Church Write-Up: Forgiveness (Red Letter Challenge)

I am writing my post about church a little earlier today than usual. The reason is that I will be going to work this afternoon, so I will not be writing the post after my traditional, epic Sunday nap.

The topic today was forgiveness. We are going through the Red Letter Challenge, and that is the topic for today.

Here are some points that were made, followed by my personal reactions.

A. The pastor said that people like to blame others and to rationalize their own sins. They may say that they have a bad habit and have had it for years, so they cannot do anything about it.

B. Jesus in John 7:53-8:11 told the woman caught in adultery, after he refused to condemn her, to go and sin no more. Was it possible for her to obey that command? Of course she sinned after that, as do all of us! The pastor said that Jesus meant that she should not allow herself to become enslaved to sin: that she should not serve sin as her master.

C. Zack Zehnder said in the Sunday school video that ninety percent of people questioned in a poll said that it was harder for them to forgive themselves than to forgive others. Someone in class remarked that, with others, we can simply forget about the sin and move on. We can still be friendly to the person. With ourselves, though, we live with our guilt and our feeling that we do not deserve to be forgiven.

D. Part of the Lord’s Prayer is “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Does that mean that God forgives us in the exact manner that we forgive others? The teacher said, “I hope not, for my own sake!” Someone in class differentiated between how God forgives and how people forgive. God can forget the sins, whereas people remember them.

E. Someone in class read from her study Bible that one who refuses to forgive others turns away from God’s forgiveness. What I heard her to be saying was that, when I say that someone else does not deserve forgiveness from God, I am indicting myself, since I, too, do not deserve forgiveness. Better to say that both of us are forgiven! What her note seemed to be suggesting, though, is that people who refuse to forgive are resisting God’s empowering of them to forgive others.

F. Jesus in Luke 19:1-10 greeted and offered to fellowship with the hated tax collector Zacchaeus. Then Zacchaeus repented by offering to repay those whom he defrauded and to give to the poor. People said that forgiveness is what led to repentance, not vice versa. Maybe, but it is noteworthy that Jesus pronounced salvation to come to Zacchaeus’s house after Zacchaeus repented. Another point that was made in class was that God’s presence in Zacchaeus’s life would influence him to make changes.

G. The pastor’s wife works with the hearing-impaired, and she shared the sign for forgiveness. It is essentially sweeping one’s hands: getting rid of the transgression, such that it is no longer there.

H. Zack Zehnder defines forgiveness as “to let go of something and give it to God because you believe He will enact justice better than you could.” Sounds rather punitive.

I. People in class talked about whether they could forgive a murderer. Someone then said that it would not be his place, since he was not a victim of the murderer.

J. The class talked about Simon Wiesenthal, a Nazi hunter who forgave a Nazi who sought forgiveness on his deathbed. Twenty-eight authors said forgiveness, in that case, was impossible. Sixteen said it was. Nine replied that they were unsure. A pastor in class said that the Nazi needed to hear those words of grace and forgiveness. The proper option would be to take the issue to the cross, but Wiesenthal likely did not have that resource, as a non-Christian.

Now for some of my personal reflections:

A. I stumble over the whole issue of forgiveness. During the “confession” part of the service, I do not know what to confess. I realize that I am flawed, but I feel that I cannot help that, and I do not intend to put myself on a perfectionist treadmill on any given week. And, yes, I do have resentment towards others. I can tell myself that I am wrong on that and why I am wrong on that, but the resentment will still be there. What I especially resent is the whole Christian implication that we should all be buddy-buddy. I am not strong enough for that.

B. I think that Jesus’s statement that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others is a cruel passage of Scripture (or passages, since the statement appears more than once). My resentments are petty, but there are plenty of people who have been wronged much worse. To expect them to just move on from that, and to condition God’s forgiveness of them on that, is just cruel. God has a greater ability to forgive than people do, so it is not as if God and people are in the same boat and should be treated as such: in short, I think God should forgive us, even if we fail to forgive others. “But Christians have God living inside of them, and that gives them the power to forgive.” But I don’t feel anything like that. And I notice that other Christians get hurt feelings, too, and may not move on from them. “But they are not real Christians,” I can hear Christians say. Congratulations—-now I hate you, too!

C. Some define forgiveness as not seeking revenge. An atheist relative of mine responded, “But how can you get revenge?” Seriously, it is not as if I will kill anyone who makes me mad. That is against the law. Does that mean I am forgiving them? If that is the case, then lots of people, Christian and non-Christians, are forgiving people, and the bar for forgiveness is rather low. I remember Tim Keller defining forgiveness as, in part, not savaging people’s reputations behind their backs. That is probably part of it. I still wonder if that falls short of what forgiveness is, in some manner.

D. I am thankful for the times when people have forgiven me. I have said hurtful things, and I am glad that they, at least outwardly, moved on from that and treat me with respect and kindness. Here, though, I am sincerely sorry: it is not guilt that the church tries to manufacture in me through some cliches (“You have offended God far more than others have offended you.”) But I think: what would I do without such forgiveness? In some cases, I really do not give a rat’s ass if someone forgives me. If I tell off some snot and apologize for it, and he does not forgive me, oh well! In some cases, I do care, and I would feel lost if that person would not forgive me. But what if the person chose not to do so?

On that confusing note, my post ends.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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