Thursday, June 23, 2005

To Forgive Or Not to Forgive?

Had an incredibly interesting number of days since last entry. Ever the controversialist I have begun reading the "Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown last night. I've read all the "anti" stuff on it by theologians left right and centre. My former pastor Dr Stanley Jebb used to say that the "Unexamined opinion is hardly worth holding". Therefore I see no merit in reading the "Anti" stuff without reading "The" stuff. As with Harry Potter, I am absolutely gripped - WHAT a great book!! I'll wait till I finish it before writing my thoughts and conclusions.

Now concerning forgiveness ... about 3 months ago the church that I used to attend behaved in what I considered to be an unbiblical way - smacking somewhat of "heavy shepherding". I will be writing a full account at some point. So in trying to deal with that, I read R T Kendall's "Total Forgiveness". He argues very strongly for the implications of the title ... "You must let them go". However I was reading the excellent unpublished commentary on Ephesians by Dr Sam Storms and he had some very useful "Myths about Forgiveness" that I don't think Kendall covered. Here they are:

From: - downloaded this date.

* Forgiveness is not forgetting. Why Because: (a) God does not forget, notwithstanding what you think Jer. 31:34 is saying. This is a metaphor, a word picture, designed to emphasize God's gracious determination not to hold us liable for our sins. (b) It is intellectually and mentally impossible to forget. Try to forget and you can be assured you will remember! (c) It is experientially devastating. Once having successfully 'forgotten an offense, any occasion that provokes the memory of it can lead to guilt and shame and depression for having failed so miserably to forget. One becomes unwilling ever to forgive, knowing that they will in all likelihood remember.

* Forgiveness does not entail the absence of feeling pain. (a) The only way to stop hurting is to stop feeling and the only way to stop feeling is to die emotionally. (b) This myth is one of the primary reasons people refuse to forgive. They know they can't stop feeling the sting of the sin and they don't want to be hypocrites.

* Forgiveness does not mean you cease longing for justice. Vengeance is not a bad thing. If it were, God would be guilty of a sin (see Rom. 12:19). It's simply that He's better at it than we are. Leave it to Him. Forgiveness does not mean you ignore that a wrong was done or deny that sin was committed. It simply means you decide to let God be the avenger. One reason people refuse to forgive is that they believe to do so would be to minimize the offense . . . . 'and that's not fair!

* Forgiveness does not mean you make it easy for the offender to hurt you again. He or she may hurt you again. That is their choice. But you must set boundaries on your relationship with them. True love never aids and abets the sin of another. True forgiveness is not incompatible with holding a person accountable for their actions and calling them to repent. Forgiveness does not mean you become a doormat for someone else's sin.

* Forgiveness is rarely a one-time, climactic event. It is often a life-long process. It may well begin with an act, but it often requires reaffirmation.

Got into an interesting "text debate" with my father about it. I texted the points and he obviously knew I was referring to the church leaders in question ... the drift of my father's argument went as follows ... because God is sovereign, He allowed the "sincere but misguided church leaders" (his words) to do what they did - therefore their actions can be excused. I had to disagree - strongly. My concerns are as follows:

1. Does God's sovereignity allow human responsibility off the hook? Consider Romans 9. God used the Babylonians to execute judgement on the Israelites - yet still judged them for their wrongdoing. Just because He is sovereign does not mean we can behave as we like and get away with it.

2. Does "sincere" excuse anything? Hitler was sincere! Virtually everyone who makes mistakes and does stupid things are sincere! Yet does that negate responsibility?

I think Storm's "Myths" brought a very useful counterbalance to Kendall's words. Forgiveness is something we must do - because the Lord commanded it. Yet forgiveness does not mean that we lay down and become wet blankets for arrogant church leaders who get a power kick from laying down ultimatums to trample on. God gave us brains and Bibles for a reason!

Rant over ... for today

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