To err is human; to forgive, divine.
On the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:33).
We are called to forgive as God forgives - to "imitate the divine model".
The Christian theologian Lewis Smedes said, "When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it."
So we are not called to condone evil. We recognise that it is wrong, and we reject it utterly. But our rejection is of the sin itself, and not of the sinner. As St Augustine put it in City of God:
“It is clear, then, that the man who does not live according to man but according to God must be a lover of the good and therefore a hater of evil; since no man is wicked by nature but is wicked only by some defect, a man who lives according to God owes it to the wicked men that his hatred be perfect, so that, neither hating the man because of his corruption nor loving the corruption because of the man, he should hate the sin but love the sinner. For, once the corruption has been cured, then all that is left should be loved and nothing remains to be hated.”
But how does this rejection of the sinful act square with Jesus' exhortation in the Sermon on the Mount to "turn the other cheek"? Well, let's look at what he said in full:
"You have heard how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer no resistance to the wicked. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if someone wishes to go to law with you to get your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone requires you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks you, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.." (Matthew 5.38-41)
Does this passage actually require us to love both the sin and the sinner? Should we just be accepting all the evil in the world, forgiving those who do hurtful things and making no attempt to persuade them to stop?
Many theologians believe that this passage does not require us to stand by and accept evil deeds. They point to the fact that Jesus referred specifically to being struck on the right cheek. For a right-handed person to hit the right cheek of a person facing them, they would have to strike with the back of their hand. This was considered in the Jewish society of the time to be a supreme insult.
Thus, Jesus' message is not necessarily that we should accept all the evil in the world, but simply that we should not retaliate when insulted or slandered. This passage follows the words:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)
So, we should not retaliate when insulted - in modern language, we should not stoop to the level of the other person. To do so is to invite anger and bitterness into our hearts. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that we should simply lie down and accept all the evil that is being done in the world. Nor should we remain silent.
But the person who has sinned is made in God's image, is one of the people Jesus lived and died for, and is someone we are called upon to forgive. As God forgives us, so we must forgive others.