Forgiveness and Impeachment

by Doug Payton

Before the impeachment hearings in the Judiciary Committee, it had been brought up to me that as Christians we need to forgive Bill Clinton. As we are saved by grace, in the same way we must forgive Clinton.

I'm entirely in agreement with that, and I've thought about applying Jesus' standard of forgiveness to this situation. The Pastor at my local church said that if we did not pray for Bill Clinton, then we did not give him the honor due to him as a person and even as President, and the Bible teaches us that we must respect those that are put in authority over us. Taking this further, if we pray for the President because we honor who he is, then we must forgive him. "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us" goes the Lord's Prayer.

So what is the Bible's standard for forgiveness? We are commanded to forgive freely (Matthew 10:8) and often (Matthew 18:21-22). We are to forgive regardless of what was done (Matthew 12:31). But all forgiveness in the Bible is contingent on the intent and the heart of the one asking forgiveness. Jesus did not forgive those who did not ask for it. He also does not forgive all those who simply say they want it outwardly but don't desire it inwardly. After all, not all who cry out to him "Lord, Lord!" outwardly will enter into His kingdom, only those who do the Father's work (Matthew 7:21).

Only God knows the intent of the heart perfectly. When Jesus forgave the thief on the cross who asked to be forgiven, He knew his intent. He did not have to rely on the thief's words alone. For the rest of us, we must rely on discernment from God. The President has asked the forgiveness of the American people. He has taken council from pastors like Tony Campolo and Gordon MacDonald. But while he has couched his behavior in terms like "wrong", "inappropriate", and a "personal failure", he still maintains he is legally innocent when he said under oath that he was never alone with Monica and that the relationship was not sexual on his part. If those contentions were true, then his description of the relationship would be quite different. He cannot be both innocent and wrong at the same time.

I do not know the mind of the President, and I would not even pretend to try to tell anyone else how they must act in this area. All I have is God's commandments, His example, His help, and what I see and hear. I also know that forgiveness is as much for the forgiver and the one being forgiven. Without forgiveness anger and bitterness can grow in us and destroy us from within. With these facts, I must decide how to act.

But as to whether punishment via impeachment is the Christian thing to do, I go back to Jesus and the thief on the cross. After the thief was forgiven, Jesus did not remove him from the cross--he still had to pay the penalty. King David was cornered in adultery as well, and though he asked forgiveness, and received it from God, there were still consequences that arose out of his actions.

While God may sometime spare us from the consequences of our own actions, I'm inclined to believe, based on the Bible and my own experience, that this is the exception rather than the rule. Whatever a man sows, that shall he reap.

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