Chai Ling, the previous leader of the Tiananmen Square protests and a baptized Christian of over 2 years, publicly announced her forgiveness in the form of a letter to those involved in the June 4th massacre on its 23rd anniversary. This has caused quite an uprising, and has received much opposition and accusations from fellow protestors now residing overseas, as well as from pro-democracy Christians. Chai Ling issued another public statement 5 days later, responding to the accusations and misunderstandings, and clarifying that forgiveness is purely a personal decision that stems from “a heart that has been converted by the love of Christ”, and does not mean that the responsibility born by the accused has been lifted.
In North America, the opposition to Chai Ling’s theory of forgiveness consists of Christians and missionaries with some background knowledge or involvement during the June 4th massacre event, or those who speak for democracy in China; thus, these voices are substantially influential in the Christian community.
Disregarding political and personal elements, how should a Christian view Chai Ling’s theory of forgiveness in the June 4th massacre event based on the Bible? Is the forgiveness described in the Bible unconditional (such as in the case of Chai Ling) or with conditions (such as in the case promoted by pro-democracy Christians and those with previous background involvement in the June 4th event)? Besides, will the endorsement of unconditional forgiveness then undermine the fairness and justice of God?
Pastor Edward, a renowned Chinese theologist who has preached for many years in North America, recently responded to Chai Ling’s theory of forgiveness through this paper, based on the Biblical perspective. Pastor Edward stated that he strongly agreed with Chai Ling’s theory of forgiveness, because her theory completely fits with the teachings of the Bible. From her theory, one can see that “Chai Ling is a very brave Christian, and one who truly possesses the life of Jesus Christ”.
Pastor Edward explained his support for Chai Ling’s theory with quotes from the Bible, responding to each and every theological controversy. He wished that those Christians who were devastated by the June 4th event could be freed from the depression and vengeance, and could welcome a brand new life.
P: Pastor Edward
R: Chai Ling’s theory of forgiveness towards the June 4th massacre participants has raised much controversy and accusations. What is your view towards this theory?
P: I feel that Chai Ling’s theory of forgiveness is completely congruent with the Bible. To me, Chai Ling’s forgiveness has illustrated that she is indeed a brand new, saved Christian who possesses the life of Jesus. Her choice of forgiving those who aimed to hurt her is what a living Christian should do. Furthermore, I admire her courage to declare the change in her life in public.
Controversy 1: Is the forgiveness mentioned in the Bible with conditions? That is, basing forgiveness on the repentance of sinners who are Christians?
Response: The forgiveness promoted in the Bible is unconditional.
R: Chai Ling’s theory of forgiveness has raised an arguable point in theology – when Christians forgive their opponents, should it be done under certain conditions, such as when the truth is finally revealed, or when the opponents have repented and confessed their sins? What does the Bible say?
P: The Bible promotes unconditional forgiveness, with teachings and examples contained throughout the whole Bible. Chai Ling mentioned the prime example of unconditional forgiveness, when Jesus Christ prayed to God to forgive the Roman soldiers who persecuted him, even when he was about to die on the cross.
Furthermore, Jesus explained in the sermon of the mount (Matthew 5:38-44) his way of forgiving your enemies. Matthew 5:44 says: “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you.” The love for your enemies that Jesus spoke about implies kindness, forgiveness, and sympathy. Thus, Jesus is teaching us to be patient with our enemies, and do not be revengeful. Jesus did not set up any conditions around forgiving his enemies.
A more overt clarification of this theory of forgiveness comes in Matthew 6:14-15. Jesus stated: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” The meaning of this is, every man is a sinner, and thus even Christians do not have the right to judge the sins of others; God has forgiven sinners like us, then who are we to not forgive others?
Aside from Jesus, many newly converted Christians are good examples of unconditional forgivers. For instance, Stephen in Acts 7:60 prayed to God before he died to forgive those who stoned him. This forgiveness is unconditional, and it does not come with the confession and repentance of those who are at fault. Note that Stephen was not a full time missionary, however, even he had the determination to forgive unconditionally. What about those who are apostles and full time missionaries?
Paul the Apostle also showed us his testimony of unconditional forgiveness. Paul stated in Romans 9:3: “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race”, regarding the Jews who were non-believers as his “people” and of his “own race”.
From the book of Acts in the Bible, these Jews whom Paul considered his people despised Paul, and their resentment towards Paul was comparable to that towards Jesus or Stephen. But in order to save these people who wanted to persecute him, he would rather be cursed and cut off from Christ.
When Paul stated the above, there were still many who had not confessed their sins or repented. They continued to persecute Christians. And thus Paul’s forgiveness was unconditional. He viewed these Jewish enemies as his people. His love for them is truly moving.
Paul not only chose to forgive these Jewish people with blood-stained hands, he also nominated Timothy as leader and prayed for all those in power. Paul was in fact situated in a Roman empire where emperors were known to persecute Christians. He not only was not deterred by the situation, but encouraged Christians to pray for them, and let God do the leading.
Aside from the New Testament, the Old Testament also contains many examples of unconditional forgiveness. For instance, in Genesis, Joseph forgave his brothers who betrayed him, and considered this blood-stained journey a part of God’s grand plan. Joseph’s unconditional forgiveness towards his brothers is also truly moving.
Besides, David demonstrated unconditional forgiveness to Saul. When he heard the news of Saul’s death, David, who had received much bullying from Saul, did not consider Saul’s death as a carrying out of justice, but instead wept tears of sorrow for Saul and Jonathan. This nicely illustrates David’s unconditional love and forgiveness for Saul.
All in all, the Bible teaches forgiveness as an unconditional act, with many examples similar to those quoted above. Thus, Chai Ling’s theory of forgiveness is compatible with the words of the Bible, and she is living out the spirit of Christianity.
Controversy 2: Will unconditional forgiveness undermine the fairness and justice of God?
Response: Unconditional forgiveness and God’s justice are not at odds.
R: Some pro-democracy Christian activists and/or those involved in the June 4th event defend their conditional forgiveness with the claim that “God’s justice” must be endorsed. They felt that unconditional forgiveness undermined the fairness and justice of God, and claimed that those who unconditionally forgave were “lacking fairness, and the ability to distinguish right from wrong”. Thus, is there any conflict between unconditional forgiveness and God’s laws of justice?
P: Those who claim that “fairness and judgment comes before love and forgiveness” are not supported by the Bible. To me, this theological view is contaminated by political undertones, and thus sounds logical, but in fact is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. From a Biblical point of view, God’s unconditional love and forgiveness is not at odds with his laws of justice.
According to the Bible, when we sin, God sent his only son Jesus Christ to this world, to be crucified for us, so that those who believe will have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life. Jesus’s sacrifice by blood and death for the sinners is an act of unconditional love and forgiveness. Think about it, which one of us Christians is worthy enough to receive this kind of sacrifice from Jesus? When we sin, Jesus has already forgiven us, and given his life for us. Thus, the power of unconditional love and forgiveness originates from Jesus. A Christian who possesses the life of Jesus can thus unconditionally forgive.
However, those who do not confess and repent in front of God and Jesus will receive God’s judgment in the future, even to the depths of hell. This is the carrying out of God’s justice. Thus, God’s unconditional forgiveness and his justice are not at odds.
What needs to be clarified is: Jesus’s sacrifice for man on the cross does not mean that he gives man the right to sin. Similarly, a Christian’s unconditional forgiveness does not mean that he/she supports the sinners’ acts. More importantly, it is not a sign of weakness, but a result of living under the influence of Christ.
R: Some say that unconditional forgiveness will cause chaos in this world, obstruct the justice system, and promote criminal activities.
P: Forgiveness in Christianity and elimination of legal responsibility (such as in cases of amnesty) are two very different things, and cannot be discussed as one entity. Just as a murder criminal repents and receives Christ while in jail so that his sins are forgiven, this criminal cannot escape his legal punishment because he now believes in Christ. However, I do believe that this criminal, who will still be submitted to a death sentence, will be reborn in Christ and escape the fires of hell.
In fact, unconditional forgiveness frees the victim from his/her relationship with the enemy. Just as Jesus says: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
When a victim chooses to unconditionally forgive the enemy, that does not affect the enemy’s relationship with God, and thus, if the enemy chooses not to confess and repent, he/she still cannot escape God’s judgment. This is an unalterable truth. Besides, if the enemy breaks the law, he/she must face the reality of bearing legal responsibilities, a reality that even the victim’s unconditional forgiveness cannot change.
Thus, a victim’s unconditional forgiveness towards the enemy liberates one’s life from the bondage of sinning by not forgiving, which is a bondage more bitter than poison. In other words, those who unconditionally forgive are the ones who benefit.
Pastor Edward further emphasized that the forgiveness in Christianity is unconditional, because the love and forgiveness Jesus gave on the cross is unconditional, and all those Christians saved by Jesus Christ are the beneficiaries of unconditional forgiveness. He deems those who disagree with unconditional forgiveness “not possessing a life of Christ”.
R: You mentioned previously that every living Christian should practice Chai Ling's unconditional forgiveness. In other words, every Christian who possesses the life of Jesus Christ should therefore love and forgive unconditionally?
P: Yes, a Christian who possesses the life of Jesus should forgive unconditionally. If a Christian cannot forgive his/her enemy unconditionally, then it is because of one of two reasons: this Christian is weak, or this Christian does not possess the life of Christ.
Unconditional forgiveness stems from the reliance on God and the light of the Holy Spirit, and not from man's own accord. Therefore, from this perspective, Chai Ling's unconditional forgiveness is fully the work of the Holy Spirit, and should be recognized by Christians.
As for those Christians who accuse Chai Ling and disagree with unconditional forgiveness, I wish to ask them: "Based on what do you think you are worthy of Jesus's sacrifice for you with his blood on the cross? Did Jesus shed his blood for the sins of man because of man's confession and repentance?" Of course not! God first loved us and forgave us. Do not forget, Jesus's love and forgiveness for us on the cross are unconditional.
The first question that Christians involved in the June 4th event must face: should we forgive the late Deng Xiaoping?
R: Many people consider Deng Xiaoping as the lead criminal in the June 4th massacre. If so, when considering Deng Xiaoping who had passed away for many years due to sickness, should those Christians involved in the June 4th event forgive unconditionally like Chai Ling, or should they remain uneasy for the rest of their lives? Or should they wait until vengeance has been realized to obtain their resolve? To me, if forgiveness is conditional, then these Christians will never forgive Deng Xiaoping, for he has already passed away, and there will be no opportunities for him to confess or repent, or ask for forgiveness of his sins.
P: According to Chai Ling's theory of unconditional forgiveness, they should forgive not only Deng Xiaoping, but all the leaders and the People's Liberation Army who were involved in the June 4th event. Otherwise, their hearts will be poisoned by vengeance, which will become a big burden that distresses their hearts. When the early church received persecution from the Jews and the Roman government, and when Stephen, Jacob the Apostle, and many Christians sacrificed their lives, did the Christians then act similarly to today's Christians in the June 4th event to accuse or oppose the government? I do not see this described in the New Testament.
The second question that Christians involved in the June 4th event must face: should we pray for the repentance of the living criminals involved in the June 4th event?
R: The pro-democracy Christians and those involved in the June 4th event have actively avoided one question that most people have not addressed, and that is do they pray for the still living criminals who were involved in the June 4th event? As far as I know, the contents of their prayers are for God to exercise his justice on earth, to give sound judgment to those who sin, and not for God to help them repent and return to God.
P: Jesus encourages Christians in the sermon of the mount (Matthew 5:44) to love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute them, now what is the content of this prayer? When Paul prayed for Timothy to be their leader, what was the content of his prayers? Did they pray for God to exercise his justice towards the enemies? Not once in the New Testament were these prayers aimed towards God exercising his justice towards the enemies. Matthew 5:45 says, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Why does the just God not judge the sinners immediately, but instead give them sunlight and rain? As 2 Peter 3:9 states, "he is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." Therefore, Christians should pray for the sinners and criminals, for them to repent and return to God soon, and to respect and trust God while walking the path that God has in mind. This is the highest level of faith in Christianity.
As mentioned previously, Jesus on the cross, Stephen, and Paul all prayed for God to forgive those who persecuted them. Paul, in hopes of saving the souls of the Jews and those who persecuted him, would rather himself be cursed and cut off from Christ. Can today's Christians who were involved in the June 4th event be like Paul, and pray for "their people" who have persecuted them?
The path of death: Deny unconditional forgiveness.
The path of life: Pray to God for a heart to forgive the enemies.
R: How can these Christians and missionaries who were in the midst of the June 4th massacre receive freedom and resolve from this blood-stained event?
P: Pray to God for a heart to forgive these criminals, which they cannot do in their own power, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit which touches people's hearts. If they still feel uneasy towards the criminals, they will forever be trapped within the chains of vengeance and bitterness. I think that Chai Ling has fully escaped from vengeance and bitterness.
In the sermon of the mount (Matthew 5:48), Jesus encourages the believers to " be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Here, "perfect" means a perfect love, an unconditional love, which includes forgiving your enemies unconditionally, and praying for their repentance and return to God. A Christian must live out this testimony to let man know that we are the children of God. May we encourage each other in this task.
Note: Due to concerns that the Pastor holds for his colleagues in mainland China, this interview has been conducted using an alias.
[Editor's note: Carol Lee translated the article.]