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Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

A Reflection re: Forgiveness

Many Christians speak of forgiveness.  Often this has to do with God’s forgiveness of us and how we get it.  I hope to address this also.  We certainly need God’s forgiveness but how do we get there?

Mathew 6:15:  “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (NIV)  “He that had shed my blood was afraid of having his hand cut off, for striking me in the church, as they called it; but I forgave him, and would not appear against him.” (George Fox, Works, Vol 1, page 137)

There is no real hope of God’s salvation without coming to and through this.  Some Early Friends report that the Gospel brought them into a time or times of turmoil when everything was to be turned upside down, an apocalyptic destruction of their prior religious/social understanding.  I am now convinced this includes the most basic of hurts we often hold tightly when it seems we have given over much else.

As the Gospel and its Declarer work within us, it is often the ‘low hanging’ fruit of our prior life that is first addressed.  As we submit to this, those things are judged and cleansed.  This is often accompanied by joy, release, openings and even ministry to others.  But where there has been injustice, abuse or betrayal, the inward work may begin to stall as it hits a deeper core of resentment and anger that we feel is ours by right.  We recoil at what the Light reveals in us.  “It is mine; I have a right to it!”  If we get this far, we may fit some of the images in the parable of the Sower.  This is trouble that reveals the convincement is yet too shallow; Hardpan has been found and real faith begins to wither.    Or, there may be some progress but mixed with these thorns that faith remains small and unfruitful.

When we “hit the wall” regarding forgiveness, we are vulnerable to the wiles of the Enemy and usually find ourselves in the unhappy company of the Accuser of our brothers and sisters.  But there is no rest here.  Existence is both too crowded and too lonely.  Remember those fearful and restless spirits in the Legion Jesus sent packing.

The only hope is to come back to the Light that has healed before.  It hurts.  But the only right that counts is the one taught us to become the children of God.  There is the unbinding on earth that unbinds the heart to become heaven, the home of God and Christ.  For these children, there is enough room for joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness.  There is enough room to love one another.  There we can even be taught to love the enemy we could/would not forgive before.

Being led to, brought back to and taught how to forgive is only one work of Christ in our transformation.  But for some of us, it is the most difficult.  Submit.  If we turn away from this, the loneliness is worse than before.

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Comment by Ellis Hein on 6thMo. 13, 2016 at 12:00

Dan, When someone has committed a wrongful act against me, there is injury to both parties. What you are talking about, me turning loose of the wrong committed against me, opens the way for healing my injury. There may be a more accurate term than forgive, but I do not know it. But what about the injury caused to the perpetrator by his wrong action? Here, there is a necessary step that must precede forgiveness. In that case, forgiveness before there is genuine repentance hinders if not stops the healing process that the person needs to go through. [If your brother sin against you 70 times 7 times and comes to you and repents, forgive him. Not a quote, but the gist of it.]

A blanket statement would be something like: there can be no forgiveness without repentance. This would also apply to God forgiving us. We can't receive the healing our spirit needs without going through the process of repentance. Repentance being that true turning from going the wrong way and now being open to being led by Christ in the right way. To receive forgiveness without repentance would leave me a cripple, incapable of becoming a child of God. 

Am I talking about two different things? and if so, what is the correct terminology? And if you have any further thoughts on the necessity of repentance, I would be glad to see them

Comment by Dan Davenport on 6thMo. 13, 2016 at 22:22

Hi Ellis,

I am glad you asked these questions!  You touch on several things that I am sure many are thinking or yelling perhaps.

Your first point is crucial.  Yes, there is an injury to both parties.  That is often missed.  When we are the victim, it is often difficult to come to compassion for the perpetrator, certainly not in our own strength.  We cannot do justly, love mercy or walk humbly with our Lord without being taught to do so.

I believe "forgive" and "forgiveness" are the correct terms.  I point you back to the page or previous page in Fox's Journal as a place to start.  Fox makes a blanket declaration that he was to forgive all.  Most of these folks did not come to ask for his forgiveness.

We may be given responsibility toward the perpetrator, to call for repentance, to say what is given to us from our Teacher to preach the Gospel to them.  This may be in words, giving the cup of cool water when it was withheld from us, or praying for their welfare.  I am writing this at work, so don't have my eight volumes handy.  Check out Epistle 398.

But we may not be given the opportunity or the responsibility to address the perpetrator.  God is the final judge and he may send another officer.  It is not ours to address by right.  It may be ours to address by God's command, e.g. God's commission to Ezekiel.  I will send you to track down that reference.  Jeremiah got similar marching orders.  But we must not assume the role in anger or bitterness, and in any case not by our own decision, but only by direction.  One reason I included the quotation from the Journal in the post above is that there is no record of the man coming to George to ask for forgiveness.  There are other examples in the journal of people coming to seek forgiveness and George giving it freely and lovingly.

Just as we as proclaimers of the Gospel are to take people to Jesus and leave them there, so even if we are to call for repentance by the perpetrator, we are called to leave them in God's area of responsibility.  We are probably not free from the responsibility to pray for them; Whether we see any change or not, when taught to how to pray, it will be part of our healing.

I agree that we cannot count on God forgiving us without our repentance.  And yes, that is part of the message of the Gospel to others.  I also believe that the repentance called for from us may be to let go of our refusal to forgive.

I did not have religious persecution in mind when I wrote the blog.  As I said, I believe it applies to the most basic things that have happened to us, whatever the intent of the perpetrator.

I offer this personal disclosure that might help.  One of my forebears was more than a difficult person; He was a terrorist within the extended family.  He left emotional scars aplenty.  For various reasons, I was in his sights repeatedly.  I did not finally get clear enough to start confronting him until after I finished college.  He died a few months later.

I did not have opportunity to clear myself of all my injuries before he died.  Most of my cousins never even got to the conversation I was graced to start.  So, did the other party repent in this case?  Uncertain.

What I can say for myself is that I found that I was still struggling with anger and bitterness decades after that death.  I worked through much of it during that period, but then found there was more to give over.  I hope it is all taken care of, but if not, I will need to submit to the Lord's work if something else comes to light.  It must go, it weighs on the Life.  It belies my witness to the Truth.

Comment by Ellis Hein on 6thMo. 15, 2016 at 11:34

Dan, Good points. I have had some further thoughts about repentance after reading your response. Repentance must be about the correct thing for it to be of any use. We may "repent of our sins" but unless we repent of our willfully walking in the darkness of our own desires, unless we repent of turning away from the light of Christ when it reproves us or leads us in a direction we don't want to go, our repentance does not serve us. The real issue is not that I have broken some commandment of God's or that someone has trespassed against me. Rather that I or the trespasser-against-me do not see the absolute necessity of living in the Word in whom is the life which is the light of men. This repentance brings the evil doer into a position where he can cease from being an evil doer. This does not set up the scenario of a "forgiveness-based" cycle of abuse. 

Comment by Rhonda Fuller on 6thMo. 15, 2016 at 18:40

Dan, I too have struggled with forgiveness. Christ has definitely brought me along, but that's been over a period of years.

Earlier this year I was listening to a broadcast in which a Christian Pakistani woman recounted an attack on her by Muslim men who tried to force her to renounce her faith. I'll spare you the ugly details because the important thing I heard her say is that she forgave these men who did her such damage because she didn't want to worship her anger.

Oh, my goodness, I thought. I had been worshiping my anger for decades and never realized it. And even though I had forgiven my former husband. I even wrote in my notebook the rationale for forgiving. I truly thought I was beyond where I really was. My response to her words made clear my self deceit.

The thing is, when I realized I was worshiping something other than God, my anger was easy to give up. His love and mercy and many ways to right us are without measure.

God bless you.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 6thMo. 17, 2016 at 18:56

If one has come into a knowledge of God, forgiving others becomes truly possible; by turning to God, one realizes that there hasn't been a lasting injury after all:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor power, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8: 38-39).

It is "the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" that is the one thing needful and cannot be taken from us, by whatever moral evil is thrown at us in this fallen world. Our life and joy depends only on this love, and nothing else. This is not to say that we deny or ignore that moral evil is real, only that it doesn't have the power to deprive us of what is essential.

If one remains in the first birth, though, ability to forgive another may only eventually come with time and intervening of life events. Also, less effective is a practical, intentional setting aside of anger at a trespass, so that the anger won't interfere with one's worldly goals. (I recently did this in the hospital when I set aside anger with a particular doctor, feeling that in doing so, my energy could be better directed toward healing.) Neither of these two methods--letting time pass or a practical release--gets to the root of the problem; only knowledge of God allows us to truly and fully forgive. The struggle to forgive that we undergo prior to knowing God is a major exercise for preparing us to receive His grace.

Our responsibility to others who've trespassed against us is to tell them--one-on-one--how they've offended, as advised in Mt. 18:15. One may have already forgiven them beforehand, but still feel responsible for speaking to them. In my experience, this process usually cannot move beyond the one-on-one discussion toward taking one or two witnesses along, as the passage directs, because there is no Church, as Friends understood the word, from which to draw others to assist. In two times over the last quarter century when it was possible to bring another to witness when dealing with a perpetrator, I found this Matthew 18 process to work well, meaning the person was no longer able to deny the truth of his responsibility.

As gospel ministers, we are sent as sheep among wolves, and so we shouldn't be surprised when Jesus's words accurately reflect our routine difficult encounters (Jn. 15:18-25), and require faith to overcome. To come into the place that he has prepared for us means to proclaim the Word, and when attacked, to feel compassion in earnest: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.


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