Posts tagged ‘Forgiveness’

A Hug of Forgiveness

It was the hug felt round the world.

When Brandt Jean, the 18-year-old brother of Botham Jean, who was murdered by Amber Guyger, asked if he could hug his brother’s killer, the courtroom flooded with tears.  Mr. Jean’s hug capped an extraordinary – and, honestly, supernatural – expression of love, compassion, and forgiveness toward Ms. Guyger.  When Mr. Jean first took the stand last Wednesday, he was supposed to, following Ms. Guyger’s conviction, offer a victim impact statement – something common in cases like these.  But Mr. Jean’s impact statement was unlike any other and is worth recounting in full:

If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.

And I don’t think anyone can say it – again I’m speaking for myself and not on behalf of my family – but I love you just like anyone else.

And I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. And I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do.

And the best would be: give your life to Christ.

I’m not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.

Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you.

I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?

I’m not sure how he did it, but Mr. Jean managed to honor his brother’s memory, extend forgiveness to his brother’s killer, and invite her to trust in Christ, all in a matter of moments.

This was a complicated case.  Ms. Guyger claimed she shot Botham Jean because she believed she was entering her apartment while accidentally entering his.  When she saw him, she thought he was an intruder and was afraid, so she shot him.  At the same time, there was plenty of evidence introduced at the trial to call into question her character.  She, herself a police officer, was having an affair with another married officer, to whom she also sent several racially tinged text messages.  Then, she shot an unarmed black man.  There were plenty of reasons Mr. Jean could have been suspicious of her and angry at her.  Instead, he decided to extend forgiveness to her.

As conversations about Mr. Jean’s offer of forgiveness have ricocheted across cable news networks, I heard one commentator worry that Mr. Jean had extended to Ms. Guyger “cheap grace.”  I would respectfully disagree.  There’s nothing cheap about the grace Mr. Jean extended to Ms. Guyger.  The grace Mr. Jean extended came at the cost of his brother.  And there’s nothing more valuable than a life.

But, I suppose, this is the way grace always works.  For the grace that God extends to us comes at the cost of God’s Son.  And there’s nothing more valuable than His life.

There’s a lot of pain – especially along racial lines – that has bubbled to the surface because of this murder.  Ms. Guyger’s ten-year sentence feels to many like justice denied.  And make no mistake about it: justice is important.  Crime and time go together appropriately and importantly.  But it also must be understood that what Mr. Jean offered in that courtroom was not injustice.  It was something totally outside of justice.  It was Jesus.

To Mr. Jean, I offer my condolences.  What happened to your brother is not only tragic, but sinful.  But to Mr. Jean, I also offer my thanks.  For what you did in offering forgiveness was not only inspirational, it was incarnational.  You brought Jesus into that courtroom with you.  And a whole nation noticed.

October 7, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Lamentation and Restoration

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Lament is not something at which we, as a culture, are particularly skilled. Our carefully curated posts on social media often show only the best moments of our lives, any pain being artfully disguised behind filtered photos of smiling faces in exotic places. At funerals, we often hear about how a deceased loved one would not want those left behind to cry. Instead, they would only want a celebration! And, of course, there is the ubiquitous answer to the ubiquitous question, “How are you?” Any answer other than “fine” may draw some disinterested eye rolls. After all, the question is not really a request for information, but the product of polite social expectation. Lament is not something at which we, as a culture, are particularly skilled.

And yet, in the Bible, there is a whole book called “Lamentations.” It describes the despair and despondency of the Israelites after their nation falls into the hands of the Babylonians and they are carried off from their homes into exile. The book opens with a haunting picture:

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. (Lamentations 1:1)

The capital city of Israel, Jerusalem, once the center of Israel’s life, now lies abandoned. So Israel laments.

But Israel does not just lament over an empty city. Israel also laments over her own sin, for she knows that her exile is a divine punishment for her rebellion:

Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honored her despise her, for they have all seen her naked; she herself groans and turns away. Her filthiness clung to her skirts; she did not consider her future. Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her. (Lamentations 1:8-9) 

In very picturesque language, Israel describes the blight of her sin and the resulting plight of her people. It is brutal.

So, what is Israel’s way forward? Is this the end of her story? We know the answer is “no.” She, however, is not so sure. Lamentations ends like this:

Restore us to Yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless You have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lamentations 5:21-22)

Israel is hoping for God’s grace, but she is not sure of God’s grace. She wonders if God has not rejected her forever.

Ancient Israel is not the only one who sometimes doubts God’s grace. We do, too. I have talked to many people over my years in ministry who struggle to believe that God’s grace could be for them. Their guilt feels too heavy. Their sin seems too deep. They truly wonder if God would ever, or even could ever, help people like them.

When Jesus is speaking with His disciples, He says to them, “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected” (Mark 9:12). And Jesus is rejected – on a cross. He is rejected by men and, ultimately, by God as He takes on Himself the sins of the world – all of the things that God rejects. But because God rejected Jesus then, we have the promise that He will not reject us now. He will always restore us, even when we fall into sin. He will always invite us to return, no matter how far we stray. We have no reason to wonder about God’s grace. It is for us.

Lamentations ends with a doubt about whether or not a nation’s sin can be forgiven. We, however, have received a confident answer to that doubt in Christ. There is no sin too great for grace.

September 23, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Dinner, Autumn, Fall, Food

Credit: Max Pixel

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  So much of my day-to-day life centers around what I must do.  There are tasks to complete and errands to run and bills to pay and conversations to have and decisions to make and Bible studies and sermons to write and preach.  These things to do are often, even if not always, joyous, but Thanksgiving reminds me that I must never get so caught up in what I have to do that I forget about what has already been done.  God has done great things for me.  He has given me a family I adore, a church I love, and a forgiveness I need.  And for these things, I am called to be thankful.

Thanksgiving keeps me humble.  When I am tempted to boast in all I have accomplished, Thanksgiving reminds me of all I’ve been given.  Even my life itself is a gift of God’s grace.  This is why I must continually and humbly rely on Him.

Each year, I make it my tradition to read a Thanksgiving Proclamation from one of our nation’s founders.  This year, I came across George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.  In it, he thanks God:

…for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

President Washington rattles of a list of the many blessings for which, he believes, a newly minted nation should be thankful.  And he’s right.  These are things for which our nation should still be thankful.  But what I love most about his proclamation comes in what he says next:

May we then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions.

President Washington was under no delusion that our nation’s blessings were somehow the product of our nation’s – or her individuals’ – intrinsic merit.  This is why he offers not only a prayer of thanksgiving, but a prayer of confession.  For he knew that God had blessed this new nation in the same way He has always blessed every nation:  by grace.

When God chose Israel to be His people and gave to her a Promised Land, He made sure she knew her blessings came by His grace:

It is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the LORD your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD.  (Deuteronomy 9:6-7)

God did not bless Israel because of her righteousness, but in spite of her unrighteousness.  God works this way with every nation and every person.

Ultimately, then, to be thankful is to be repentant, knowing that we have what we have not because we’ve earned it or deserved it, but because God has willed it.  Thus, each Thanksgiving, I am called to make little of myself and my accomplishments, which are few, and much of God and His blessings, which are bountiful.

As this long weekend draws to a close, my prayer is that the holiday of Thanksgiving becomes a habit of thanksgiving.  After all, I have plenty to be thankful for.

You do, too.

November 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Who Is God’s Enemy?

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There is a fascinating exchange between Joshua and an unnamed man right before he fights the battle at Jericho.  As Joshua is nearing the city and mustering his troops, he looks up and sees a man with a sword drawn in his hand.  He asks him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”  The man replies, “Neither, but as a commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (Joshua 5:13-14).

This exchange, though somewhat cryptic, is extremely revelatory.  In this exchange, this man reveals who He is.  He is part neither of Israel’s army nor of the army of Israel’s enemy.  Instead, He commands the forces of God Almighty.  In other words, He is not just a man.  He is divine.  This is why this commander echoes the words that God speaks to Joshua’s predecessor, Moses, from a burning bush.  “Take of your sandals,” this commander says to Joshua, “for the place where you are standing is holy” (Joshua 5:15).  This commander speaks the same words God once spoke to Moses because He Himself is God, who is now speaking to Joshua.

But the revelation that is given to Joshua in this man does not end here.  For this man reveals not only who God is, but who God cares about.  Before one of the biggest battles in Israel’s history, this commander comes to Joshua and tells him that He is not somehow blindly for Israel and against Jericho.  But neither is he for Jericho and against Israel.  Instead, He is for God who, ultimately, is for all.  It is indeed true that God does rain down His wrath on Jericho’s sin in this story.  But this does not mean that He does not love Jericho’s people.  God is much more interested in saving people than in siding against them.

In our current milieu, I think it can be all too easy to forget that God cares about not only us, but those who we call “enemies.”  But if we took the time to actually ask Him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” God’s answer might just surprise us.  It might just be, “Neither.”  God is much more interested in loving the world than He is in making enemies.

The next time you are tempted to hate your enemy, remember this commander’s interaction with Joshua.  And remember the admonition of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  And, most importantly, remember the action of Jesus: “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10).  Paul says that God’s enemy, before the cross, was you.  So, ask yourself, “How did God treat me when I was His enemy?”

Go and do likewise with your enemy.

October 8, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Forgiveness That Kills Death

Robert Godwin

When Mark Zuckerberg first unveiled Facebook Live, he touted it as a service that allowed people to express themselves in “raw” and “visceral” ways:

Because it’s live, there is no way it can be curated. And because of that it frees people up to be themselves. It’s live; it can’t possibly be perfectly planned out ahead of time. Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s a great medium for sharing raw and visceral content.

This is true.  But I’m not sure broadcasting a murder on social media is what Mr. Zuckerberg had in mind.  But on Easter Sunday, last weekend, this is exactly what happened.

74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. was walking home from an Easter meal with his family when he was stopped by Steve Stephens.  Before Mr. Godwin knew what was happening, he was dead and Stephens was on the run.  The following day, Stephens was spotted in Pennsylvania at a McDonald’s drive-thru.  When police took pursuit, Stephens took his own life.

This is a shocking story.  But it took an even more shocking turn when Mr. Godwin’s family was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  The anchor asked the family what they learned from their father.  They answered:

The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God, how to fear God, how to love God, and how to forgive.  And each one of us forgives the killer, murderer.

Clearly shocked, Mr. Cooper asked, “You do?”  To which the family responded:

We want to wrap our arms around him…And I promise you I could not do that if I didn’t know God, if I didn’t know Him as my God and my Savior…It’s just what our parents taught us. It wasn’t that they just taught it, they didn’t just talk it, they lived it. People would do things to us and we would say, “Dad, are you really going to forgive them, really?” and he would say, “Yes, we have to.” My dad would be really proud of us, and he would want this from us.

Mr. Cooper, amazed at this family’s willingness to forgive a man who murdered their father in cold blood, wrapped up the segment by saying:

You talked about how your friends would say they wish they were Godwins.  I know a lot of people watching tonight – and certainly I speak for myself – I wish I was a Godwin right now because you all represent your dad very well.

Jesus famously said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Anyone who has ever had to face down an enemy has probably found this to be a nice sentiment in theory, but painfully difficult to practice.  And yet, Jesus commanded us to live this way because He knew it was the only way to confront sin and destroy it.  When someone sins against us and we retaliate, we have only traded injury for injury.  But when someone sins against us and we love and forgive them, as the Godwins did, we have taken their sin and, instead of meeting it with something similar, we destroy it with something better.

Easter is a day when we celebrate life.  Steve Stephens tried to turn it into a day of death.  But death lost when the Godwin family forgave.  For where there is forgiveness, there is life.  After all, how do you think we receive eternal life?  Only through the forgiveness of sins that comes in Christ.

“God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

April 24, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

An Honest Hypocrite Is Still a Hypocrite

Last January, four researchers from Yale University published a paper titled, “Why Do We Hate Hypocrites? Evidence for a Theory of False Signaling.”  In it, the researchers note that hypocrisy occupies a special spot of scorn in our society:

Consider the hypocrite – someone who condemns the moral failings of other people but behaves badly him- or herself.  Many commentators have remarked on the “peculiarly repulsive” nature of hypocrisy … What makes hypocrites especially bad is that they both commit a transgression and condemn it. But why is this combination so objectionable?

This final line is the question the researchers attempt to answer in their paper.  They theorize that hypocrites are uniquely despised because:

They dishonestly signal their moral goodness – that is, their condemnation of immoral behavior signals that they are morally upright, but they fail to act in accordance with these signals.

At issue here is what is popularly referred to as “virtue signaling.”  Though this phrase can be defined in different ways, some of which see virtue signaling as inherently and irreducibly hypocritical, the phrase, at least at its most basic level, denotes the public condemnation of a particular practice or position, which is something that most, if not all, people do – at least from time to time.  So, for instance, on this blog, I have publicly written about the dangers of racism.  People would assume, since I have written against racism, that I would expend at least some effort to root out racism in my own life.  If it turned out, however, that I harbored a disdain for a particular race, or if I wantonly turned a deaf ear or a blind eye to the plight of a particular race, people would rightly call me a hypocrite because even though I am publicly promoting one standard of behavior, I am privately living out another.

The Yale researchers continue by explaining that hypocrisy is more dangerous and misleading than what they refer to as “direct lying,” because direct liars do not engage in the moral condemnation of a practice of position.  They simply lie about what they have done, usually to avoid getting into some sort of trouble.  Hypocrites, on the other hand, go out of their way, often without prompting, to condemn the things they secretly do to make themselves look better than they really are.

The researchers found that, broadly speaking, much of our revulsion toward hypocrisy is excised when people are honestly hypocritical – that is, when they “voluntarily [disclose] their transgressions, which offsets the negative evaluation of their hypocrisy.”  Just saying you’re a hypocrite, apparently, is enough to make many people comfortable with your hypocrisy.

Certainly, hypocrisy is roundly condemned in the Scriptures generally and by Jesus specifically.  In Matthew 23, for instance, Jesus offers a series of seven woes.  To whom are His woes directed?  They are directed to hypocrites!  Christians and non-Christians alike agree that hypocrisy is bad.  What is most interesting about this study is not its assertion that hypocrisy is bad, but its revelation about how hypocrisy is addressed and rectified in our society.  Culturally, these researchers note that much of the sting of hypocrisy is salved if one is merely an honest hypocrite.  If a person simply says he doesn’t practice what he preaches, our society turns a sympathetic ear.  The difficulty with this approach, however, is that an honest hypocrite is still a hypocrite.  Hypocrisy needs more than an admission.  It needs a solution.

Christianity says that the admission of a sin like hypocrisy is only the first step in dealing with that sin.  In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains that to address sin, one must not only admit, or confess, his sins, he must receive forgiveness from them.  In other words, a hypocrite must see his hypocrisy as an actual sin that needs to be forgiven rather than as a mere embarrassment that only needs to be acknowledged.  In short, a hypocrite must see his hypocrisy as something that is actually bad.  This is why the bridge between confession and forgiveness is repentance, for repentance sees sins not just as embarrassments to be enumerated, but as spiritual dangers to be grieved.

Admitting sin does not solve sin.  Only Jesus’ forgiveness does that.  Our hypocrisy, then, needs more than a confession.  Confession only reveals who we are.  Jesus, however, changes who we are, which means that Jesus can change us hypocrites.

And really, who wants to be a hypocrite?

 

March 6, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Abortion, Absolution, and Pope Francis

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In a letter dated Sunday, November 20, Pope Francis announced that any woman who has had an abortion can now be forgiven for that sin by a priest.  This move toward priestly absolution for abortion began a full year ago when the pope announced a “Year of Mercy.”  Before this special year, only ecclesiastical higher ups could absolve someone of an abortion unless a particular region gave special disposition to its local priests to absolve this sin, which the Catholic Church in the United States had already done.  The pope’s announcement of a Year of Mercy gave this right to priests worldwide.  And now the pope has extended this right into perpetuity.  In his missive, the pope explained:

We have celebrated an intense Jubilee Year in which we have received the grace of mercy in abundance. Like a gusting but wholesome wind, the Lord’s goodness and mercy have swept through the entire world. Because each of us has experienced at length this loving gaze of God, we cannot remain unaffected, for it changes our lives…

Lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary.

When the pope first announced his Year of Mercy, The New York Times ran an editorial by Jill Filipovic titled, “The Pope’s Unforgiving Message of Forgiveness on Abortion.”  In her piece, Ms. Filipovic decries the idea that those who had obtained an abortion should need forgiveness.  She writes:

Instead of treating women as adults who make their own decisions, the pope condescends to “all the women who have resorted to abortion,” saying he is “well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision.” The threat of excommunication, at the very least, makes the church’s views on women’s rights clear. Offering forgiveness is a softer version of the same judgment: that the millions of women around the world who have abortions every year are sinners. Inviting women to feel shame and guilt for their abortions isn’t a mercy; it’s cruelty.

At issue for Ms. Filipovic is the fact that abortion would be classified as a sin at all.  For her, forgiveness for an abortion is neither needed nor desirable.  What is needed is a wholehearted endorsement and promotion of abortion itself.

The biblical position on abortion and forgiveness undermines both the Roman Catholic Church’s strange view of absolution, especially before this recent papal pronouncement, along with the secularist’s cynicism toward the sinfulness of abortion.  The secular view of abortion and forgiveness is inadequate precisely because the emotions of “shame and guilt,” contrary to Ms. Filipovic’s assertion, should be the affective outcome of any sin, including abortion.  Our sin should make us feel bad – at least if we take what God commands seriously.  Only God’s gospel can remedy our shame and guilt as it releases our sins to Christ on the cross.  Abortion cannot be excused and explained away.  It can only be forgiven.

Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church’s view on abortion and forgiveness also will not do.  The now former restriction on priestly absolution for abortion seems to have been largely meant as a threatening deterrent against particularly grievous sins, as is explained in the Baltimore Catechism:

The absolution from some sins is reserved to the pope or bishop to deter or prevent, by this special restriction, persons from committing them, either on account of the greatness of the sin itself or on account of its evil consequences.

This restriction overlooks the fact that, theologically speaking, every sin is an affront against all divine law, therefore making any sin damnable.  It also overlooks the fact that to make forgiveness difficult to obtain via a barrage of ecclesiastical red tape takes what is meant to be a gift from God and perverts it into a work of man.  This makes the forgiveness spoken of here antithetical to the gospel rather than the center of the gospel, for the gospel is never about what we do, but about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

So where does this leave us?  It leaves us here:  if you are a woman who has had an abortion, there is hope beyond shame, release beyond burden, and wholeness beyond brokenness.  Not because there shouldn’t be any shame, any burden, or any brokenness.  And not because you can somehow claw your way out shame, burden, and brokenness by a work, even if that work is a work of self-debasing sorrow before a bishop or a priest. No, there is hope and release and wholeness because of Jesus.  After all, He suffered death to conquer death, which means, even if a life has been lost to abortion, that life can be recovered too.  And your life can be made new.

That’s the promise abortion needs.

November 28, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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