Mailvox: to forgive or not forgive

BR asks about the consequences of cheap and easy grace:

As always, thanks for the work you do.  Your blogs are exceedingly useful to me in organizing my own thoughts on everything from politics to relationships.  Unless I’m completely confused, I believe you consider yourself a Christian.  As you seem to also be a Man of Reason, I assume a large part of your Faith is also rooted in Reason.  I love Reason-based Faith.  One of the main reasons I don’t subscribe to any religion is because I find too many people in religions that subscribe to the fallacy that Religion and Reason are not compatible.  I tend to dislike Atheists for the same reason.  Yes, The Irrational Atheist is queued on my Kindle.

Today’s question is on the Christian Principle of Forgiveness.  Does Christ want us to forgive people who harm us in the absence of any sort of reparation?  And I mean harm, not mean words that hurt our feelings.  Words and actions that cause our standard of living to be reduced.

It seems that most “mainstream Christians” believe Christ taught that we should forgive people who harm us regardless of whether that person makes any attempt to undo the damage they caused.  However, this seems to be to be in direct opposition to Christ’s own actions.  God forgave us our sins not in a vacuum, but only because of Christ’s sacrifice.  This to me is more Redemption, than Forgiveness.  Sinning comes with a price tag, however that price was paid for us.  Had it not been, we would not have been forgiven.  If you and I went to dinner, and I paid the bill, you would not say that the restaurant forgave your debt to them.  The debt was still paid, just not by you.

This position seems to be taken most often in regards to unintentional harm.  Harm done not out of malice, but through negligence and carelessness.  However, this still seems to be at odds with other aspects of Christian theology.  I am not Christian, and therefore will not receive the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice.  Yes he died for my sins, but until I take the additional step of acknowledging his sacrifice and committing to his principles, I don’t get the benefit.  In other words, I have to do something to gain forgiveness.

I agree that a person who makes reparations for harm they unintentionally do should be forgiven.  If a person accidentally rear ends my car, but pays for all of the repairs, it is absurd for me to hold a grudge against them.  On the other hand, if the person accidentally read ends my car, but refuses to pay for the repairs, it would be equally absurd for me to forgive them.  However, it seems to me this is exactly what many mainstream Christians seem to think should be done.

 I’m bringing the question to you because I think it dovetails with the “saving Western Civilization” aspect of your blogs.  It seems one of the biggest problems we have in modern society is everyone going around doing whatever they want without regard to the consequences.  Obviously, when their actions only harm themselves, I don’t care.  When their actions cause harm to another person, they simply say “I’m sorry”, and expect that to somehow be enough.  Unfortunately, “I’m sorry” doesn’t make my car functional again.  This problem is further compounded by the above “forgiveness fallacy”, because society now refuses to hold these people accountable.  I don’t mean in a criminal prosecution sense, but in a social consequences sense.  Because everyone is so eager to forgive everyone else, there are no social consequences for bad behavior.  Because there are no social consequences, the bad behavior continues, and the harm done to others by the bad behavior continues to mount.  This harm ultimately results in misplaced resources, which leads to a lower standard of living.

An example:  I rent my spare room to a tenant.  The lease requires that rent is paid by a certain date, and defines penalties for failure.  The first time my tenant missed his rent, I slapped him with the fine.  He was never late again.  I could have chosen to “forgive” him because he simply forgot to pay, and not levied the fine, but then what reason would he have to pay his rent on time?  The harm done by not paying his rent goes beyond simple financial transactions.  I have my own bills to pay, and depend on his rent to make them.  If he is routinely late on his rent, I have to hold more cash reserves to ensure I can pay my bills on time.  This additional money just sitting around “just in case” is an inefficient use of resources.  It’s either unavailable to purchase goods and services, thereby reducing the number of people employed in the production of those goods and services; or it’s unavailable for investment, which costs me money due to lost opportunities (as well as costing another person an opportunity due the reduction of loanable funds in the system).

Taking the example further, if he were routinely late, but always paid the late fee, I would actually be doing him a disservice to completely forgive him this constant “sin”.  By not holding him socially accountable for this lazy attitude, I provide him no incentive to correct his behavior.  Even though it’s his choice to effectively pay a higher rent than the market demands, it reduces his standard of living.  While I could certainly take the position that it’s none of my business, such lack of concern would seem to be at odds with Christ’s message.  In other words, letting your child eat chocolate cake for breakfast is not love. 

Cheap and easy grace, as well as ready forgiveness for sins not repented, is the hallmark of modern Churchianity.  It is also indicative of a false and overtly anti-Christian religion that cloaks itself in Christian language.  The parents who make a showy scene of publicly providing unrequested forgiveness to the murderer of their only daughter when the man responsible refuses to even admit the crime aren’t demonstrating their Christianity, they are simply posturing emotionally, because repentance is required as a part of the process of forgiveness.

God doesn’t forgive the unrepentant and therefore neither should the Christian.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:39-43

Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell both criminals they will be with him in paradise, only the repentant man.  When he does ask his Father to forgive the unrepentant, he does so because “they know not what they do”.  So, my conclusion that the Christian can forgive, without repentance, those who do their harm in ignorance, but not those who willfully intend a harmful course of action.

I would, of course, be remiss if I did not point out that BR is making the same mistake I once made, which is to judge the -ism by the -ist.  This is logically fallacious, particularly considering that Christianity not only accounts for, but depends upon, the imperfection of Man.