Monday, July 03, 2006

Forgiveness and Loopholes

The most frequently asked questions since my message on Sunday have revolved around situations where some one who harms us has either died or never expressed repentance--what do we do with that?

First, I need to say that I am not unaware or insensitive to the complications and difficulty of forgiveness. That was the point of my final personal illustration. But I deliberately made no effort to address any of the complications swirling around, i.e.

1. Should I forgive someone if they are not repentant?
2. How do I know if someone is repentant?
3. What if a person says he/she repents but continues to give no evidence of repentance and does hurtful things to us?
4. What if the person who hurt me has died--how can I go to him/her and forgive them?
5. Should I forgive someone else because I don't want to be eaten up with bitterness?
6. If I am to forgive people 70 x 7 times (an undefined number of times), how can Jesus and Paul's teaching on rebuke and church discipline be applied in any sensible way?
7. etc., etc.

I stayed away from those things because to have raised them would have muted the brut force of what Jesus said on the issue of forgiveness when Peter raised the issue (Mt. 18:21-35).

Peter asked a question (18:21).
Jesus answered it (18:22),
then illustrated it with a parable (18:23-34)
and drove the point home (18:35).

Our fate will be like the unjust, unforgiving steward if we do not forgive our brother "from the heart" (Gr. apo ton kardion humon, Lit. "from the heart of you").

Jesus was content to let the teaching fall into the ear of his listeners and let the brut and savage finality of forgiveness hang there to probe and penetrate the heart. I wanted to do the same thing. My thinking was that unless we deal with the issue there, in our hearts, some, maybe all of our questions and searching out of the complications of forgiveness might just be a hunt for loop holes designed to insulate our spirit's from the probing intensity of God's word.

So my tactic on Sunday was to try to do what Jesus did to his audience--let the force and power of forgiveness be felt. Let the weight of forgiveness be impressed on our Spirit's. Let the beauty of our forgiveness under Christ hang thick in the air so that we will be driven back to the cross in joy and thanksgiving for the greatness of what we have received and desire to emulate that to others as true followers of Christ. I wanted to help us stop looking for loopholes and start looking for grace to be like Christ.

I think the questions I wrote above have some validity and that the Scripture and experience give us clear direction on them--some of which may surprise us. But those are for another time and another blog.


Dan said...

I appreciate the approach you took to the topic this Sunday. I really felt the force of the parable, and it left me quite emotional for the rest of the day as I contemplated the joyful sacrifice of the cross.

On a side note, I'm still working through John Patton's autobiography, and I'm amazed by his joyful devotion to Christ in the face of incredible persecution. I know that "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" called the Waodoni the most violent tribe, but the Tannese sure give them a run for their money. As I read about all the evil things they did to him, I'm finding it hard to fogive - and this as an outside observer 150 years after the fact! Meanwhile, he endured all things, and rejoiced in all things for the sake of the name of Christ. Amazing.

ChosenRebel said...

The parable of the unjust steward is such a picture of extravagant love and mercy and forgiveness and judgement and, in the end, joy--it should leave us emotional. The Innocent One absorbed our debt and gave us a model to follow. What a savior!

Thanks for taking it to heart. You encourage your pastor's heart.

ChosenRebel said...

P.S. Despite the heat and the packed quarters, I thought the service went well on Sunday. I had a sense that people were tracking with the parable and if more reflect like you have, great things are instore for our community.

Anonymous said...

I don't attend your church and haven't actually heard the sermon, but a good friend of mine who goes to your church has been talking about it with me, since she knows I'm struggling with this issue.

Forgiveness is so hard. I'm looking for the grace to be like Christ -- praying for this grace -- but my heart just doesn't know how to really forgive.

In the spring, we went to visit my dad and his new wife, (who live across the country) who we've met but don't know well, and she completely blasted us with cruel words. As a pregnant woman still adjusting to her parent's divorce and trying to navigate the tricky "step" relationship and explain all of this to my preschool age children, I became an emotional basket case. My children freaked out and we left in a hurry, apologizing to my dad while his wife screamed things like, "Oh grow up!" and "She doesn't really love you!"

Ouch. Five months later, we're still reeling. I am praying for the grace to forgive. Beyond that, I'm wondering about reconciliation. How does this work when someone doesn't ever express remorse? We're having another baby soon. I'm not sure I want to see her at all....but I love my dad and don't want to distance myself from him. Beyond that, I'm trying to follow God and want to do the right thing. My spirit is so unsettled over this issue.

Can you recommend any good books on the subject? Any advice?

Thank you.

ChosenRebel said...

Ouch. I am so sorry for what you and your children had to experience in your last visit with your father. What precipitated such venom from his new wife? I'm sorry too for the grief and sorrow you have over the divorce of your mom and dad. Your whole story, brief as it was raises so many questions in my mind ... I hope you have a home church were you can get the support and counsel that you need through this difficult time.

Let me start with a book recommendation--From Forgiven, to Forgiving by Jay E. Adams. Second, ask your friend at New Song to get you a copy of the CD of the message. It will help give a context for discussion.

Third, this will sound radical, I don't think you have to forgive your stepmother-at least not yet. let me explain. Read my July 6 blog for more.

I will pray for you today.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments. I will pick up that book and a CD of your sermon!

The whole story is long and complicated. What "set her off" was that we suggested going and doing an activity together -- it was a beautiful day in California and our boys had been cooped up in a hotel. She had "other plans" that we didn't know about. She had basically planned the entire day out for us and when we suggested alternative activities, she freaked out. To be fair, she's 59 years old and had never married or had children, so she has no first-hand experience of traveling with young children and the flexibility it involves. Most disturbing to me is how quickly things escalated when they didn't go her way, and her inability to control her temper (especially around the kids). Not to mention the lack of communication that there even WAS a plan for the day...

She was also very critical of my relationship with my dad, who I talk to about once a week. She talks to her mom every day and feels like because I don't talk to my dad every day, I don't love him. This was especially hurtful to me because I do love my dad, and had been trying to give him some "space" as a newlywed and let him set the pace for our contact. (Just as he did when I was a newlywed.)

I could go on and on, but will stop there. I haven't felt comfortable talking with my pastor about any of this stuff because I'm not sure he would really get it, but my husband has been incredibly understanding and supportive. I am more grateful than ever for the good relationship that I have with my husband's family, and the support that they give me. God is good.

Thank you for your prayers and for tackling this tough subject!