This post has arisen as a result of a discussion held a few weeks ago on another blog, and also various personal attacks on Dan. A number of us (including Dan, Julie and Lydia and Don) have been thinking about the whole question of forgiveness. Dan has shared something in the past of a terrible experience as a member of a previous church. He has been told this: "You need to forgive, forget, move on and just get over it."
It has taken me longer to finish this post than I had planned, but here goes:
I want to ask the question - is it right to say to another believer "just get over it?" Is that the essence of forgiveness, or is it an over-simplification.
In our men's fellowship last month someone asked the question - "Should Christians always forgive AND forget?" The reason for the question was because in our church Sunday School one the kids had asked the question about bullying. Should a child who is being bullied at school "forgive and forget" even if the bully is continuing to bully the child and other children?
Let me give you some further scenarios:
A young person who is abused by a respected figure, a teacher, a youth leader… Should they “just get over it” and go on as if nothing has happened? Yes, they need the grace of God to release His forgiveness in their hearts, but, no, no they must not “just get over it”. Instead they need to say “this person has done these things” in order to protect others (and protect themselves from future abuse).
A wife being beaten by her husband… Should she “just get over it” and go on living daily with the abuse and putting her life in danger? No!!! Yes, she needs the grace of God to fill her heart with peace and not hold bitterness against her husband, but she needs to get out of the home and report the behaviour of her husband – for her own protection, and for the sake of those who might fall under her husband’s spell.
And those being bullied... Should they “just get over it and forget about it and move on”?? No, no!!! Yes, they need the grace of God to forgive and not hold bitterness in their hearts, and to be freed from fear. But – they must, for their own sake and others, have the courage to report what the bully is doing so that the bully is dealt with.
So what about a person who has suffered wrong in his/her church? Is there a difference? Very often the usual texts are rolled out by the leadership (eg - Heb 13v17: "Obey your leaders and submit to them..."). But where wrong has taken place, isn't it right to share that wrong? If people are being led blindly to submit to the ungodly exercise of leadership, then surely it is right to warn people about the dangers.
Of course it is right to submit godly leadership. It is right to forgive leaders (or any believer) who have hurt or offended you. On many occasions as a pastor I have been blessed to receive people's forgiveness because I have said or done things that have been wrong and hurtful.
Why forgiveness is important
Many old covenant preachers thunder about forgiveness as a legal requirement in order to maintain a person's standing with God. Especially as forgiveness is not easy - it is a hard and painful choice - and the thundering of love and "obey your leaders", when real hurt has been caused, simply piles condemnation on a person already suffering the pain of wrong.
But forgiveness is important. We're reminded "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph 4v32). It is a great call to every believer - to forgive unconditionally. It's not easy! Yet it is also so liberating. Firstly, we are the righteousness of God all the time. So forgiveness is not in order to become righteous, but simply an overflow of the grace of God in our lives. Secondly, because unforgiveness is a terrible burden - it can lead to a root of bitterness that defiles us and others (Heb 12v15).
At the same time, forgiveness is a choice. It is choosing to release your right to vengeance to the Lord - "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" (Rom 12v19). So forgiveness is a choice we make to leave the judgement of a person who has wronged us up to God. It is a difficult choice, because our natural sense of justice, yet to is so freeing to let the person go - we haven't got to demand justice because God is the judge of the whole earth and He will do right.
But grace has taught me something else - the same cross that obliterated my sins has obliterated the sins committed against me. 2 Cor 5v19 - "...in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them..." I had struggled with this verse because my narrow view of reformed theology told me that Christ only died for the sins of the elect. But that isn't what this verse says - it says the world!! See also John 1v29, 1 John 2v2. So the blood which availed for me availed for them too! So, why should I carry the rage, fury and pain for something that has been dealt with on the cross?
All these things are reasons to forgive and helps in the battle for forgiveness. But I thank God that my standing is not because I forgive but because of the cross. We are being sanctified, we are being changed from glory to glory - our condition is changing while our position is unchanged and totally secure in Christ. Whether we forgive or not, while we are dealing with the pain - we are still the righteousness of God in Christ.
What is forgiveness?
But is forgiveness just "getting over it?" Does it require that I forget what has happened?
Hebrews 10v17 says that God will remember our sins no more. But that doesn't mean that God suffers from amnesia. We as finite human beings remember the things we often don't want to remember and forget the things we do want to remember. Yet God, in His infinite power, has the choice to put things away from His thinking about us. He has obliterated our sins in Christ and so deals with us as if we have no sin!! Glory!!!
For us as finite human beings, forgiveness does not necessarily involve forgetting. Forgetting may come after we have forgiven; as the pain heals the memory of what has happened may fade. Forgiveness is rather making the choice to let the issue go and, as I said before, release it to God, even fully aware of the pain of what has happened.
It is a hard choice. It is a choice that you will not hold what a person has done against them; that you will treat them as if they haven't sinned against you, that you will not seek revenge, but you will rather pray for their good and their deliverance.
It is a high, high calling, but there is abundant grace from God for this. It is also a lifetime calling. We let things go, we chose to forgive, but then a passing comment from someone, a stray thought, and the hurt arises again - and we have to make that choice again by the grace of God - "Father, I release this person to you, I forgive them as You have forgiven me. I give to You my hurt and claim my healing."
Forgiveness is a lifestyle – when that anger arises it can be released back to the Lord who does bind up the broken hearted. He wants us totally free of bitterness. For all of us, Dan included, this means there are daily struggles, but I have known Dan as a dear friend for almost ten years; he has shared his life and his struggles with me; I know there are still daily battles to forgive, but I know Dan is committed to walking free from bitterness and revelling in the grace of God.
Forgiving and speaking out
There is grace even to love those people who have led as false shepherds. But, forgiveness does not mean remaining silent. If there are things that are wrong, they need to be spoken about. No, we don’t go around sowing division in the church we have left (and I know Dan has just stayed away), but when we see things that are out of order, when we see the precious gospel being undermined by legalism, when we see heavy shepherding and lives being crushed, then it is right to speak out. It doesn’t mean we are harbouring bitterness, it simply means we are (as Julie reminds us) “not giving in to them even for a moment.”
This blog is not about an angry rant, it is about declaring and defending the glorious gospel. And when Dan (and indeed all of us) speaking out because the glorious gospel being undermined by law so that it is not a gospel at all, then we say, "Dan, preach it brother!!".
You may have noticed that there are other names on this of contributors. Dan asked a number of his trusted brothers and sisters in Christ to become joint-editors of this blog. He would like to be accountable to us for what he writes and would like us to challenge him if he writes anything that is not of the right spirit. Speaking personally, I don't think he needs that and some of the brothers and sisters he asked said "no" for that reason. This blog is Holy Spirit inspired and doesn't need the restrictions of man putting upon it. At the same time, fellowship is good - and it is a joy to have other names on the contributors list so that together we can declare the glorious gospel of new covenant grace and power.
God bless you, Dan. This blog is a light to many, many readers, and I believe that God is going to use it for His glory for many days ahead.