Forgiveness That Isn’t?


Keith had seen Franklin Fastener, his great-great-great-grandfather’s company, through many trials in his tenure since taking over from his dad at the tender age of 30. The company made the best nuts and bolts in America. Which is why it pained Keith to think that he might have to close it down on his watch. Too little business coupled with too much competition from China. So when ConHugeCo asked for a bid on a massive project that would keep Franklin rolling in dough for another decade or more, Keith was ecstatic. He spent three months working hand in hand with ConHugeCo’s people to ensure the bidding went smoothly and the multinational got everything it asked for—both immediately and in spades. So it came as a terrible shock when the winning bid went to Shin Dao Manufacturing. Keith went home an hour later and cried for the first time in as long as he could remember.

Kendra first spotted Zach when he prayed for an elderly couple after the service. She was new to the church then, but it was impossible for her not to notice the tall, handsome, young man. Something clicked inside her when their eyes first met. It took Zach almost a year to ask her out, but when he did, she was convinced that this was finally The One. Zach was loved by many and could not be more respected. He had a job in banking and seemed to do no wrong. After a couple months of “by the book Christian dating,” Kendra thought she might finally hear the three words every gal longs for, but instead, Zach said he didn’t think that the relationship was working for him, and he walked away.

Rebecca had the house, the means, and the love of children to start a daycare in her home. Her husband, Rick, encouraged her to go for it, especially since many in their neighborhood were struggling to find good daycare. Though Rick has a solid job as a security specialist for a large computer company, he and Rebecca were planning to give her daycare income to some friends who were missionaries working in an orphanage in Uganda. But Rebecca’s elation and godly hope soon turned to despair. There would be no daycare in her home because the state would not license her. Why? Because in Rick’s youth he had been convicted of felony computer hacking before he turned his life around, and the state would not issue a daycare license if a convicted felon lived in the home.

Keith, Kendra, and Rebecca. Three burned people.

'Parable of the Wicked Servant' by Domenico FettiThen Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
—Matthew 18:21-35 ESV

We know well this passage about the unjust steward who received forgiveness for his massive debt but would not forgive another for a much smaller one. My pastor preached on it yesterday and talked about forgiving those who sin against you as a bedrock discipline for true disciples.

I wondered about those cases when no sin is involved, though. That comes up often enough to merit some discussion. In fact, I discussed these same cases with three friends after the service.

In the examples above, ConHugeCo simply chose another winner for their bid, while Zach decided that his relationship with Kelly was not going to lead to marriage. Keith and Kelly felt the brunt of those decisions, and ultimately felt terrible and suffered for the decisions, but again, no one sinned, so by the Bible’s standard, there was nothing or no one to forgive. In Rebecca’s situation, Rick had been forgiven years ago. And the state was just abiding by its own laws in an attempt to protect children.

In these three cases, each person feels wronged. But is forgiveness merited? And to whom?

What do you think? Why?

13 thoughts on “Forgiveness That Isn’t?

  1. Great post in terms of provoking thought. What I wondered is why you chose the word forgiveness? Your summary statements are the tell for me.

    “… each person feels wronged. But is forgiveness merited? And to whom?”

    I’d start a long discussion with clarifying that they think they have been wronged as opposed to they feel they have been wronged. I wonder how they feel? Hurt? Angry? etc… Then I’d ask what behavior on their end flowed from that feeling.

    With that, I’d start poking at what belief they have that would result in these feelings and behaviors when these events pass through that grid. I’m not sure at this point that anyone needs forgiveness. I suspect that at least Keith, Kendra, and Rebecca could use some healing and/or changes in their belief system but would need some more information.

  2. What’s with the tough math questions? 🙂

    Separate from the comment above. I adhere to the Chris Brauns school of thought regarding forgiveness. Therefore, presume there was a wrong to be forgiven, repentance would need to come before forgiveness.

    • Rick,

      The “tough” math questions are better than indecipherable CAPTCHAs! Actually, my frontline defense against comment spam was good, but I was getting too many comments that didn’t post because they were “spammy,” but only enough to be sent to moderation, not to the trash. I ended up having to moderate too many, so I elected to set up this system to prevent bot commenting. So far, it has worked fantastically well.

      As for the forgiveness question, I find that people seem to have to have someone to blame/forgive or else it scrambles their sense of justice. If no one is to blame, how do we resolve that feeling inside us that “cosmic justice” did not go the way it should have? What does that say about God’s sovereignty, our place in Him, and His goodness to us? Should God be the default blame-receiver when no one else seems to be to blame? And if the Bible says that the presence of sin is required for someone to be forgiven of theirs, can we ever say “you need to forgive God”? I mean, God never sins so as to need being forgiven.

      Oh, this reminds me of this oldie…

      • I sense a lunch discussion coming on.

        “[H]ow do we resolve that feeling inside us that “cosmic justice” did not go the way it should have?” It’s good and right to have that sense. Now we need to add to that a proper perspective of God, justice, and our role in this age. I think our mutual friend Dr. Sweeten has much to say in this space.

        “Should God be the default blame-receiver when no one else seems to be to blame?” Never let it be so. We praise Him for His tarrying and we learn to live as His ambassadors while a people in exile.

        “[C]an we ever say “you need to forgive God”?” I would never say that.

        Ok, those are my Sunday School sterilized answers … but I like what you are poking at and wish folks like us had more opportunity to grapple with these points face-to-face.

        • Rick,

          There’s another side of this…

          If someone sinned and we forgave them, that’s a fix. We’ve accomplished something practical and it poses a future where things will be better from now on.

          If no one sinned, yet we still feel pain from the outcome of what happened to us, what is the fix? And if there is no fix, what do we do going forward? I think this is the hardest reality of all. There is something in us that demands some sort of finality, some way of establishing a clean break or satisfying answer. We can take a sinful action and use it to justify a clean break or satisfying answer. But when that isn’t there, and we have no genuine fix, it only further clouds the future and makes our pain feel worse.

          For instance, if Zach had physically hurt Kendra, she could justify his walking away and not feel bad about it. But the fact that Zach didn’t do anything wrong makes it hard for Kendra to know what to do now. Should she keep waiting with the hope he changes his mind later? If ConHugeCo had been taking illegal money under the table to skew the bidding process, Keith could console himself knowing that the company was crooked. If Rebecca knew the person in the state government who disapproved her license was a vindictive ex-girlfriend of Rick’s (sorry, the name was a random choice), then she might have some recourse.

          That “What Now?” question is a big part of this.

  3. Heartspeak

    I would posit that what these folks are feeling is not so much ‘hurt’ as it is ‘disappointment’ with the outcomes. In times of disappointment, as believers, we must keep in mind Romans 8:28, that “ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called acccording to His purpose”.

    The question is, Do we really trust God with the circumstances of our lives? Do we understand that His purposes and actions take into account the whole of creation and the whole of our lives?

    A similar misunderstanding occurs around the Matthew 18 concept of offenses. But I’ll leave that to you, Dan for a future post.

    • Heartspeak,

      I would posit that in any case of personal rejection, which may be what Keith and Kendra are both feeling to some extent, there is more than disappointment at work. There is that replaying of the road not taken (“what if I had done _____ instead?”) monologue. There’s the sense of personal inadequacy (“if I had been a better person….”). There is the worry of “this may have been my last shot.” And there is the “what if there’s something inherently wrong with me that they saw but I can’t?”

      The longer I live, the more I see that there are some people who seem to fail more than others, sometimes through their own mistakes, but sometimes not. It is the old lament of “why do the wicked prosper, Lord?” It is wondering how the poor wise man in Ecclesiastes can rise up and save the city and yet be forgotten so quickly.

      I think that most of us can trust God in any given moment, but it’s the whole of a long, long life, especially when the hoped for result doesn’t come to pass, where people struggle. It’s easy to blame sin, but even then, sin doesn’t always seem to explain it all.

      I don’t think that any of us would react well to being told that in order for our neighbor to one day live in a big mansion and have his heart’s desire we will need to be tortured to death very slowly and our children tossed to wild animals. And yet, in many ways, that’s one possible future we must be willing to assent to when we agree to say that we are not our own, we were bought with a price. Despite that gruesomeness, to some there is something spiritually “romantic” in that. What may be harder to assent to is to say yes to a life of seeming insignificance, where one is locked away in a castle tower and the key thrown away. What that looks like in some people’s lives will be different, and yet that is what sometimes happen. I don’t think anyone can predict what life will bring, which is why so many sometimes do put their hand to the plow and after many years of plowing look back over their shoulder.

  4. akaGaGa

    I can most identify with Kendra, as many years ago a man I loved dearly walked away for what seemed to me to be unsubstantiated reasons. I was devastated.

    In hindsight, however, I thank God that I did not marry this man. I see things now in his character that were not evident to me at the time, and recognize that God was truly protecting me.

    From that perspective, I didn’t need to forgive anyone. I needed to repent of not trusting in God’s plan for me.

  5. Franklin N. Ampah-Korsah

    Perhaps under such circumstances we’ve got to let God….Be God. When our feelings are hurt , as in the scenarios painted above where blames can’t be pinned on man, I believe that petitioning God for the reasons why these things happened may help. We may get an answer sooner, later or never, but what remains unchanged is that God’s expression of love towards man comes in all forms and shapes and sizes of both happy and unsavoury situations. I believe the crucifixion , death and resurrection of The Lamb amply teaches us how to surmount all instances of unhappy situations in our lives as we press towards the gates of the Kingdom of God or our Sonship status as Image bearers of God.

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