Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)]
The husband quietly arranged for a week’s vacation from work and the wife also arranged for a week off from her job before they joined one another on a romantic getaway. Unfortunately, they weren’t married to one another and their respective spouses were blindsided by their heartless and public betrayal. Since the man was finance director of the school district, unfounded rumors abounded in our small town that he’d absconded with funds along with someone else’s wife. Even though this occurred decades ago, I still remember my shock a week later when, having found the forbidden fruit wasn’t near as tasty as they’d expected, the two adulterers returned to town and their respective homes.
I don’t know how the betrayed husband welcomed his wife or what became of their marriage but, since the betrayed wife lived three doors down and our children played together, I do know what happened to hers. Amazingly, the deceived wife forgave her repentant husband and welcomed him home. While forgiveness doesn’t necessarily end in reconciliation, in this case it did. “How could she forgive him?” asked a shocked (and very gossipy) neighbor. “After all,” she added, “There’s just no excuse for his shameful behavior.” Her question gave me pause since I wondered the very same thing—how could she forgive such an indefensible act?
Rather than look to gossipy neighbors, however, I turned to Scripture. Does God only forgive my “excusable” sins—when I accidentally fall into the mud—and not forgive the ones in which I deliberately go play in the muck? There was no acceptable excuse for the man’s abysmal behavior and nothing could justify the way he so publicly wounded and humiliated his wife but isn’t that the point of forgiveness? Regardless of the circumstances or how we choose to justify our actions, there never is an excuse for sin! If something was excusable—if extenuating circumstances justified a transgression or if there were a valid reason behind an offense, there really would be no need for forgiveness! Forgiveness is what God does because there is absolutely no excuse for our offenses, no defense for our sinful behavior, and no exception to the rules broken by our transgressions.
There was no excuse for that adulterous couple’s behavior but one woman let her faith guide her. Choosing love over hate, hope over despair, and mercy over retaliation, she quietly forgave her repentant husband and continued their marriage. There was no excuse for Gomer’s betrayal of Hosea and yet the loving prophet redeemed her from slavery, forgave her, and welcomed her back into their home. David had no excuse for dallying with Bathsheba and Peter had none for denying Jesus yet both were forgiven. There was absolutely no excuse for the first sin and yet God loved us enough to redeem mankind with the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.
There is no way we ever can justify any of our sins and yet, when we confess with repentant hearts, we are forgiven. It is precisely when there is no possible excuse that forgiveness is necessary. Let us never forget—if we want to be forgiven of all our sins, we are expected to do the same—even when there is no excuse!