I am in the middle of grading papers on forgiveness and am once again thankful for Chris Brauns’ provocative and eminently biblical book on the subject, Unpacking Forgiveness. I use this book each semester because it challenges our sloppy preconceptions about forgiveness and forces us back to Scripture. A few reasons why every Christian should read and work through the argument of this book:
1. Chris corrects the widespread view that the reason to forgive is so I can feel better and move past the pain. While there are personal benefits to forgiveness, the main reason to forgive is reconciliation with the other person, for the glory of God.
2. If reconciliation is the goal, then something is required of both parties: forgiveness from the victim and repentance from the offender. Chris argues well for the provocative point that forgiveness requires repentance. We should offer forgiveness to the person who has wronged us, but we must not grant forgiveness until they repent.
3. We aren’t able to offer forgiveness unless we have released the grudge in our heart, so Chris is not giving us an excuse to bear grudges or withhold forgiveness from each other. On the other hand, if we confer forgiveness without repentance then we are shortchanging the process of reconciliation and not even properly forgiving. We are selfishly trying to get beyond the personal pain rather than work through the issues with the other person.
There is much more to say, both on the book and on the subject—as Neal Plantinga wrote, pondering forgiveness kicks up more rabbits than we can catch—but I urge you to read Unpacking Forgiveness. Each semester my students say it rocked their world and forced them to reconsider the platitudes they once took for granted.