What If They Didn't Know?
Can we expect God to forgive unbelievers who don't know what they are doing?
January 8, 2001
On the cross, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Can we expect God to forgive unbelievers who "don't know what they're doing"?
—Cindy Osborne, Cross Plains, Tennessee
Jesus' prayer is a petition and a disclosure of his own heart, revealing the depth of his love for humanity. He had taught "love your enemies," and now he revealed love in his own attitude to his crucifiers. The Cross made forgiveness available to the world. However, forgiveness extended may not mean forgiveness received. There must be a willingness to accept it if it is to be ours. The Cross made it possible from God's perspective to extend forgiveness, but the imparting of it must await the readiness of each individual to admit a need of it.
Christ prayed, "[T]hey do not know what they are doing." The Roman soldiers had beaten and mocked him, and even as Jesus spoke these words they "divided up his clothes by casting lots." Yet Jesus understood that they did not know who it was they were killing. He knew they were unaware of their need for salvation, so he interceded for them. A similar scenario took place in Acts 7, when Stephen was martyred. Like his Savior before him, Stephen prayed, "Lay not this sin to their account." But does the Father honor this type of prayer? Can sinful men and women be excused for reason of ignorance?
The Bible tells us that God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked, that he is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). God is long-suffering and determined that men and women would come to faith in him. Thus he patiently continues to work with those who are blinded to his salvation until some arrive at the point where they ...