When I was a pre-teen, another boy had found out that I had done something wrong, and he tried to blackmail me into doing something shady for him. Having been found out, I went straight to my Mom and told her what I had done. Instead of punishing me, my Mom had a very serious conversation with me. She must have realized that I had learned my lesson and I don’t remember if there were any serious repercussions. Needless to say, this was indeed an important lesson for me, which has been influential for all my life.
One of the most important lessons I learned was that we need to deal with the issues when we messed up. If we don’t, this will gnaw on our conscience and cause significant problems in our relationships. Either we become so calloused that we don’t care anymore whether our selfish actions are hurting other people, or we might become depressed and have other serious emotional problems.
The Christian Solution
For Christians, God provided a wonderful remedy for our sins. If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9). We may still have to make amends with the person we offended, or we might have to replace what we broke, etc. but having been forgiven by God, that task should be much easier.
The Atheist Solution
What about atheists? Well, even though we cannot get forgiveness from a God we don’t believe in, otherwise the same principle applies. For, if we don’t ask the other person to forgive us and if we are unwilling to make things right, we will not be able to hold on to a good relationship with the offended person. That person might be very gracious and might not hold a grudge, but it is our own conscience (if we still have one) that will be killing the relationship with that person. And if this is allowed to fester, other relationships will be affected as well.
Repentance (asking for forgiveness) must be serious and both repentance and forgiveness must be coming from the heart, and the issue should be settled, never to be brought up again. At the same time, it might be wise not to trust the offending person with similar things again where they have proven to be weak, for that might be tempting them.
In all of this there is another principle at work, one that is often forgotten or not taken seriously: If someone hurt us in any way and asks for forgiveness, we need to forgive them, regardless of whether we are Christians or not. For, if we don’t, we will be so gnarled up inside that soon we will not even be able to forgive ourselves when we do something wrong. Moreover, most likely we will not ask for forgiveness when we sin against others if we don’t forgive others their shortcomings, therefore our sin remains.
Matthew 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
We need to realize that none of us is perfect and that we all mess up at times, and we may hurt someone else at times. Forgiving and asking for forgiveness restores a relationship that would otherwise be tainted or even damaged beyond repair.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Klaus Meyer, Pastor (retired)
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