Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34
A former Khmer Rouge prison chief who was convicted of crimes against humanity is now serving only half of his 35-year sentence. His name is Kang Kek lew, but he was known during the decimating and ruthless slaughter perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge as "Comrade Duch."
Kang Kek lew had admitted to being the infamous butcher of the Tuol Sleng detention center in Phnom Penh, where18,000 people were tortured and killed between 1975 and 1979. Known as "Duch," this man was said to be directly responsible for the reign of terror in the "killing fields" of Cambodia.
In 1979, Kang disappeared into the jungle after Vietnamese troops took Phnom Penh, and there he encountered God, so he says. In 2007, he was formally charged with crimes against humanity. In 2008, as part of the judicial process, he asked for forgiveness and to give him hope that he might be forgiven before reportedly collapsing in tears.
Large numbers of Cambodians, though, were unhappy. "Far too lenient," they said, "for his terrible crimes which we will never forgive." When you hear that someone such as this has become a Christian, and pleads for forgiveness, how do you respond? Chances are that if ten of you expressed yourselves, most of you would be skeptical. "Hiding behind religion," we say, or "He's been converted like the devil getting religion." But, then, again, perhaps he is sincere, and his conversion is genuine. Can God forgive someone such as this? Is there a limit to God's forgiveness?
Saul was an accomplice to the murder of Stephen (Acts 7). David had the blood of Bathsheba's husband on his hands. Scores of men and women whose past lives are checkered and dark have repented of their sins and have sought and found God's forgiveness. If all men and women are sinners, (and they are, according to Scripture), is there a qualitative difference in sin that means God will forgive the person who takes one life but not the one who has been responsible for the deaths of many people? Where is the line which says, "Too much! You're doomed!"?
Here's another sticky question: Would you be comfortable in heaven seated next to this guy? The issue is not so much the question of whether or not God could forgive him, but should He forgive him?
Frankly, if you were the husband or the wife of one of the men who died under his authority, would you forgive him? Before you answer, you need to know that forgiveness doesn't mean you disallow the consequences of his wrongdoing, nor does Kang Kek lew expect that. To the contrary, he believes that accepting the consequences is God's direction in accepting responsibility for what he did. So, when you forgive you don't say, "Oh, that's OK." Forgiveness in a biblical context means you give up your right to hurt someone because he or she hurt you. Of course, it is tough.
Do you as a Christian have the responsibility to forgive? Two New Testament passages seem to confuse people on the issue. First, Jesus said, "But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15) --a pretty straightforward, unambiguous statement with no conditions attached. But what about Luke 17:3, which says, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him"?
Frankly, forgiving those who have hurt you is one of the most difficult things you will ever do in life, but the rewards and consequences are both great. Forgiveness is a choice and a decision, not an emotion. It is an act of your will. You either extend forgiveness to one who has wronged you or you decide to hold on to your anger and bitterness. An old adage says the one who cannot forgive burns the bridge over which he himself must someday pass.
Resource reading: Luke 23:1-34