Showing posts with label Forgiveness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Forgiveness. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

When You Can’t Step Down

The secular world doesn’t require moral authority to lead. It helps, sure, but it’s not a stopper if you can’t manage to project it; more of a “nice to have”, really. Luck, slickness, charisma, raw power, a media propaganda machine, a dad with name recognition, or some combination thereof will generally get you into a leadership position even if you’re otherwise horribly unqualified.

Ask Mr. Biden if you doubt that one. If soundness of mind and coherent speech are not obligatory to serve as President of the United States, I doubt self-restraint is anywhere near the list.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Qualified to Forgive

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, biblical forgiveness (as discussed in this recent post) is not a state of mind or a particular emotion; rather, forgiveness is a verbal transaction between two parties in which one requests relief from a felt obligation and the other grants it. Letting go of anger, resisting bitterness, and getting over old hurts are simply not the same thing as genuine forgiveness asked for and received.

But there is another aspect to genuine biblical forgiveness worth exploring: it requires that the correct parties show up to the table.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Living Under the Blade

Damocles, R. Westall, 1812

The ancient writer Cicero has an anecdote about a man named Damocles, a boot-licking courtier to the ancient despot Dionysius II. Damocles foolishly thought he’d like to see what it was really like to be a king, and so the king granted his wish.

Damocles quickly settled himself into Dionysius’ luxurious couch and began to enjoy the pleasures of rule — being fanned, having serving maids feed him, issuing commands, and so on. But in order to make the experience truly authentic, Dionysius gave one further order: that above Damocles’ head a shining sword would be suspended by a single horse-hair, so that he might be ever conscious that at any moment it might fall and carve the presumptuous pseudo-king in half.

Of course, Damocles soon begged the king to be allowed to return to his former position.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Anonymous Asks (260)

“What’s the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?”

When translating scripture from one language to another, experts must take into account that no single word in the receptor language may capture the meaning of the original word precisely. In such cases, they may employ a phrase to replace a single word, or else choose the best possible single word approximation.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Crashing and Burning

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

We’ve all seen it, and seen it many times: a Christian in the public eye crashes and burns. He (or she, recently) confesses to the commission of one sin or another, usually an affair of some sort, and follows the confession by taking a time-out from the affected area of service (or leaving it altogether), announcing that the family needs “healing time”, and so on and so forth.

Tom: I bring this up because it’s happened again, IC. I’m not going to mention the name; the details are unimportant and likely unprofitable to pore over. But you and I have discussed the situation a little, and I wondered about your thoughts on how such things should be handled biblically. There aren’t many apostolic scandals recorded for us in the New Testament, are there …

Immanuel Can: No, there aren’t.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Mining the Minors: Micah (21)

Among the religious documents of the world, the Bible is unique in many respects. Not the least of these is the assurance it provides to those who believe it. We may better understand the appeal of the worship of YHWH in ancient times when we set it side by side with the worship of other ancient deities.

No other religious experience of that era in human history was framed in terms of relationship. The historians who write about the worship practices of other nations do not even use the word. The pagan invoked “my god” repeatedly, but there was nothing about his religious experience that would assure him the deity he addressed (assuming he or she could even be identified) cared for anything but a peace temporarily negotiated through blood sacrifice and offerings.

YHWH accepted offerings, but he was not like that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Flipping the Switch

I was sixteen, I think, watching a young man in his twenties give his testimony.

It was one of those beauties so full of clichés you might have been forgiven for mistaking it for the creative output of a team of Hollywood screenwriters or perhaps the lyrics to a Bryan Adams song. He had even been a sailor, if you can imagine. I mean, who goes to sea to act out these days? He’d tried the “broken cisterns”, as the old hymn goes, and “Ah, the waters failed.”

Except it seems they tasted pretty good to him at the time.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

The Speed of Science

Do you know where this new term “speed of science” comes from? It showed up in memes a few weeks ago and I had no idea. I had never heard it used. Well, I found out today. If you already know, take a bow.

It comes from the answer to a question posed in a European Parliamentary hearing. Dutch MEP Rob Roos asked Pfizer’s Director of International Developed Markets whether Pfizer tested or studied transmissibility before releasing their version of the COVID vaccine to market.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Five Brief Thoughts About Forgiveness

I find it is all but impossible to exhaust the Lord’s parables. There are always more principles to learn from them and new ways they might legitimately be applied. So don’t mistake the following for an attempt to fully exposit Matthew 18:21-35. I am just nibbling around the edges.

What I do find useful is to work my way through the parable eliminating the obvious. Once that is done, I can give slightly-less-confused consideration to the possibilities that remain.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Commentariat Speaks (25)

The White House recently announced a debt relief program for lower income students who are having difficulty repaying government loans taken to obtain their college degrees. Qualifying debtors may be forgiven up to $20,000 in unpaid student loans, and undergraduates may have their monthly loan repayments cut in half. Higher income college graduates will not qualify for debt relief.

I was surprised to find many Christians opposed to this move.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Should I Go to Confession?

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Whenever some people hear the words “confess” or “confession”, they think of what is encouraged in some churches — regular visits to an appointed location to unload any sense of guilt. It is an example of understanding a word, verse or promise in the light of common practice, then supposing the scriptures support that human tradition.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Anonymous Asks (194)

“How can I learn to forgive myself?”

Mark 2 tells the story of a paralyzed man whose friends brought him to Jesus in hope that he would be healed. Mark records that Jesus saw their faith and responded to it by telling the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” A number of Jewish religious leaders witnessed the interaction and took offense at it. Their objection was that only God can forgive sins.

Sadly, the scribes missed the point, which was that they were at that very moment in the presence of God himself. But their objection was technically correct: only God can forgive sins.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Forgive Us, But …

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

In Islam, the word tawbah refers to the process of asking Allah for forgiveness. The ritual is comprised of three stages:

  • Recognizing your sins and mistakes;
  • Feeling ashamed to having violated Allah’s trust;
  • Making a promise to never repeat the mistake.

Western culture, on the other hand, has largely dispensed with the practice of seeking forgiveness, not least because a public confession of wrongdoing may create liability issues. So you get bafflegab like, “I regret if anyone was offended by ...” instead of a sincere apology.

Tom: Immanuel Can, can you recall the last time someone unsaved asked you to forgive them?

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

A Zero Sum Game

“Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”

“Outwitted” is a translation of the Greek pleonekteō, which is closely related to another word that English translators consistently render as “covet”. So pleonekteō doesn’t really have all that much to do with wits or intelligence at all. Rather, it refers to a situation we may aptly describe with the phrase “zero sum game”.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Anonymous Asks (143)

“If Christians are forgiven, and they know they will be forgiven no matter what they do, why should they refrain from doing evil?”

Jesus warned his disciples from the very beginning of his ministry on earth to expect that there would be counterfeits among their number. The apostle John writes about what happened when Jesus began to perform miracles in Jerusalem at the Passover. He says, “Many believed in his name.” Then he adds this: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” Some of these “believers” were not genuine in their desire to associate themselves with him, and would later fall away.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Forgive or Die

“I can’t forgive him,” the young man told his counselor.

Understandable, I think. I don’t know all the details, but it seems the speaker has been quite horribly mistreated and cannot bring himself to feel forgiving toward the person who has hurt him so badly. He simply can’t let it go.

More significant is the young man’s concern for his own soul, since he has read the very words of the Lord Jesus himself and has concluded that if he cannot feel forgiveness toward this individual who has had such a negative effect on his life, then he cannot be saved.

And “forgive or die” is a pretty scary ultimatum to face when your feelings won’t play along with what your Christian friends are telling you is the right thing to do.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

I Am the One

“I am the one you warned me of
  I am the one who’d never, never lie.”
— Blue Oyster Cult, 1988

Not my favorite band, for sure — but I do admire their theology.

At least in this instance.

So often we begin by thinking that evil, if it exists at all, is a thing “out there”. It’s in the world somewhere, not inside me. Me, I’m pretty good. Not perfect, maybe. But not so bad that God can’t overlook the difference (that is, if he’s really loving) and accept me as spot-on.

Then we live for a bit.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Anonymous Asks (101)

“If all my sins are forgiven, why do I need to stop sinning?”

The New Testament gives us a fair bit of insight into what forgiven people look and act like. Jesus once told a paralyzed man, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” The expression he used means something like “Cheer up!” That might be a little difficult for most paralyzed people.

But it gives us an idea what Jesus saw as the higher priority, and what is most important in life. If we had to choose between our health and being forgiven our sins, we would be immeasurably better off sick and forgiven than to be healthy and remain guilty in the eyes of God.

Forgiveness matters.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Haunting of the Past


Ah, that most New York-ese of all New York expressions!

There are things you can sort out, and things you can’t. Go back and fix your mistakes if you can; but if you can’t, there’s only one thing you can do.

Learn how to forget about it.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Living Under the Blade

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Anonymous Asks (51)

“How do I deal with people in my life who have hurt me deeply?”

On one level this question is almost too basic. The weakest, newest Christians have heard “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Even raw pagans know we Christians believe that.

Thus if we try to deal with the question as written, the correct answer is a single word: love. That doesn’t make for much of a blog post.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Mopping Up the Mess

Kate’s husband Sam cheated on her. For just shy of three years. One night, confronted with Kate’s suspicions, he breaks down in tears, blurts out the truth and begs for Kate’s forgiveness. He abruptly terminates his illicit relationship, confesses his infidelity to the elders of their church, and resigns from his responsibilities teaching Sunday School and administering the church’s financial affairs. Several months later, Sam is living in a motel while he and Kate go through marriage counselling.

Kate knows she is responsible to God to forgive her husband, and she is working hard at that. Her question is whether forgiving Sam means she must take him back, not just as partner in life but as her spiritual head. Several of Kate’s church friends have strong opinions about this. They insist she should do it, and do it as soon as possible.

They say she has not truly forgiven Sam if she won’t take him back.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Cheap Contrition and Hardened Hearts

“Rend your hearts and not your garments.”

There is a vast difference between the public displays of remorse we so regularly see in the media and actual repentance. The former is purely external and serves the purpose of notifying one’s community that the party subject to censure acknowledges his faux pas and hopes for a quick end to the unpleasantness of public disapproval so he can return to his former way of doing business as expeditiously as possible.

The latter is a matter of the heart before God.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Misconceptions About Christian Forgiveness

From Psychology Today, on the subject of forgiveness:

“Most psychologists recommend mustering up genuine compassion for those who have wronged us and moving on from the past, instead of allowing bitterness and anger toward others to eat away at us.”

Read that quote carefully and consider: is that the way you think about forgiveness? Would you conclude forgiveness is complete when the person who has been wronged is finally able to feel the prescribed emotions about their victimizer?

If so, what happens if despite best efforts you are unable to “muster up” the appropriate emotions? What if your feelings absolutely refuse to play along?

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Forgiveness: This Age or the Age to Come?

“And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Whew. Okay. I’m not going to talk about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit today. I have something else in mind entirely.

So here goes. There are two spheres in which God’s forgiveness operates: “this age” and the “age to come”. That’s a pretty important distinction for you and me to be able to make when we read our New Testaments, otherwise very likely we’re going to be doing a fair bit of squirming about our own personal situations.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Conditional Forgiveness in Matthew

Can we be saved if we refuse to forgive someone? Rose says:

“No, we cannot. The Bible tells us that unless we forgive, including ourselves, we cannot be forgiven in the Kingdom of Heaven, through Our Heavenly Father.

Forgiving is not to condone someone who has wronged us, but for our own salvation, so that we may be forgiven, saved.”

Now, this is certainly a response we might expect to hear from a young Christian (the “including ourselves” is a bit of a giveaway; our alleged moral obligation to forgive ourselves is a relatively recent fiction), but it’s not really the sort of answer you’d expect to find in an evangelical Bible commentary.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Big Cover-Up

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

The word “covers” is in Greek kalyptō, meaning to “veil or hinder knowledge”. Absent the rest of scripture to balance it, a literal reading could easily be taken to suggest that the loving thing to do when we hear about someone else’s sin is to bury it deep and keep it from coming to light.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How Occasional is Occasional?

I have a Christian acquaintance of many years who is morbidly obese at the very high end of the spectrum. No quasi-medical justification (hormones, glands, depression, etc.) can fully account for her inability to lose weight. While there are certainly other factors involved, one is surely the consumption of large quantities of superfluous calories.

It is well established in scripture that gluttony is a sin, like any other out-of-control behavior. While obesity and gluttony are not synonymous (one can be thin and voraciously gluttonous), it is hard to argue that the inability to say no is normal, healthy Christian behavior.

My simple question: is she saved?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Crashing and Burning

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

On the Mount (20)

The reciprocity principle is not a new thing. It’s said to be found in some form in nearly every religion.

Perhaps the earliest written formulation occurs in the Egyptian story of The Eloquent Peasant. “Do to the doer to make him do,” the god Maat is supposed to have said, which has been generally interpreted to mean something not wildly dissimilar to the so-called Golden Rule (though we can hardly overlook the obvious self-interest in the Egyptian version). The story predates the Law of Moses, in which Israel was commanded to love their neighbors as themselves, by a couple hundred years.

Ah well, all truth is God’s truth, as the saying goes. In any case, ancient Egyptian wisdom is not circulating the way it used to.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

I am the One

 The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Forgiven and Forgotten?

A couple of fairly old quotes raise important issues about forgiveness:

“The confession should be real and full, and at once forgiveness and cleansing follow, though not often realised to the full at once. David was forgiven the instant he confessed his sin in the presence of Nathan, but later he wrote the 51st Psalm.”

“David confessed his sin and was straightway forgiven, but the Lord dealt with him governmentally in three ways: ‘the sword would never depart from his house,’ the child would die, and he would receive the same treatment he had meted out to others (2 Sam. 12). So that though sins are forgiven and forgotten in one sense, they are not in another.”

— William Hoste, Bible Problems and Answers (1957)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Quote of the Day (38)

Moira Greyland on being raised by sexually abusive parents:

“I understand why it feels so hollow to forgive: I have no problem at all with never even getting mad at what they did to me. My response is frozen in time. I cannot even begin to forgive them for what they did to other people, which is why I was able to take action against them when a child was in danger.”

Walter Breen, Greyland’s father, died in a California prison at the age of 64. He was there because of his daughter’s testimony.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Above Our Pay Grade

David, doing a Q&A in Psalm 15:

Q: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”

A: “[He] in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord.”

That’s interesting, don’t you think?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Haunting of the Past

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Let’s Just Back That Up A Step

From the Department of Missing the Obvious: I appear to have missed the obvious, and for most of my life. Funny how that works.

The more seasoned believers who read and comment here occasionally are welcome to have a giggle at my expense, though I know some of you well enough to be sure you’ll be considerably more gracious.

This is how the Christian life goes, right? So I throw this out there for any who are as thick as I am, which may well be nobody.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Christian Confession: An Elaborate Fabrication?

Is it really necessary for Christians to confess our sins in order to be forgiven them?

Peter Ditzel says no, that being forgiven for the sins we commit from time to time as believers does not depend on regular confession. That, he says, would be working for our forgiveness.

He is also not a fan of John MacArthur’s take on 1 John 1, which draws a distinction between judicial and parental forgiveness that Ditzel thinks is an “elaborate fabrication”. He sees the ongoing search for MacArthur’s “parental forgiveness” as a Protestant form of penance.

The judicial/parental distinction probably did not originate with MacArthur. I’ve been hearing it my whole life. It is a very common explanation of what the apostle John has to say about forgiveness.

But is it correct?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Much Does It Have To Hurt?

So ... how much do you need to hurt before God will forgive you?

It’s a good question. I have a friend who holds himself responsible for a tragedy that occurred a few years ago. I’m not even sure he’s actually guilty of the sin he believes he committed: when others make choices so fast you don’t have time to think of how to respond until it’s too late, how much responsibility is yours and how much is theirs?

The Lord knows. I wouldn’t dare guess.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Living Under the Blade

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Just Another Bump in the Roe

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Next! Move ’em on through!
Norma Leah McCorvey died February 18, and unless you happened across this article in The Economist or something like it in one of the few other well-known publications that referenced her passing, you might not have the slightest idea that Norma was the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade, probably the most significant U.S. Supreme Court ruling of the last century.

Tom: You also might not know that by the time the Supremes actually ruled on her case, the baby Norma McCorvey went to court to get the State’s permission to murder in her own womb was 2-1/2 years old and had been adopted. That’s the legal system for you.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Forgive Us, But …

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Impatient Over Their Misery

Okay, so your sin is impressive.

At least, I’m sure it seems gigantic and unforgivable to you. And since the awareness of the magnitude of sin in our lives, its toxic effects on others around us and its absolute repulsiveness to God is a necessary step in turning away from it, I wouldn’t want to downplay it for you.

Carry on. Be miserable. Have at it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Transgression and Blessing

Perfect? No. But completely restored.
Can my sin be a source of blessing?

That’s not a trick question. There’s no “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” coming, don’t worry.

But it’s a legitimate consideration. A while ago, I exchanged emails with a brother in Christ who was deeply afflicted with guilt over things he had done after coming to know the Lord, and concerned that, given the magnitude of his transgressions, even deeply-felt regret, confession and a changed manner of life might not be acceptable to God.

Obviously good may come from repentance, but you wonder if any good can possibly come from the sin that (eventually) produced it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Lie from the Pits of Hell

Is it Rachab or Rahab? Well, it depends on your English translation of the New Testament, doesn’t it.

For some people, translations are a reason to get into a major snit. For example, this nice Jewish fellow says:

“The common teaching in churches is that Rahab the Harlot is listed in the genealogy of the Messiah. That is a lie from the pits of hell.”

From the pits of hell. Okay, then; that’s pretty serious. Let’s capitalize the word “harlot” too, just so nobody ever forgets where Rahab came from.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Flipping the Switch

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How Not To Be Forgiven

Forgiveness is the great equalizer.

In extending Christian forgiveness, we acknowledge our own ongoing sins and failures and accept back those who have sinned against us in the knowledge that we, too, will fail them tomorrow and will go on failing them until the Lord returns.

Forgiveness makes every person my equal and everyone my brother or sister in the only sense that equality can ever be attained on earth and in the only sense that, from a human perspective, really matters.

But some people will not be forgiven.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

I am the One

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Build a New One

So your testimony is blown to smithereens.

It might have been temper. It might have been unchecked desire. Maybe you were seriously provoked. Or maybe you had the bad judgment to get involved with dishonest business partners and let things slide rather than stand up. You look back on it and say, “How did I miss that?” or “I should’ve known that was over the line”. It might be something in which you were minimally at fault but — as they say in politics these days — the optics are terrible.

The point is, you did something no Christian should do, and it’s gone really, really public.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Living Under the Blade

The most current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Forgive or Die

The most recent version of this post is available here.