A couple of times recently I’ve been asked by Christian friends to forgive them for things they said to me. Which left me in an awkward position, because on neither occasion did I feel sinned against. I wasn’t offended in any way. So what do I do? Forgive anyway, in order to close the matter? Or blow it off as “nothing” and the friend may still feel unforgiven?
I asked a mature Christian for counsel in situations like this and this is what he said:
My standard response to such situations is simply to say something along these lines: “My brother, I appreciate your concern to maintain a good conscience towards God and man. However, I do not believe you sinned against me. However, whatever in your words or actions could have been judged that way in your own conscience, I freely extend without reservation any forgiveness needed.”
Then, depending on how the brother or sister responds to my words, I will often say something like this: “Well, my brother, can you now lay this issue completely to rest so that if and when your conscience should seek to trouble you, you will remember that the issue has been dealt with and refuse to allow the accuser to harass you.”
The principle I operate with in these matters, is that if an issue is a “borderline” issue, and I am not absolutely certain that I have sinned, but have a whisper of doubt, I believe the safest path is to acknowledge the possible occasion of fault or offense. This gives another brother an opportunity to affirm that no offense was taken, after which I can rest in the promises of God’s forgiveness.
The illustration I use in my own mind is connected to what we do when we are painting a wall with a roller brush. As you know, if you have ever done this, there are times when you’re not quite sure whether you have completely covered a given area. However, if you are wise painter, you will not scruple about going one or 2 inches over the last lap mark, lest when the paint has completely dried, you see a long streak that you mixed with your roller.
Now I fully realize that operating in this framework can leave a sensitive man or woman vulnerable to becoming overly scrupulous. However, I don’t believe we natively tend to be overly scrupulous – rather, we tend to rationalize, excuse, extenuate, etc. and fall prey to what the apostle calls “the deceitfulness of sin.”