Christianity 201

September 9, 2017

“What is This You Have Done?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re returning again to the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The author of today’s piece is Lisa Rieck. This is another site you might want to bookmark and check back with from time to time. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Sorrow and Mercy of God

“What is this you have done?”

These words from God to Eve in Genesis 3:13 are always heart-wrenching to me when I read them. I imagine so much anguish in his voice.

Because of course God isn’t just talking about Adam’s and Eve’s one decision to eat from the one tree they were explicitly told by God, in his one command, not to eat from. This is the God of the universe speaking. A God who took exquisite delight in creating a world exactly as he wanted it. A God who was wild about these two people he had made in his image, and about their intimacy with each other and with him. A God nearly incoherent with joy regarding the eternity of beauty and goodness and rightness he could see stretching out before him.

It’s hard for most of us to imagine the glory of the world those first two chapters of Genesis describe because we’ve only ever known a world disfigured by sin. But try to picture it. Every plant vibrant with color. Every animal thriving, both on its own and in relationship to other animals. Human relationship free from blame or shame or fear or hurt or jealousy or dishonesty, with each person being fully known, fully loved, fully satisfied in the most complete way.

All of this and so, so much more was changed in a minute, in what seems like a flippant decision on Adam and Eve’s part. Of course, they could not have known what the full implications of their action would be, since they had no concept of sin or brokenness, imperfection or guilt. But God obviously did. And so, as he uttered his question, I imagine the span of history flashing before his eyes: Cain killing Abel. The Israelites enslaved in Egypt. Children sacrificed to idols. War between nations from the first civilizations to the present. John the Baptist being beheaded. Mary and Martha weeping at Lazarus’s tomb. The Black Death. Genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda and Ukraine and Germany and Guatemala. The Trail of Tears. Miscarriages and abortion. Affairs and divorce. Cancer and dementia. Families torn apart by deportation. Poverty. School shootings. Slavery. Mass incarceration. White supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. I wonder if it all rushed through his thoughts in an instant.

“What is this you have done?”

This is not to say that I think I would have chosen differently than Adam and Eve. I’m sure, had I been in their place, I too would have been persuaded that tasting the fruit, testing God’s words a bit, wouldn’t matter much. Isn’t that the way the devil always works? He tells me today that my jealousy, my bitterness, my judgment of others or my self-condemnation, my fears, my silence in the face of injustice, are not that big of a deal. He tells me that I have not contributed to racism because I did not march in Charlottesville this weekend. He keeps me dulled to the pain and far-reaching effects my sins of omission and commission have.

I imagine, though, what also flashed through God’s mind in that instant was what it would cost himself and his Son to make things right. His question was not without hope—but that hope did not cancel out or override his sorrow. Nor does it today; I believe he still suffers and grieves with us in the pain we experience from our own sin and from the sins of others, even though he has set in motion, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the redemption of all things.

Today, as on so many days, I am trying to hold those two things in tension as well—a horrified sorrow that does not end in despair, and a grounded hope that does not make light of the gravity of sin.

I’m also finding hope in ten other words from Genesis: “But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.” Amidst a world gone completely evil, where “every inclination of the thoughts of [people’s] hearts was only evil continually,” and “the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,” God saw the (I imagine) quiet faithfulness of Noah.

Given the rampant wickedness he knew was coming, it seems like God must have been tempted to end things right away in Genesis 3. By Genesis 6, we know that his grief over the wickedness in the world was so great that he did, indeed, send the flood to destroy most of what he had made. But not all. As has happened over and over throughout the history of the world, God was merciful, seeing and saving the ones who could not be moved from their faithfulness to him, despite being surrounded by utter evil.

And that renews my faith that every seemingly small act of obedience matters. Every kind word. Every risk, in conversation or action, that helps me know someone different than me politically or ethnically or denominationally or religiously a bit better. Every dollar given away joyfully. Every “thank you” spoken, and meant. Every beautiful poem or painting created. Every act of listening that seeks to really understand. Every truth told. Every renouncement of racism. Every meal shared with every orphan and widow. Every hurt forgiven.

Most days, I feel more aware of the world’s evil than of God’s mercy, more cognizant of the fact that we have inherited the painful effects of Adam’s and Eve’s sin than of the truth that those who believe in Jesus have also received every benefit of his death and resurrection. But as Paul wrote in Romans 5, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Which means that every day, through God’s Spirit at work in us, we can choose differently than Adam and Eve did. We can—and must—choose obedience over disobedience, worship of God over worship of self, humility over pride, life over death.

And when we fail, as we will—when I fail—I can and must refuse to blame someone else, like Adam and Eve did, and refuse to listen to Satan’s lie that my own seemingly small sin is not that big of a deal. Each time I rebel against God, my work is to hear his question to Eve in my head, ringed with the sorrow of a Creator watching the destruction of the world he created to be good and beautiful. I must be willing to look straight at, to name, to reflect on and lament the ways my particular sin has contributed to that destruction, hurting others and myself and perpetuating the broader sinful structures and systems of our world.

Because though God’s question came from grief over the death that had entered and would continue to enter the world, even this weekend, even today, it can lead us to life if we let it move us, next time, to choose faithfulness. To receive God’s forgiveness, and then show forgiveness to others. To take every opportunity to be kind. To work for justice for all, even when it means giving up some of our own power and privilege. To live in genuine relationship with others. And, in the face of every evil, to choose obedience to the God who grieves with us, grieves over us, and still chooses mercy. Over and over and over again.

August 25, 2014

Forgiving Those Who Betray Us

Matthew 6:12

Forgive us the wrongs we have done,
    as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.  (Good News)

Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. (Phillips)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven (left, remitted, and let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against) our debtors. (Amplified)

I had run across Samuel C. Williamson online because of his book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids? (Bet that title has you curious!) I thought we had used his material once before, but apparently today will serve as an introduction. I also thought the topic of this particular post might resonate because, unless you live in a vacuum, we’ve all been hurt. To read this at source, and then look around the rest of his blog, click the title below.

How Do We Forgive Betrayals?

I ended last week’s story of betrayal with the faint beginnings of a desire to forgive. But our wanting to forgive doesn’t mean we’ve granted forgiveness any more than wanting a beach vacation gives us tickets to Tahiti. It’s a start, an important start, but only a start.

Our desire to forgive is undermined by our memories, recollections of the betrayal that relentlessly resurface with stunning clarity. With the vividness of slow-motion video, I recall a half-erased whiteboard, the buzz of a fly, and the shadows on the wall.

A friend of mine remembers the jingle of an ice-cream truck and the smell of lilacs through the screen porch.

We want to forgive, but images flood our mind, and something in our soul recoils. We try to forgive and forget, but those memories scratch their way out of the holes we buried them in.

We want justice; somehow, in some form or fashion, we want payment. Like David, our heart cries, “Let death take [them] by surprise; let them go down to hell while still living” (Ps. 55:15).

Or as Freud said, “One must forgive one’s enemies: but preferably after they’ve been hanged.”

It twists our soul

Last week, I heard a talk radio host interview a therapist. The therapist claimed that “unforgiveness is a major contributor to heart disease,” and that “bitterness can kill us.” The wrong done to us begins to take root in us. The evil inflicted on us begins to flow out of us.

Mirslov Volf wrote, “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude my enemy from the community of humans and I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” We begin to dehumanize our betrayer, and in turn we are dehumanized. Agony and anger twists our souls.

On hearing the consequences of non-forgiveness, the radio host responded, “I don’t want a stroke, so I’d better start forgiving. I’ll just let it go.”

But it’s not so simple. No magic wand will wave away the stain. To claim, “I’ll just let it go,” is like getting over stage-fright by saying, “I’ll stop being self-conscious.” It makes matters worse.

And it completely misunderstands the essence of forgiveness.

Because someone does have to pay

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the World War II martyr who died resisting Hitler) said:

If you’ve ever really forgiven somebody, forgiven some real wrong, all forgiveness is suffering. If you say “I forgave and I didn’t suffer,” it wasn’t that serious a wrong. But if you have ever really been wronged, and if you have forgiven it, then you have suffered. Because all forgiveness is a form of suffering.

When we’ve been deeply wronged—not just an accidental slip-up but a treacherous betrayal—we know there is a debt, a deep-seated sense of injustice. We can’t shrug it off as if nothing happened, we can’t simply dismiss those memories in a momentary fancy of forgiveness.

When we remember the injury, we must choose between two paths. We can make the perpetrator pay (by finding little ways to make them suffer, poking pins in their memory, disparaging them to our friends, or snubbing them in our heart); or we can forgive.

If we make the perpetrator pay, evil wins. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions, and not even with our betrayal of others. The road to hell is paved with our non-forgiveness.

So what does it mean to forgive?

Everyone thinks forgiving is a wonderful idea. Until they have something real to forgive. Because forgiveness means suffering. If we don’t make the perpetrator pay (and somebody has to pay), it means we pay.

Forgiveness means we pay our betrayer’s debt.

It’s normal life. If I borrow your car and wreck it, then either I cough up cash for the repair, or—if I don’t have any money—then you do. The damage doesn’t disappear magically. Somebody pays. (Or you drive a wrecked car, which is just another form of you suffering for my mistake.)

How do we pay? When we’re tempted to dwell on their cruelty, we stop (it costs not to punish them in our thoughts). And when we have a chance to tell others of their betrayal, we shut up (we suffer when they enjoy a good reputation). And we pray for their welfare, not punishment.

Of all Christian disciplines, this is the hardest. First we suffer the horrible wrong done to us, and then we pay for their wrongdoing. It’s double baked death. Compared to forgiveness, chastity, charity, and contentment seem like sipping lemonade on a summer’s evening.

Forgiveness also brings us closest to Christ. It is suffering, thorns, nails, and a cross.

Forgive me for repeating myself

To settle a debt requires capital. We need a full bank account (either financial, emotional, or spiritual reserves) to write that check. We need deposits in our account before we can pay out. But our reserves were depleted by the wrong done to us. What are we to do?

Our ability to forgive is wholly dependent on our being forgiven. When it seems impossible to forgive, our only hope is to understand our debt to God, and to grasp our own forgiven-ness.

Jesus said of the prostitute who washed his feet, “She loves much because she’s been forgiven much, and whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” With the deposits of our own forgiven-ness, we pay our debtor’s debt. And little by little, we find we have forgiven.

Over time (not magically in a moment) something miraculous happens. We begin to really hope for them, to really wish them the best; we even begin to love them.

The evil done to us has been executed.

Sam   (see also, Betrayal)

P.S. Don’t think that because I can write this that I can also do it well. But I’m getting better.

P.P.S. Forgiveness does not mean disconnection with reality. Our betrayers may still act like jerks toward us or toward others. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we should go back and work in that ministry or become best pals with that former friend. But it does mean their debt has been paid, that we have shredded our case files, and we that desire their welfare.