Saturday, August 3, 2013

The forgiveness debate goes on

Hop over to Jean’s blog to read her take on the forgiveness debate. Click through to the comments there to read the response from the author of “Unpacking Forgiveness”.
Here’s my current thinking:
  • A lot of it depends on how you define ‘forgiveness’. For example, do you include those times when you simply overlook a wrong? Not every “wrong” is something that I need to confront the other person with – sometimes I ought to just let it go. In the family context particularly, there are going to be lots of stupid, hurtful things said that my children will never seek forgiveness for that I’m going to forgive them for anyway. That’s not to say I won’t discipline them or point out that their words/actions were wrong. But we all know they won’t always come around to my way of thinking and I will need to forgive and move on especially when they are still young children. 

  • A lot depends on what wrong you are talking about forgiving. Forgiving someone for breaking a simple confidence is a lot different to forgiving someone who has murdered a member of your family. And so when the discussion gets going and one party is thinking about minor faults, and the other is thinking about serious abuse, you get a skewed discussion.

  • The other thing that needs clear defining is what it means to ask for or seek forgiveness. Does the person, for example, need to totally agree with you on what was wrong in order to ask forgiveness? Say Fred and Bob had a disagreement in a meeting and everyone has gotten hot under the collar. Fred believes that Bob purposely blocked his motion in order to be difficult and get his own way. Bob can see that Fred is distressed but believes that he blocked the motion for the right reasons and not for personal gain. Can Bob ask forgiveness for upsetting Fred and seek to restore the relationship without having to agree with Fred that his blocking of the motion was self-motivated? If not, where does that leave them? Fred cannot forgive Bob, because Bob has not asked for forgiveness for selfishly blocking the motion. They can talk it over for a month of Sundays but will never see eye-to-eye on that point. However, Bob doesn’t want animosity between them so Bob wishes to be reconciled to Fred. Does Fred have a responsibility to forgive even though Bob has not asked to be forgiven for the actual thing Fred is cross about?

  •  Both sides of the debate, appeal to the way God forgives us. The forgiveness-is-a-social-contract side say that God only forgives those who repent and so repentance is a key part of forgiveness. The just-forgive side say that God is the one who initiates forgiveness, even before we seek it, and calls us to do the same. I get what is being said on both sides but I think a really, really important point to note is that we are not in the same position as God. God is sinless and just. He does not need to ask anyone’s forgiveness. He is the one who is wronged against. His forgiveness is awesome because he could choose not to forgive anyone and still be totally just. Justice would be on his side. So when he forgives, it is utterly gracious. We, obviously, are not in anything like that position and so the analogy has serious limitations. We both sin against God and each other. We need to ask for God’s forgiveness and we need to ask forgiveness of one another. That puts us in a different position when someone sins against us. We are a guilty but forgiven person who is seeking to forgive someone rather than a never-guilty person volunteering to forgive someone. And I think that means we have a greater duty to forgive others when we reflect on how we have been so freely forgiven. And I’ve been forgiven by God for things I haven’t specifically asked God to forgive me for because I’m such a sinner I don’t even recognize half the mess I’m in.

  • Justice and forgiveness are two different things. And they are not mutually exclusive. I agree that sometimes the push to “forgive and move on” has stupid consequences. Take a hypothetical (but sadly common) scenario in which an older brother is allowed to move back home after it has been uncovered that he has been sexually abusing his younger sister. The desire to “put it all behind them” is so strong that the parents want everyone to forgive and forget about it as quickly as possible. The danger and injustice of it all stinks. It would seem obvious that the situation calls for some ongoing boundaries between the two siblings. You can forgive but still require someone to face just consequences. Sweeping the abuse under the carpet is in effect creating a new wrong.

  • And so, one might argue, that a possible reason why forgiveness and consequences should be viewed as separate is this: some wrongs are of such magnitude that consequences must be enacted or further wrongs will occur. For example, a man murders someone’s brother. After a long and difficult process, the victim’s brother forgives the murderer. Should he then be released from all consequences? No. Because further wrongs would then occur. The removal of consequences in that kind of situation would belittle the victim and deny the magnitude of what was done; this is a form of injustice that is a wrong in itself. Other potential murderers would perhaps be encouraged to believe they could get away with it. The murderer himself, if he has not repented, could commit further crimes. The murderer would also be denied the opportunity to feel the consequences of his wrong and possibly then come to repentance. The wider society, seeing the law as a protector of their freedoms and security, would be wronged by seeing the law failing to prosecute those who had broken the laws and endangered others. And so consequences must follow to avoid these further harms, even if the murderer has been forgiven by some or all of the parties involved. The potential individual forgiveness between the parties involved, does not change the greater duty of those in authority to uphold the rights of victims (both current and potential future victims) to have their wrongs addressed.
I am certainly still chewing this over and so I would love it if you would join in the discussion by leaving a comment.

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...


It is impossible to proclaim a belief in perseverance of the saints, also know as once saved always saved and eternal security, and at the same time declare you are not a Calvinist.

The Calvinistic T.U.L.I.P explained.

T-Total Depravity. Means that sin is in every part of one's being, including the mind and will of man. Therefore men are without free- will. Men are saved by grace alone.

U- Unconditional Election. God predetermines who will be saved and who will spend eternity in hell.

L-Limited Atonement. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was only for the predetermined elect.

I-Irresistible Grace. God selects men to be saved and then forces then to believe in Jesus.

P-Perseverance of the Saints. The people God has chosen for salvation cannot lose their salvation.

Perseverance of the saints is the culmination of the T.U.L.I.P.
Without the first four points of the Calvinistic T.U.L.I.P there cannot be a fifth point.

You either embrace all 5 points of the T.U.L.I.P or none of the points.

Yes, all five T.U.L.I.P points are contrary to Scripture.

T-Total Depravity.
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.(NKJV)

All men who hear the gospel can choose to accept God's grace or reject it.

U-Unconditional Election.
Faith: John 3:16
Repentance: Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19
Confession: Romans 10:9
Water Baptism: Acts 2:38. Mark 16:16

There are conditions that need to be met in order to receive salvation.

L-Limited Atonement.
John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold ! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.(NKJV)

Jesus died for the sins of all men.

I-Irresistible Grace.
Acts 7:51 "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.(NKJV)

Men did and still do resist the Holy Spirit. Grace is not irresistible.

P-Perseverance of the Saints.
Luke 8:13...who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.(NKJV)
1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrine of demons.(NKJV)

The Holy Spirit says men will fall away from the faith. Who do you believe the Holy Spirit or John Calvin?

It you believe in perseverance of the saints, once in grace always in grace, eternal security, then you are a Calvinist.

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