February 17, 2011


I stumbled on a few interesting articles today. One was about justice, and the thrust of the article was that jail time is not always the best solution when someone breaks the law. I tend to agree. Often restorative justice is better than punishment for transgressions.

The other was an article that surprised me. It was about the not so former pastor Ted Haggard (fill in your joke/comment of disgust here) and his return to ministry. Haggard now is the pastor of a church plant in Colorado called St James. The GQ article wrestled with the idea of forgiveness, trust and could if a person could change. The article left the question hanging, will people forgive Ted, and can he return to a place of trust?

These questions are deceptively simple for the Christian. Of course we believe in restorative justice, and forgiveness. Our entire faith is based on the idea that we all have sinned, that all sin offends God, that the punishment for sin is death, but because of Christ's death and resurrection our sins can be forgiven, and we can be transformed.

We believe that God chose to restore us instead of punishing us, that God offered us forgiveness instead of wrath. We believe that anyone who wants to let the Spirit transform him or her will be transformed. Therefore it is a pretty open and shut case.

And it is. Until you factor in the human element.

Once we factor in living and breathing humans everything stops being so neat and tidy. It doesn't matter how many times we pray, 'and forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me' we still struggle to forgive. At least I know I do.

Now your everyday stuff, that's no problem. Cut me off in traffic, show up late to a meeting, lie to me, say something hurtful in the heat of the moment and I'll forgive you. Give me a few minutes to get past my initial reaction to bite back, let me catch my breath and we'll move on. No harm, no foul, all is forgiven. That's the easy stuff. That's the stuff that everyone with a well adjusted personality, a working moral center, and a good nights sleep can deal with.

We might not be great at transforming culture, but we can rip it of with the best of them.
But then there is the other stuff, the hard stuff. And near as I can tell God expects me to forgive that as well.

There have only been a handful of times that I have been really hurt. Cut to the core hurt. Make my blood boil, make my tears flow, make my emotions shut down hurt. And the same principle applies. I still have to forgive. And believe me I don't want to.

Well that's not quite true. I want to, in so far as I don't want to carry around the guilt, the hurt and the anger with me. I learned the lesson well that holding on to that kind of pain is bad for you, and I didn't even have to have a heart attack, ulcer or divorce to learn it. I can do that just fine. But all that leaves me with is feeling  better, and the comfort of knowing I did my Christian duty.

But did I? Did I really forgive, when forgiveness means, 'I am no longer angry, I am holding no grudge but I want nothing more to do with you?' Truth is I have no answer for you beyond the above. I know I am called to forgive as God forgives. And I know he doesn't forgive me AND write me off.  

If you and I were talking, and you asked me about forgiveness I could tell you the 'what' of forgiveness without missing a beat. Years of church attendance, Sunday schools and seminary have supplied me with the answers to those questions. But when the conversation turned to the inevitable 'how' of forgiveness my answers will come far slower if at all. 

Truth is, I don't know. I don't know how to do it. I am told forgiveness is an action, not a feeling. That forgiveness is something you just go and do and let God take care of the rest. It sounds like a pat answer, in in a lot of ways that is what it is, but I think it is also true. 

God + Your willingness to forgive= forgivingness. I am not saying it is easy, it's not. If it were you would never met an angry Christian, or a conflicted Christian, or a bitter Christian. But you have, and I have, heck I have been all of those things. But in the end Christ didn't tell us that our Christian walk would be easy, he told us we would be supplied with a helper. 

With God as my helper, may I forgive those who trespass against me. 


  1. I missed this the first time around. Glad I found it tonight. It was awesome! Thank you for writing this and although I have a long way to go I feel I'm getting closer! Love you son!

  2. Thanks Mom. I'm glad you liked it. And we all have a long way to go. I know I do.