Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Should we forgive the president?

After three weeks, President Arroyo broke her silence regarding the controversial wiretapped tapes containing her conversations with COMELEC Commissioner Garcillano. In a televised speech, she beseeched the country’s forgiveness. The opposition party was not convinced about the sincerity of the president. The Filipino people are polarized about the question, Should Arroyo be given another chance to prove her worth as the highest official of the land? First, let's start with what Jesus teaches about forgiveness.

Matthew 18 contains the parable of the unforgiving servant and the great encounter of an apostle with the Messiah. Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). The apostle's question reflected his limited notion of forgiveness. As if, Peter is saying to the Lord, "You don't expect me to always forgive a habitual sinner and offender, do you?" Peter's inquiry is revealing since forgiveness is indeed an issue of the heart. When we ask, how many times? it means we posses a notion of limited love and mercy. When we ask, Should I? We hold the idea that withholding forgiveness is an option. Peter was a Jew who knew the rabbinical teaching on forgiveness. It was a cardinal rule that it should not be extended more than three times. But this law had become like a religious ritual, a legalist activity which does not please God---an act out of compliance to rule. Consequently, self-righteousness becomes the breeding ground for pride.

When Jesus replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times”. The Lord is basically saying that forgiveness should not have a boundary. It does not keep a record of wrongdoings (I Corinthians 13). A heart that forgives is a heart that is always ready to reconcile.

I remember the case of President Clinton when he confessed to the American people his breaking of the seventh (adultery) and ninth (false witness) commandments of the Bible. Likewise, it took him more time to apologize. That’s understandable since a public confession could have serious ramifications to his credibility as a president and the integrity of his office. The same case applies to Mrs. Arroyo.

Overall, should we forgive the President? In a word, yes. Biblical principles call for it. If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us (Matt. 6:14- 15). We must even forgive our enemies (Luke 11:4; 23:34). What if there are doubts about the sincerity of someone's apology? We should still forgive. The Lord does not provide us a right or the ability to judge whether an apology is genuine or not. That is God's business because he is the only one who searches the deepest parts of a person’s heart (Jeremiah 17:10).

Nonetheless, Mrs. Arroyo has to suffer the consequences of her so-called “lapses in judgment”. The president may be fully forgiven for her sins but may still have to face the consequences for them. I think that would be the “make or break” situation for the Arroyo administration. Remember David’s sins against the Lord and Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. He orchestrated the murder of Uriah to get the attractive woman. It was not until David was rebuked by prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:13a) and confessed his sins that God forgave him. Nathan said to him, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (v. 13b). But the judgment was coupled with a consequence. His first son with Bathsheba died. Even fasting and public expression of repentance became insignificant.

Receiving forgiveness for sin and facing the consequences of sin are two different matters. But those us who have received forgiveness for all our sins through Jesus Christ should exhibit the most forgiving attitude of all (Matt. 18:23-35).

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