Forgiving God

Today, we finish up our short three-part email-only series on the topic of forgiveness. Hopefully you’ve caught the first two entries in the series. (If not, you can catch up on the Riverwood website.) We’ve talked about forgiving others, as well as forgiving yourself. But today, I want to finish things up by talking about forgiving someone we rarely think of forgiving – and that’s God Himself.

I suspect you might want to push back at me for a moment. Because forgiveness usually comes as a result of someone doing something wrong against you. But God, we theologically know, can’t do anything wrong. Everything He does is good.

Forgiving God blank 350x196 - Forgiving GodBut if we are honest with ourselves, our feelings sometimes betray our theology. We may know intellectually God is good, but sometimes our emotional reaction to a horrendous experience can lead us to believe He isn’t good.

That’s exactly what happened to Job.

God has Wronged Me
Job’s story is told in the Old Testament book that bears His name. Early in the book, we learn that Satan approaches God and asks for permission to ruin Job’s life. Satan ends up killing most of Job’s family, most of his servants, and taking all of his wealth. In other words, Job lost everything. (Talk about a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.)

Initially, Job responded amazingly well. But eventually, as he thought more about the situation (thanks to some “friends” that came to “comfort” him), Job felt God was to blame for his devastating loss. Which is why he cried out…

“…God has wronged me and has closed His net around me!” (Job 19:6 – NASB)

Job was mad. He was emotionally hurt. He was in deep mourning. And in his pain, he couldn’t understand why God would let all of his kids die, most of his servants die, and all of his wealth be taken from him. (And on top of it all, his wife left him.) So Job blamed God for doing “wrong.”

Ever felt like Job did in that moment? Ever felt like “God has wronged you” and royally screwed you over?

If you have, you’re in good company.

How to “Forgive” God
So what should you do if God has “wronged” you. I think you need to do two things.

But before I share them with you, please hear this: The two ideas I am going to give you are not to sound trite or shallow. The hurt, pain, and anger you might feel won’t instantly disappear if you just do these two things. These two things aren’t like a magic incantation that will make your pain vanish instantly. It might take some times to truly come to a place where you can forgive God. But as your pastor, I long for you to have a deep abiding spiritual connection with your Creator, fully trusting Him with every area of your life.

So what are the two things I advise you to do?

1. Re-Understand “Good”
Each of us have an idea of the definition of “good.”

  • Chocolate is “good.”
  • Hanging out with friends is “good.”
  • Helping a sweet little old lady across the street is “good.”
  • Lending a helping hand to a neighbor is “good.”

But, if you are a parent, when you discipline your child, your little one does not think your correction is “good.” She will probably get mad at you for not letting her eat a 36th piece of candy, or he will howl when you won’t let him watch a fourth episode of Paw Patrol. But the reason you are correcting your child is because you are trying to do what is truly good for them. They may not understand it, but with your greater wisdom and insight, you do.

Likewise, when we face horrible situations, even evil ones like rape or murder, we need to realize that while God did not make the evil happen, He can still work it out for good. He has far greater wisdom and insight than us. He sees to the end of time, knowing how all things will work together. This is why we can say nothing happens outside of His control.

And so we need to allow our definition of “good” to change. Even when our circumstances aren’t “good,” He still is. And when our definition begins to change, we can do the second thing:

2. Worship God
How do you know you have truly forgiven a fellow human? When you can walk into a room, see the other person, and not internally recoil. Likewise, you know you have forgiven God when you can truly worship Him.

But sometimes, you have to seek God before you feel ready to “forgive” Him.

As you read the Psalms, you see David do this all the time. In Psalm 22 (which I linked to above), right after David accuses God of doing wrong, he immediately begins to worship God. Notice what he says:

“Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.”
(Psalm 22:3-5)

I don’t think David fully understood why God was letting certain things happen to him as he penned this psalm, yet he didn’t wait until everything was right again to worship God. It seems as if David was reminding himself, “You know, my ancestors went through some tough things like slavery in Egypt, being trapped against the Red Sea, and wandering in the dessert for 40 years, yet God led them through each thing. So just as my ancestors didn’t understand why God was working in those ways, I don’t understand what He is doing right now. But I guess if they could end up trusting Him to deliver them, I can trust He really is good and will deliver me as well.”

It seems to me that David allowed worship to recalibrate his heart so he could see that God was still good, even if he mistakenly believed God had wronged him.

Ultimately, forgiveness of God comes down to trust. Do you trust that God is good, in control, deeply loves you, and is with you through the struggle? If not, you will find forgiveness of God nearly impossible to attain. But when you look at the cross, and see what God has done to release you from your sin, you can know He truly is good and can be fully trusted, even when you have gone through hell on earth.

If you are struggling to forgive God, feel free to reach out to me or to another Jesus-follower who you know will listen to you and encourage you. Sometimes just sitting and talking about these things begins to remind you that God loves you. And as you remember, you’ll find yourself “forgiving” Him.

Forgiving Yourself

by Erin Bird

I couldn’t believe I had done it again. I had been watching a football game on TV one night, but when it was over, rather than turn off the flickering light in front of me and head to bed, I watched the news.

I know that’s not really a big deal, except for the fact that I still didn’t turn off the TVwhen the news finished. Instead, I began to watch the Tonight Show. Then I watched a MASH rerun. And then it got so pathetic, I watched an infomercial.

Ugh! Why didn’t I just turn off the TV and go to bed?!? And why was I doing this againhaving just made the same mistake a couple weeks prior?

forgiving yourself2 350x196 - Forgiving YourselfThis incident occurred back in probably 2005 or 2006. Even though it’s been quite a few years since this event, it is still humiliating to admitI had spent like 6 straight hours wasting my time watching shallow television programs. (I mean, come on… an infomercial?!?! What was wrong with me?)

I remember being so embarrassed by my behavior, I didn’t want to tell anyone. When LeAnn asked what time I had come to bed, I think I avoided the question or just said, “really late” hoping she wouldn’t ask for specifics.

But the bigger problem was happening inside me. I was disappointed in myself. Actually, it was worse than that. I was madat myself. I think my anger came from the fact that I had done this same thing multiple times. So this time, I held on to my anger. I kept beating myself up internally for days, saying all sorts of negative things about how pathetic I was. And in my internal self-mutilation, I refused to forgive myself. Because to forgive myself felt like saying, “Ah, it’s not a big deal” when I knew this behavior was keeping me from being the husband, father, and pastor I wanted to be.

Thankfully, by God’s grace, I have learned that self-forgiveness is needed and necessary. Why? Here is what I have learned…

To not forgive yourself means:

#1. You falsely believe you are wiser than God.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Every human born since the time of Adam & Eve has been born with a spiritual nature wrecked by sin. “For allhave sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” declares Romans 3:23. But the Perfect Holy God has forgiven you of allyour wrongdoing through the willing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. (Romans 5:6-8) Which means allof your sin, from the small little lie you told yesterday to the embarrassing things you did last year or last decade, have been removed from you and are no longer held against you. (Psalm 103:11-12)

And so if an all-wise, perfectly-just God can forgive your wrongdoing against Him, who are you to refuse to forgive yourself? Do you think God is wrong to forgive you? Or that you are somehow wiser than Him by refusing to forgive yourself for your momentary stupidity?

Please realize that by forgiving yourself, you are admitting God is wise, just, and generous with His love to forgive you. And by forgiving yourself, you are bringing yourself into alignment with God’s heart for you.

#2. You falsely believe the cross of Jesus was not enough.

Perhaps you see your Heavenly Father as being a God of love, so you know He would forgive you, but you think your sin too big and horrible to be forgiven. If that’s the case, you are acting as though the cross of Jesus isn’t enough to pay for your sin.

The Apostle Paul, before he became an apostle, evangelist, and church planter, spent his days zealously persecuting anyone who claimed Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Paul, in his pride, had approved of murder and mistreating people. Paul’s sin was so great, he later described himself as one of the worst sinnersto have lived. And yet, Paul came to realize that the cross of Jesus was far more than enoughto cover his sin.

So don’t think you have to do anything to pay off your sin– Jesus paid it for you! And because your debt against God has been paid off, you are forgiven. So you can forgive yourself because the cross was more than enough to cover all your wrongdoing against your creator.

Forgiving Others

Welcome to November! Hard to believe 2019 will be here in just two months. Oh, and before I forget to say it, be sure to set your clocks back one hour as Daylight Savings Time comes to an end this Saturday night.

Forgiving Others Blank 350x196 - Forgiving OthersThe arrival of November not only means changing our clocks, it also means the Thanksgiving holiday will be here soon. Typically, people like to talk about the topic of “giving thanks” throughout the month. But based on the results of the survey we did in September, I’ve decided to spend the month of November talking about the topic of “forgiveness” since forgiveness is often something we wrestling with often.

So for the next three weeks, we are going to look at the topic of forgiveness. Next week we’ll be looking at the need to forgive self, and then the week after to forgive God. (Yes, sometimes we need to “forgive” God – we’ll talk about that in two weeks.) But let’s kick this series off with the angle most of us think about when it comes to forgiveness – Forgiving Others.

I Can’t Forgive Them!
One Sunday in 1997, when LeAnn and I were living in Venezuela teaching at a school for the children of missionaries, I preached on the topic of forgiveness in our English-speaking worship service. Apparently, God used the message to help Patricia, one of our freshmen students, surrender her life to Christ later that night while talking with a fellow student. Patricia’s “conversion” was the talk of campus the next day, because she was known as the school agnostic.

I happened to walk into the school office the next day when a couple of fellow staff members were talking about Patricia and my message. As I walked in, the school secretary said, “Erin, that was a really good message yesterday, and it’s wonderful that Patricia gave her life to Christ last night, but I just can’t do what you were saying in your message. I just can’t forgive someone. You have no idea what they did to me, and I just can’t do it.”

While her words broke my heart, I completely understood. While I never learned the details of what happened to this gal, (and whatever she had gone through was possibly far worse than anything I had ever faced at that time), I knew firsthand the struggle to forgive someone.

And yet while I could be empathetic, I hurt for that school secretary, because to NOT forgive someone upholds three lies:

1. God’s Not Just
When you refuse to forgive someone, you are in a sense saying, “I don’t believe God’s in control, and I don’t believe He will enact justice.” But justice is at the very heart of God’s character! He can’t NOT be just.

Yes, God is merciful. But remember, while your sin was mercifully forgiven, it was also justly paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross.

2. I’m Punishing the Wrong-doer
To forgive someone else feels like letting them off the hook, so we hang on to the hurt, as if we are hurting them right back. But the problem with this is that the offending party might not even be aware they hurt you, or they have even moved on. Which means they aren’t the one in your emotional prison, you are!

This tells me forgiveness is more about you and your emotional health than it is about trying to punish the other person. So you need to forgive for your sake!

3. I don’t need to forgive
Lastly, when we refuse to forgive someone their sin against us, we deceive ourselves into believing we don’t have to forgive them. But listen to what God tells us through the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:31-32:

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

You need to forgive others, setting aside your anger, because God has set aside his own anger at your sin and forgiven you! If you ever feel like “I just can’t forgive them for such evil,” remember the gospel teaches our sin was so bad, it deserved death. But God through Christ, upheld justice by paying off our sin, then mercifully granting us forgiveness. And so to forgive others their sin against you is to be like Jesus.

A Disclaimer
Before I close, let me say this: forgiving someone their wrongdoing doesn’t mean they don’t have to face any consequences. For instance, you can forgive the drunk driver for killing your parents in a car accident, but it doesn’t mean the driver gets to keep his license and keep driving.

But don’t hang on to the hurt, wishing harm on them. That only keeps you in an emotional prison and leads to really bad theology about God’s sovereignty. Instead, forgive them, praying for them to be changed by the gospel and become the person God wants them to be.

So if you need to forgive someone, let me encourage you to do so. It may not happen overnight, but with God’s strength, you can truly let God be the Judge of the offending party, and you can seek to live like Jesus lived and love like Jesus loved.

Are you Associating with the Guilty?

You’ve heard it said: “Innocent until proven guilty.”

But in today’s Twitter world where news travels faster than Tesla’s Insane Modean accusation is merely enough to have the jury of public opinion bring down a verdict almost immediately.

So it’s understandable why people and companies swiftly distance themselves from these guilty-until-proven-otherwise individuals. They don’t want to be brought under the rash judgment of the public. Otherwise they risk loss of profit or reputation or both.

A Current Example

Two days ago, the FBI raided the home of Jared Fogle. If you’ve seen any TV commercials in the past 15 years, you know Jared as “Jared, the Subway Guy.” Jared has been in over 300 Subway commercials, simply because he lost 245 lbs while a college freshman, eating only turkey and veggie subs from Subway over 15 years ago.

With his Subway fame, Jared used his wealth to start a foundation to battle childhood obesity. And he needed somebody to run this foundation. That man was Russell Taylor.

But this past Spring, Taylor was arrested after investigators found over 400 videos of child pornography in his possession. So while the FBI isn’t talking, it is assumed by most that their “raid” of Jared’s home has to do with the investigation into Mr. Taylor’s activities.

But for those in the jury box of public opinion, just the presence of investigators at Jared’s home makes Jared guilty of the same crimes Taylor is accused of.

And so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Subway has “suspended” their relationship with Mr. Fogle, just as Jared’s foundation “severed” all ties to Mr. Taylor after his arrest.

No one wants to be associated with the perceived-guilty.

A Personal Example

If you read the Bible for very long, you’ll discover that it says we are all guilty. While you may not be guilty of possession of child-pornography (I sure hope not!), you are guilty of sin. If you are human, you have committed sexual sin, lied to others, gossiped, eaten too much, and not kept God at the center of your life. “For ALL have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard.” is the way Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans.

But I am SO thankful that God didn’t sever all ties with me, or suspend our relationship, even though I am guilty. Rather, He allowed Himself to be associated with the guiltyJesus took on human flesh, and died a sinner’s death, paying the penalty that WE should have owed for our sins.

Even though we were weak in our sin, even enemies to God’s will and ways, God associated himself with us. He didn’t abandon us in our worst moments, He rescued us from them.

Living Out This Truth

So if you are a Jesus-follower, here’s what this means for you:

First, take some time to thank God for not severing ties with you, but rather linking up with you, allowing the righteousness of Jesus to be counted as your righteousness.

Second, as a Jesus-follower, you are to live like Jesus lived and love like Jesus loved. This means that if someone you love, someone you are associated with, does something sinful, don’t immediately sever ties. I’m not asking you to abandon truth, pretending that what they did doesn’t matter. But how can you lead with grace? Because if your friend becomes overwhelmed with guilt for what they have done, they might need you to be the one to help lead them to the feet of Jesus, where they can find forgiveness for their sin and the power to forgive themselves.

Yes, by associating yourself with the guilty, you’ll be “stained.” Your reputation might take a hit. You might get thrown under the bus by the jury box of public opinion. But in the end, God, who knows your heart, will reward you, because He is glorified when you seek to let Him work in you and through you.

So may you have the guts to be associated with the guilty. Selfless love requires it of you.