"Loving Father, pure and right
Waits, arms open, for the sight
of the wayward son come home.
Celebration waits alone."
~ from the song "Love Like Rain" by Daniel Doss
These lyrics are from the second verse of one of my favorite worship songs, which recounts the story of the Prodigal Son and explores how we are all like the sinful child who has wandered away from a father who waits with open arms to welcome us joyfully home. We serve a merciful God who is only too ready to forgive our sins when we repent--so willing, in fact, that He gave His own Son for this very purpose.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." ~ John 3:16-17
As Christians who serve this incredible God of love, we are called to be like Him, to forgive each other as we have been forgiven (Matt. 6:12, Luke 7:27-42). Moreover, we are to forgive anyone who asks us, not just once, but as often as they turn to us for forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-22).
But, how do you forgive someone who does not believe they need to be forgiven?
This is the situation in which I find myself with my father. For those of you who do not know, my father left my mother five years ago. I will not give too many details. Suffice it to say that the entire process was very long and extremely ugly, resulting in a great deal of heartache on my mother's part (the divorce was in no way mutual) and no apparent shame or mercy on my father's. To date, my father has never given any indication that he believes he has sinned or that he is in anyway sorry for his behavior. Now, only two years later, he expects us all to simply move on and forget the past. Forget...without forgiveness, which he does not think he needs.
I have been angry, and I have offerred that up to God. I have wanted justice, yet I know that God is just and will fulfill all justice in His own time(Luke 18:7-8, Jude 1:14-15), even particularly in the case of the adulterer (Hebrews 13:4). By the grace of God, I have waded through righteous fury, bitterness, fear, resentment, and He has led me out to find "the peace of God which transcends all understanding," (Phil. 4:7a). God has truly been faithful to me in this dark journey, and He has grown me so much through the experiences I have endured in the aftermath of my father's unrepentant sin.
I can even say wholeheartedly that I am at a place where, the moment my father should ask me for forgiveness, I would offer it with my whole heart. But, God forbid, what if he never comes to ask it?
In the song and in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father is waiting at home for his son to return, never knowing what has become of the son, never having to see the sins his son commits, never having to witness the pitiful decline of the young man into unrepentant wickedness. Sometimes, I think it would be easier to be like that father, remote, loving his son from afar, rather than having to be daily bombarded with the foolish and wicked choices his son continually makes. How hard it is to "wait, arms open" for a "wayward" loved one when that loved one is forever proudly displaying before us their sinful choices, accusing us of failing to love and accept them when we do not condone those choices.
So much easier, to wait somewhere else until the day they come for forgiveness. So much easier to forgive a repentant soul all at once, rather than having to daily humble ourselves before someone who sins and sins and proudly justifies those sins until they believe they do not sin at all. So much easier to not know what has become of our loved one than to see the iron grip in which Satan has them trapped by their own folly. Yet for many of us, this is not the way things play out. Instead, we have to grapple with another's sin every day, confessing in our own hearts that we are no better than they, that what goodness is in us is only from God (Ephesians 2:1-5). "There but for the grace of God go I."
We cannot forgive those who do not ask it. We ought not condone sin in any form. But, there is a way to love the unrepentant sinners in our lives. We can do it, first, by confessing our own weaknesses before God and thanking Him daily for His grace and mercy that redeem us fully from our own sins. We can do it by withholding judgment of the Prodigal Son (or Father or Spouse or Child), trusting that God is wholly just and will bring all to account in His own time. We can pray ardently for the redemption of this Prodigal Loved One, knowing as Job did that our "Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25). And, we can ask God to cultivate in us a spirit that is like His, ready at the first sign of repentance to offer full and complete forgiveness with love and with joy and with open arms.
These things are not easy. Life lived for Jesus rarely is. But, it is good. And, though it may seem impossibly difficult at times, we can trust the words of our Redeemer who said that "all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:27b).
* This post originally contained some rather broad "specifics" about the nature of my parents' divorce. After being convicted in my personal prayer time about this, I came to see that this was not honoring my father. I have since rewritten that section of the post. I do not feel that the alterations detract from the central message of this post, and I beg the forgiveness of anyone who may have been offended by the original content.