Tag Archives: repentance

How Do I Handle it When Someone Won’t Forgive Me?

Recently a friend, whom I will call Samuel, asked me to address a dilemma he faces. He is now a Christian, but formerly he lived a life in which he offended and hurt many people. In relating to those whom he hurt in the past, he finds that they want him to express remorse, but when he does, they don’t trust him to be sincere and want him to demonstrate remorse in unspecified ways. Samuel finds this situation very painful and is tempted to withdraw and keep silent. I think Samuel’s dilemma may not be unique, so I wanted to share the gist of what I said to him:

“Sadly, this is a common human response, Sam, and from a Christian viewpoint, its mere humanity is what is wrong with it. When people are wronged they naturally want revenge, and when they ask you to prove your remorse, they are saying that their desire for revenge has not been satisfied. They want to see you suffer. Desire for revenge is the root of bitterness from which springs all sorts of violence. Jesus tells us that we are obligated to forgive whoever asks us for forgiveness even if they sin and come back 70 times 7 times (Matthew 18:21-22)! He did not add a qualification that allows us to ask them to “prove” they are sorry. Nor did Jesus allow us to say “No” for any reason. In forgiving, we are not so much trusting the petitioner’s sincerity as we are trusting Jesus. We cannot know the hearts of other people—nor our own!—but we know the heart of Jesus! Petitioners can never do enough to prove that they are sorry to people who do not understand that they need forgiveness as much as the petitioners do. If we know that we have been forgiven a great debt, we will not hesitate to forgive others. Your point from Romans 5:8—that Christ died for us while we were sinners and enemies—was spot on target! God said “Yes” to us before we had even asked!!! I am amazed and completely humbled by his grace. All this reminds me of Jesus’ story of the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). We all ought to pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner” and have nothing to say to God or others about our goodness.

“But you asked about your dilemma and not the offended party’s dilemma. I simply thought considering the obligation we have to forgive others when they ask for mercy would help us think clearer about the petitioner’s dilemma. If we are required to forgive those who ask us without knowing for sure that they are sincere, aren’t we—the offending party—also required to ask for forgiveness even when we cannot know that someone will extend it? Even if we are sure that they will not forgive? After we’ve faced our sin in God’s presence and have accepted his forgiveness, if possible, we should express remorse and ask forgiveness from those we’ve hurt. If someone doesn’t trust our remorse or grant our request for forgiveness, even though it is hurtful to us, in the spirit of Jesus we should in our hearts forgive them for not forgiving us. For they are in the wrong and need God’s grace and help. We should pray for them to come to know their forgiveness in Christ! And as we pray for our self-made enemy, God may grant us healing from the hurt of rejection. Indeed, I believe he will. It may be your remorse and requested forgiveness that finally confronts them—the supposedly innocent party—with their sin of not believing in the forgiveness of sins. Your costly remorse and their reaction could be means of their awakening and redemption.”

Advertisements

No, My Friends, Christianity is Not for Everyone

We’ve heard it said so often that it has become utterly vacuous: “Christianity is for everyone!” “Everyone is welcome!” “Come just as you are!” That’s the way it works with well-worn phrases and catchy sentences. Remove them from their original contexts that gave them precision, repeat them year after year, and they become empty vessels to be filled with meanings subtly or even dramatically different from their original import. Spoken in a culture that celebrates tolerance above virtue, that prefers feeling good to being good, and that favors image over reality, the expression, “Christianity is for everyone,” will be interpreted to mean “Everyone is okay just the way they are.” So, in this post I want to say, “No, my friends, Christianity is not for everyone.”

Christianity is not for the proud, those who will not admit that they are weak and dependent beings, mortal and needy and empty. It’s not for the unrepentant. If you intend to pursue a life of lust or greed or cruelty, if you don’t need forgiveness or renewal, if you are well and don’t need a doctor, Christianity is not for you. If you have no love for God or human beings, if you have no interest in prayer or acts of mercy, if you have no desire to worship God or serve humanity, you won’t find Christianity appealing. It’s not for the satisfied. If you are completely content with the world, if you have no ambition beyond physical pleasure, wealth, possessions, and fame, Christianity aims too high for you. So, I say it again, “No, my friends, Christianity is not for everyone.”

Christianity is for the weak and broken. It’s for those who know they are dying and need healing, mercy, and grace. Christianity is for the humble, for those who morn their sins and long for a pure heart and a clean conscience. Christianity is for those who thirst for God, for those who long for a glimpse of glory. It is for those not satisfied with what the world has to offer, for those compelled to aim higher. It’s for those for whom “the good life” is not good enough and only eternal life will do. I must say it yet again, “No, my friends, Christianity is not for everyone.”

What do these thoughts have to do with apologetics or a defense of Christianity? Much, I think, much indeed. Why should anyone be interested in a “Christianity” that offers nothing but bland assurances that we are fine just the way we are? How can you argue for Christianity’s truth about other matters if it doesn’t even tell you the truth about the human condition? Who needs a doctor that won’t tell you the truth about your illness because he lacks the skill to heal you! True Christianity pierces down to the heart of the human problem: we are finite, mortal, imperfect, corrupt, ignorant, blind, selfish, and unhappy beings. Christianity speaks the harsh truth about what we are, who we’ve become, and where we stand. And the remedy it offers is just as radical as the diagnoses it makes. We need forgiving, recreating, and resurrecting. We have to change, die, and become new people. Who can renew and perfect the creation? Who can forgive sin and overcome its power? Who can save from the annihilation of death? Who can cleanse the conscience of its guilt and empower the will to choose the good? Who can fill the human heart with faith, hope, and love? God and God alone can accomplish these things.

Christianity is not cheap like water but costly like blood. It offers not pleasant reassurances but disturbing truths. It aims not to anesthetize the conscience but cleanse it. It tells us what we know deep in our hearts: we are not okay just the way we are. No, my friends, Christianity is not for everyone.

The Power of Forgiveness: Forgiveness And The Christian Life (#2)

Last week we discovered that forgiveness is the act of renouncing revenge for insult or injury suffered. In forgiving those who hurt us we rely on God to do what we cannot, that is, to overcome injustice, restore our dignity and heal all wounds. Forgiveness is an act of faith.

In today’s post I want to consider the positive side of forgiveness. In forgiving, we refuse to take revenge. We don’t act. But in not acting in a destructive way, we do an act of love. The first step in loving your enemy is not returning injury for injury and insult for insult. The loving dimension in forgiveness is the space it gives for repentance. In forgiving wrongs we demonstrate the possibility of freedom from the cycle of “eye for an eye” justice. Forgiving our enemies expresses confidence in God’s power to change enemy. It is an act of loving faith, a faith that believes in the power of God’s love to do for others what it has done for us. In forgiving, we suffer by endure insult and injury for the enemy’s sake. And in suffering for our enemy we become instruments through which the suffering love of Jesus touches the enemy. This activity of suffering love brings us to the joyful side of forgiveness.

Think about the unhappiness we bring on ourselves when we keep a record of every insult and injury done to us! There is no limit and no end to the wrongs we encounter even in one day. The unforgiving, like emotional bloodhounds, can detect insult in the slightest gesture and threat of injury the least movement. The list of negative emotions associated with our sensitivity to injustice is long: fear, anger, hatred, envy, resentment, bitterness, sadness, nostalgia, regret, despair, guilt. Fear anticipates injury, and anger defends against insult. Anger becomes hatred when it is nourished with memories of ancient wrongs. Envy sees injustice in others getting what we would like to have, and resentment turns to bitterness when we feel we’ve been passed over for honors we deserve. Nostalgia unhappily remembers long passed happiness, and sadness settles in when hope of better days fades into expectation of endless disappointment. And these feelings are compounded by the dim awareness that we are responsible for our unhappiness.

But what a difference forgiveness makes! Faith in God’s power at work for us and his love toward us frees us from the power of insult and injury. In place of fear, anger, hatred, envy, resentment, bitterness, sadness, nostalgia, regret, despair and guilt, we find love, joy, peace and hope. The causes of negative emotions have been exposed as impotent. Insults are empty nothings, lies with no basis in reality. Nothing and no one can diminish our worth and dignity because it is grounded in the unchangeable love of God for us. And injury cannot touch our true lives, which are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 2:3). Hence we can forgive all wrongs. Our experience of insult and injury, instead of occasioning unhappy emotions, becomes an occasion to experience the love of Christ acting through us, healing, saving and repairing the world.

Next week we address the question, “How can God forgive?” We can love because God love us, and we can forgive because God can forgive…but what empowers God forgive?

To be continued…