Will God Keep Forgiving Me?
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
You may have seen the headline yourself: “Rouge executioner a born-again Christian.” The Reuters news story began, “The chief executioner of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, who ordered thousands of people killed in the 1970’s, is a born-again Christian ready to face justice, the Far Eastern Economic Review said.”
Kang Kek Leu, age 56, had admitted to being the infamous butcher of the Tuol Sleng detention center in Phnom Penh where, between 1975 and 1979, 16,000 people were tortured and killed. Known as “Dutch,” 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. He emerged, saying that he is very sorry for what took place, and that he is willing to face an international tribunal to pay for his wrongdoing.
When the news service contacted former inmates, asking their response, most expressed their hatred for him and said they never wanted to see his face again. When you hear that someone such as this has become a born-again Christian, 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.
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 wrong doing, nor does Kang Kek Leu 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 which you either extend to one who has wronged you or a decision to hold on to your anger and bitterness.
Resource reading: Luke 23:1-34.