Tag Archives: Forgiveness

Do I need to forgive someone right away?

“Do I need to forgive someone right away?”

This question came up during our church’s Q&A after the sermon that Pastor John has been holding. I decided it might be interesting to expand on this in a podcast. Here it is.

Can’t listen to the podcast right away? Here’s the basic outline:

  • We use the term “forgive” in two senses: (1) Stop feeling angry/resentful toward the person who hurt you and (2) Restore the relationship with the person who hurt you.
  • In the first sense, it is possible to immediately give up the right to judge to God, but it may take a while for resentful feelings to go away (and that’s OK).
  • In the second sense, full restoration might not be possible, and even then, the nature of the relationship may need to change.
  • Biblical forgiveness aims towards reconciliation, but it’s possible to live at peace even when new boundaries need to be put up.
  • You can (and should) decide immediately to give up vengeance to God. But, emotional and relational healing take time.

This is obviously just a partial answer, I would love to hear other responses.

What if he repents!? When God’s mercy is more offensive than his judgment

Most people I talk to that are skeptical of God’s character are skeptical of his judgment. They want God to be merciful to everybody, or at least the vast majority of people. They like God so long as he’s “loving” and “gentle” but turn away from descriptions of his wrath. When they say, “God’s not fair”, they mean “he’s not fair in his judgment.”

This past week, though, I spoke to someone who was more offended by his mercy than his judgment. This young woman told me boldly, “I hate a lot of people. I don’t think it’s wrong to hate.” I know this young woman, and I also know that she has been seriously wronged in her life. I could go into details but I won’t. Suffice it to say, from a human perspective, she has every reason to hate at least a couple of the people she hates. From the outside, it’s clear that her hatred is eating her alive, destroying her from the inside, but from her perspective she feels justified.

I attempted to encourage her from Romans 12:17-19. Here we are encouraged to forswear revenge and to seek peace because we can “leave room for God’s wrath.” In other words, wrath isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not ours to wield. We trust God to be the judge because he’s the only possible perfect Judge.

The young woman understood the passage but it didn’t make her feel better. She responded angrily – “but what if he repents?” She understood the mercy of God, but it offended her. She knows that if her enemy repents before God his sins will be forgiven and at the core of her soul she does not want that to happen.

I was immediately reminded of the story of Jonah. He was called by God to preach to Nineveh. Nineveh! Nineveh, at one point in its history, was the capital of the Assyrian empire, an empire that became the bitter enemies of the Israelites. Jonah was told by God to “preach against [the city], because its wickedness has come before me” (Jonah 1:1).

Jonah went in the exact opposite direction. He did not want to preach to Nineveh and it wasn’t just because he feared for his own personal safety. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew something about God. He knew God was merciful. What if they repent? Is God really going to let them off the hook?

God had other plans and brought Jonah to Nineveh against his will. Finally Jonah relented and preached to Nineveh the message God gave him – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” And, almost shockingly, the very next words of Scripture say, “The Ninevites believed God.” They repented. They fasted. They cried out to God. And when God saw them repent he did exactly what a merciful God would do – he relented. He showed compassion on the city. He forgave.

Jonah was angry. This is exactly what he feared would happen.

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3)

This is exactly what this young woman doesn’t want to happen. The possibility of her enemy’s repentance and God’s mercy offends her. I even understand why.

God’s response to Jonah was essentially this: I made this city grow and flourish and I love its inhabitants. I love its people, even in their sin. My wrath was ready to be unleashed but I gave them a chance to repent and they did. Why are you angry with my love?

Maybe God’s mercy offends you. Maybe you’ve been wronged deeply. Jesus gives a tough command – to love our enemies. Part of loving our enemies means being open, and even eager, for God’s merciful response to their repentance. And we can only be open to God’s mercy when we ourselves are captured by his love, his love for the whole world.

“Why is something bad happening to me?”

One of the philosophical objections to Christianity is the “Problem of Evil”. Why does an all-good, all-powerful God allow evil in the world? I noted in a previous post how Jesus’ death and resurrection gives Christianity a unique and powerful answer to that question.

But this question is rarely raised in a philosophical void. The more common question everyday people face is this: Why is something evil happening to me? This question is personal and is best answered in a personal context. I got this question while giving a talk in our After School program, and thankfully it was addressed later in a one-on-one conversation between a leader and a student.

Nevertheless, here are some Biblical answers I might give. My exact answer would depend on the particular situation.

We live in a fallen world. God created the world and declared it good, but when sin entered the world that goodness was broken and corrupted. The general brokenness of the world accounts for lots of things that don’t appear to have an immediate “culprit”. We get sick. A relative gets cancer. A natural disaster strikes. These are all signs of our broken world. Our hope is that God will eventually bring about a world where there is no sickness, death, or sudden disaster.

We also hold out home in this life because we know that God is a master at bringing good out of evil.

God may be using this to help us grow closer to Him. Paul says that he was given a “thorn in his flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. He pleaded with God to remove whatever it was but God didn’t. Instead God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). Through this trial, Paul learned to rely fully on God.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who went through bouts of depression. She told me that during one bout she was able to experience the comfort of God in a unique and powerful way which she is able to return to again and again. Why did God allow her to experience depression? I’m not sure, but he has found a way to redeem at least a part of it for good.

God may be using this to help us grow in character and hope. Paul also tells us that we should “glory in our sufferings,” which is a pretty surprising and counter-intuitive command. We can glory in our sufferings because “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope” (See Rom 5:1-5). Somehow, our temporary comfort is less important to God than our hope and our character.

Last week on Sunday we were blessed by having Pastor Emmanuel from Rwanda speak at our church. He is a man who has undergone much suffering. His family was killed before his eyes during the genocide. He lived as an orphan for much of his teen life. And yet, he is a man of incredible character and hope. And his hope runs deep. Did that genocide break God’s heart? You bet. Do I have any idea why God allowed it? Nope. But I do know that out of it God raised up a man to bring the light of Jesus to Rwanda.

God may be using this to accomplish something beyond ourselves. The story of Joseph in the Bible is a great place to go to look for comfort in our trials. In it we see how God uses terrible circumstance (Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers) to raise up Joseph to a place of power. At the end of the story Joseph says “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). God had a plan for Joseph beyond himself.

God has a bigger plan than we could ever imagine and rarely do we get the same glimpse that Joseph did. But we have the same God that he did. His plans for our lives transcend our own lives. In this life we might not ever see the good that can be brought out of evil, but someone else might.

We may have to ask, is there something in my life that needs to change? In each of the examples above, the individual was not directly responsible for their trial. But, if we’re honest, we must admit that much of the time our suffering is self-inflicted. The guy who looks at porn shouldn’t wonder why his marriage is crumbling. The man who cheats on his taxes shouldn’t blame God when legal trouble comes along. The teenager who is a jerk to her friends shouldn’t be surprised when her friends desert her. This doesn’t mean everything that is bad that happens to us is our fault or that others don’t share blame. But, we are wise to examine ourselves. Lots of bad stuff happens because the world is fallen. Sometimes it happens because we are fallen.

But God is a master at bringing about good in the midst of evil. He beckons us to himself whether our suffering comes from others or is self-inflicted. Just like the prodigal son, when we return to God, he runs to meet us with open arms to heal, forgive, restore, and redeem. 

Five Dangers to your Faith

This past Sunday the sermon was on Hebrews 2:1-4. Check here for a preview. This is a brief (and selective) recap.

There are many dangers, internal and external, to your faith. These five share a common theme: they are each the result of simple neglect.

#1 Forgetting that your sins were forgiven: This is both the cause and result of neglect. Those who do not consistently reflect up the cross and the price paid for their salvation soon become self-righteous (“I was never such a bad person, the cost was not too great”). And the self-righteous rarely make any attempt to grow in grace and virtue (See 2 Peter 1:3-11).

#2 Neglecting God’s word: James 1 describes two kinds of things the grow inside believers: (1) Sinful desire which gives birth to sin which grows up into death and (2) The word of truth which is planted in us and gives us life. Sin comes to us naturally (no outside force required) but the Holy Spirit works through the word – something to which we must look intently… and obey (See James 1:13-25).

#3 Neglecting your mind: Romans 12 admonishes us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The only other option is to be conformed to the patterns of this world. Be careful what comes in. Avoid mind rot. Challenge yourself to learn and think biblically (See Romans 12:1-2).

#4 Settling for a form of religion: It is possible to get so caught up in the practice of religious activity that we forget that we are called to love God and love neighbor. Forgetting our first love (see #1 above) we settle for a shell. Eventually we see the shell for what it is, futility, and either run back to Jesus or give up completely.

#5 Giving up on church: Life in a local church is messy, but life apart from a local church is, for all practical purposes, a life apart from Christ. Where else do you receive the regular ministry of the word, the constant reminder of salvation through Jesus, the opportunity to think through life biblically, and the environment to practice pure religion? (See Hebrews 10:19-25)