Because forgiveness is so important, I believe God will stay after His children on this issue. I suppose that’s why Jake’s life plays out the way it does in Justice—through circumstances and other believers, God hounds Jake until he realizes his pursuit of justice is actually something else entirely, something that’s keeping him from a healthy relationship with both the God and the woman he loves.
It plays out in my fiction because it plays out in real life. God hounds us with grace and love and truth, just like He hounds Jake.
I just saw this in a small situation in my own life.
After receiving Allie’s email about the link between forgiveness and redemption, I was hurt by another believer.
After talking about it with the other person for a while, we fell into silence, and I knew what needed to come next. I knew that other person was languishing under a weight of guilt and failure, one that was greater than my pain, and I knew exactly what needed to come next.
I forgive you. I won’t keep bringing this up. You’re forgiven and redeemed. You’re washed in the blood. There is no condemnation for you, because Jesus paid for it.
This other person’s sin may have hurt my feelings, but in that moment, I saw the sin was no worse than what I’m guilty of. How could I try to call in the debt?
Furthermore… Well, I’m convicted that the debt was never owed to me in the first place.
During that stretch of silence in our conversation, I thought of David’s striking prayer after the affair with Bathsheba and his successful plot to kill Uriah: “Against you – you above all– I have sinned” (from Psalm 51:4, NET)
David’s sin hurt other people, to be sure, but the ultimate debt David owed was to God.
Likewise, when we sin, we’re accountable to God. He’s the One whose laws we’ve broken, and He’s the One on the judgement seat. Without Jesus, this would be a terrifying prospect.
How amazing, God’s grace to intervene, to save us from ourselves and offer Jesus as a sacrifice to pay our debts.
If it’s true that our debt is to God, then the debts others owe are ultimately not payable to us, either.
Again, how can we try to call in that debt? Practicing forgiveness is a way of acknowledging our true place. We’re fellow lawbreakers and fellow servants. We’ve been given much, forgiven much more than we’ll ever have to forgive ourselves. And truly, we reap fantastic rewards when we forgive.
Through forgiveness, we not only take down a barrier between ourselves and God, we often take them down between ourselves and others. I know I saw that in my situation this week, and of course, it plays out in Justice, too. No, reconciliation doesn’t always happen, but some glorious times, it does.
When we don’t reconnect, at the very least, our practice of forgiveness can point others toward the cross, toward the truth and love and redemption available through Christ.
By practicing forgiveness, as difficult as it may be, we live out a story of redemption before a broken world, and redemption makes it all worth while.
Emily Conrad lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two rescue dogs. She loves Jesus and enjoys road trips to the mountains, crafting stories, and drinking coffee. (It’s no coincidence her debut novel is set mostly in a coffee shop!) She offers free short stories on her website and loves to connect with readers on social media.
Jake thought he was meant to marry Brooklyn, but now she's pregnant, and he had nothing to do with it. Brooklyn can’t bring herself to name the father as she wrestles with questions about what her pregnancy means and how it will affect her relationship with Jake. If Harold Keen, the man who owns the bookstore across from Jake's coffee shop, has anything to do with it, the baby will ruin them both.