“Confessions of a Bad Christian” – Forgive? I don’t wanna…

One of the things that really struck me from the movie “End of the Spear” was that in the Waodani language, there is no word for forgiveness. The concept was so foreign to that culture that no word had ever been coined. In our Christian culture we have the word but we too often lack the ability to apply it. One of the joys of writing these daily ramblings is hearing from readers who are blessed or challenged by something I have written. Occasionally someone takes time out of their busy schedule to tell me I am an idiot. Isn’t it a waste of time to tell an idiot that he is an idiot? How can an idiot comprehend that? But I digress. The communications that are really hard for me are the ones from people who have been wounded by other people in the church or by church leaders. Those break my heart and such messages arrive far too often. Today was such a day.

I wrote a blog this week called  “Boomers get ready…how soon will we be going home?”. The article was based on a mortality calculator developed for baby boomers. You could add up your variables and predict your chances of living for the next four years. But my argument was that no matter how much time we have we should live with a sense of urgency.  Here are a couple of paragraphs from that post.

So how then should we live? Like Paul and Peter and John and the rest of the early followers of Christ. With an air of expectancy that tomorrow (or the rest of today) is not guaranteed. To live with a sense of priority and passion about what really matters. Do you have someone that you want to tell that you love them? Tell them now. Is there a relationship that needs repairing? Repair it now. Someone that you know you have to forgive? Please forgive them now by faith and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Still angry with a parent or sibling? Deal with it now. Have you slipped away from God for some reason? Come back now.

What if I told you that you have exactly one week to live? Write down what you would do and what you would say in those precious seven days. And then start doing those things now. Because no matter how stunning your score might be on the Grim Reaper Index it is no guarantee of anything past this moment. I know that not every recipient of such communications are receptive or even civil. But at the end of the day we are accountable before a Holy God only for our actions. They are accountable for theirs. Do the right thing and trust the rest to Jesus.  

Today I found this response to that post.

I agree that as a follower of Christ we should not be concerned about how many days we have left, we should live each day as though it is our last. My issues to deal with are related to pain inflicted by Christian leaders on trusting and innocent people. How can anyone forgive these people who take advantage of the very ones who they are entrusted to lead, teach, and help? HOW is it possible to forgive a pastor who has deliberately lied, stolen, and strung along an innocent person? Does God really expect us to forgive such people- exploiters who manipulate the word of God in order to trick a trusting person into submission – a pastor who uses a hurting person’s unfounded guilt to his own advantage? And when does accountability come into the equation? And do we have to forgive others when we are not even ASKED for forgiveness?

Dave, is a Christian required to forgive those who have willfully lied, used and abused them with premeditation when no apology was ever offered? If I die today will I go to Hell because I cannot forgive a pastor who caused me and my loved ones excruciating pain and suffering for years? What then is the difference between a Christian and a doormat?

Wow. Anyone out there want to field this one? The message was signed “doormat”. The pain and anger in that message are heartbreaking. There is no way I can address all of the issues raised here in this space. But I did want to offer a few things and hope that this reader finds some comfort. I think that we have generally done a poor job of teaching forgiveness. Here are a few misconceptions that I personally had about forgiveness.  This is from a chapter on forgiveness I wrote about in “Bring’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church”.

  • Forgiveness is not condoning or diminishing the offense. Forgiving a person who has wronged you does not mean they are “off the hook” for any consequences or judgment that may result from their actions. Forgiveness is a personal act of your will that releases the other person from your condemnation. At that point you have been obedient to what Jesus asks of you…the other person is responsible to God for their response. By extending forgiveness you are not saying the offense was insignificant or unimportant. You are saying that you trust God to see that justice is dispensed according to His Holy judgment and timing.

  • Forgiveness is not forgetting. The old forgive and forget admonition was one of the biggest barriers I faced in my journey to learn how to forgive. You know the old mental challenge to not picture an elephant in the room. You can’t do it. Instantly the image pops into your mind. The more I tried to be spiritually mature and try to forgive and forget the more my offender became the “elephant in the room.” That person or event was all I could think of. Over time you will think less and less of the hurt and/or the one who administered same. C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend late in his life. “Dear Mary…Do you know, only a few weeks ago, I realized suddenly that I had at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood. I had been trying to do it for years.” To try to achieve a state of instantaneous forgetfulness is setting yourself up for failure and frustration.

  • Forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Certainly it is a worthy goal to have the gift of forgiveness lead to a restoration of a damaged relationship. But it takes two people to reconcile and you have no control over anyone’s response except your own. The other person may not respond graciously. They may not be ready to accept forgiveness or acknowledge their part or even desire to be reconciled. Again, we have done what is required of us by extending the grace of forgiveness. Reconciliation is not required  to be obedient to the command of Jesus.

  • Forgiveness is an act of the will and is not a response to feelings. We must choose to forgive and trust the Jesus who forgave us to eventually change our feelings. We may not “feel” like forgiveness has transpired. If you decide to wait until you “feel” like forgiving or that the other person must make the first move you will remain spiritually stuck. We have to make the choice and then wait for God to honor the choice.  We make a choice to forgive and then we have faith that the Holy Spirit will reshape our feelings over the course of time. Forgiveness requires choice and faith, just like every miracle that comes from God. 

  • Forgiveness is not ignoring or excusing the offense. There is nothing to forgive if we have not been wronged. Jesus is not asking us to ignore reality. He is asking us to acknowledge how much we have been forgiven and to extend the same courtesy to others. Forgiveness is acknowledging the offense without cover-up or excuse and still choosing to forgive.

  • Forgiveness is not denial of the hurt. Pride will often cause us to “not allow the person who hurt us the satisfaction” of knowing we are wounded. That is absurd. Acknowledge the reality of the injury but make the choice and decision of your will to be healed. 

  • Forgiveness is eliminating revenge as an option. Lewis Smedes makes a brilliant point about revenge. No matter how much we try “we cannot get even; this is the inner fatality of revenge.” When you start trying to get even you have lost. How many times must I gossip about you to get “even” for the hurt you caused me? When is the scale even? Or do I need to have the scale tip a bit toward me to be satisfied? What a self-defeating pursuit that becomes! And the truth proclaimed by Josh Billings is “there is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.”

  • Forgiveness means understanding that hurt is part of the faith tour contract that we signed when we decided to follow Jesus. Author David Stoop notes that, “People choose the Path of Bitterness when they get caught up in trying to understand the reasons for the offense. They think, if only they could understand why the other person did what he or she did, they could get over it
    and let it go.”  I have three words for that approach….does not work.

 The late author Lewis Smedes wrote powerfully about forgiveness. He often spoke of how only forgiveness can “release us from the grip of our history.” We cannot change an abusive upbringing. We cannot alter dysfunctional theological training that denied grace. We cannot simply deny the hurts that have been visited upon us and be spiritually free. Only forgiveness can release us from the grip of these real and historical events.

So I would say this to my wounded brother who wrote the message to me. Yes, I believe you do need to forgive that pastor. But the reason you need to forgive is that Jesus knew that is the only way for you to be fully healed. You have a Savior who understands the pain of betrayal. So I am going to ask you to be selfish and forgive. Say what? I have heard bitterness described as drinking rat poison and hoping the other person dies. The comparison works for me. It is vital to your spiritual well being to forgive this person. When you follow the directive of Jesus and forgive you are free to concentrate on the blessings in your life. Is this easy? Of course not. I believe that forgiveness is the single hardest thing that Jesus asks us to do. But He knows how important forgiveness is for own growth. Will you go to Hell if you die today without forgiving this person? I don’t believe that for a moment. The redemptive act of Jesus on the cross literally has you (and sins past, present, and future) covered. But why would you want to live in anger and distress when Jesus has something better for you? The Apostle Paul’s wrote these words in Colossians.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Col 3  NIV

You and I have been forgiven of much. Thomas Fuller observed that “He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has to be forgiven.”  A
Christian who is not forgiving is a Christian who is not growing. I am going to pray for you to make the choice to forgive. God will do the rest.

May I add that no one who has the courage and maturity to make that choice will ever be called a doormat in my book.