Stanley D. Gale. Finding Forgiveness: Discovering the Healing Power of the Gospel. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016. See here to buy the book.
Stanley D. Gale pastors the Reformed Presbyterian Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania. His book, Finding Forgiveness, defines forgiveness and interacts with difficult questions surrounding it.
Here are some thoughts:
A. The book offered helpful insights about forgiveness. Two in particular come to mind. First, Gale used the analogy of his son having a piece of pork on his cheek. Gale and his wife listened to their son as he was talking about something serious, but they were trying not to laugh at the pork on his cheek! Similarly, Gale argued, forgiveness may entail interacting with an offender, without thinking about his or her offense while doing so. That is an important point: Do I see people primarily in reference to their offenses against me? Second, Gale said that the process of forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation is two people sitting on the same side of the table, looking at the offense. Both the offender and the victim agree that the offense was wrong, and they are trying to do something about it. Both concepts painted a picture of forgiveness, clarifying what forgiveness is.
B. Gale makes clear that forgiveness is not necessarily forgetting an offense or being gullible. Gale would have strengthened this point had he provided Scriptural references to support it. Yvonne Ortega did so in a book that she wrote about forgiveness, entitled Moving from Broken to Beautiful through Forgiveness (Salem: Trinity Press International, 2016).
C. In Matthew 18:21-35, there is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. A king forgives the debt of a servant who owed him lots of money, the servant turns around and refuses to forgive someone who owed him a small amount of money, then the king retracts his forgiveness of that servant. Gale asks if this teaches that God will take away the salvation of a person who refuses to forgive. Gale rests on the answer that, if a person refuses to forgive, then that may indicate that he or she has never been truly saved in the first place. The problem with this, however, is that the parable states that the servant had been forgiven of his debts, before the forgiveness was rescinded. That means the servant had been saved, right?
D. Related to (C.), Gale does well to stress that we should not immediately jump to the conclusion that a person who refuses to forgive is not truly saved. Rather, he says that it is a possibility to consider. This reflects the book’s compassionate and a pastoral tone, one that recognizes how difficult forgiveness can be; for Gale, one needs God’s help in order to forgive. It also highlights the importance of reflection in trying to forgive, as people think about why they find forgiveness to be so difficult, while meditating on God’s mercy towards them. That theme recurs in Gale’s book.
E. Gale quotes Charles Spurgeon’s troubling statement that “Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord’s prayer.” After all, the Lord’s prayer states, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). That is a difficult statement, and I have sometimes thought of excluding it from my own recitation of the Lord’s Prayer! But I have kept it in because I can use the daily reminder that I need forgiveness from God for my sins, and that I need to forgive others. I hope I am not reading my own death warrant in doing so! In any case, Gale’s inclusion of that Spurgeon quote did provoke thought, on my part.
F. There were cases in which Gale was telling a compelling story or addressing a compelling question, but his conclusion was rather lackluster. Two examples come to mind. First, Gale told his conversion story: he went to church for a long time and failed to understand the Gospel’s relevance to his own life, but then, due to God’s effectual grace, he came to understand it and was saved! I could understand his pre-conversion narrative, but he could have given the reader more details about what led him towards salvation: what insights or experiences did God use to enlighten his heart? Second, Gale was interacting with Jesus’ difficult statement in Luke 17:4 that, if a brother sins against us seven times a day and says to us “I repent,” we are to forgive that brother. Gale asks a very good question: if the brother is sinning against us seven times a day, does that indicate that this brother is not truly repentant? Should we forgive that brother if that is the case? Gale lands on the answer that we should be open to reconciliation. That may be a sensible resolution, on some level, but I was hoping for a little more after all that wrestling!
G. If you are looking for comprehensive OSHA-like regulations on forgiveness, then this book may be somewhat of a disappointment to you. Allow me to illustrate. You want to get forgiveness right, because God won’t forgive you if you don’t forgive others (Matthew 16:14-15); you don’t want to read your own death warrant when you recite the Lord’s Prayer, as Spurgeon said! Okay, Jesus says that, if our brother sins against us, we are to go to him and rebuke him (Luke 17:3). All the time? Should we rebuke someone every time our feelings are hurt? Could that make matters worse? What about Proverbs 9:8, which advises against rebuking a scorner? Gale does not mention this verse, but is it relevant? Gale does say, though, that we can forgive a person apart from rebuking that person or that person repenting, but his hope is that such unilateral forgiveness will set the stage for reconciliation, if God provides the opportunity. If God provides the opportunity? Aren’t we supposed to “go” rebuke that person, as Jesus says, which seems to be different from waiting for God to provide an opportunity? And do we have to spend a lot of time with that person as a friend, after “reconciliation”? On the one hand, Gale says that we should not be “hardened” and “standoffish” (page 77). On the other hand, Gale says that Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies does not mean that we have to be buddy-buddy with them, but rather that we are to “treat fellow sinners as image bearers of God rather than as objects of our disdain (see Luke 6:27-36)” (pages 85-86).
I’ll be candid: part of my concern may be a desire on my part for some sort of loophole to the requirement to forgive others. At the same time, I do think that the book would have been better had Gale explored more nuances, thorny issues, or possible exceptions to the rule. And yet, I still should give honor to whom honor is do: I applaud Gale for the wrestling with issues that he does do in this book, as well as the helpful insights that he presents, including those that I mention in (G.).
I received a complimentary book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews. My review is honest!