Forgive and Forget?

Forgiveness. The act of letting someone off the hook. In moderation, forgiveness feels right. It makes you feel like a great, kind and generous person. But when it reaches a threshold, it’s no longer an act of kindness but an ignorance towards injustice, is it not? So where is this threshold, if there is one? And why should we even bother forgiving, when really it isn’t just?

Jesus disciples had the same question:

“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 times seven.”

Matthew 18:21-22

Now, Jesus isn’t setting a threshold here, he’s not giving us a number to count up to before we seek revenge. It’s the equivalent of when you pull out the wildcard when you argued with your siblings when you were young: “I’m better that you times infinity.” Jesus says, there is no threshold, you should just keep forgiving without number.

Now, that just seems unreasonable. You can’t just keep forgiving, where’s the justice in that? To make his point Jesus uses a parable, which he often does:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.”

Matthew 18:23

Just as the King wants to settle his debts with his servants, so does God want to fix our debt to him. Our rebellion has a cost, Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death.” Our actions bring us to owe God our life, he has more than the right to take it. However, the story continues:

“When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents [1 Talent = 20 years work; thus 10,000 Talents = 200,000 years work]. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and the payment had to be made.”

Matthew 18:24-5

Not a pretty picture. The servant obviously hasn’t got the years in him to work off this debt and the only thing that seems to solve the problem is the life of him and his family. Just as we are incapable of paying for our sin with all the good deeds and action we can muster, this servant can’t pay back this debt.

“So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'”

Matt 18:26

As any sane person would do in this situation, they would try and save themselves. It almost seems like the instinctive response to this kind of debt is to promise the unfulfillable. I’ll pay you back, don’t worry, even though it is humanly impossible, I’ll make the promise because it gives a sense of false assurance. I’m in over my head.

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with general forgiveness, it’s not like majority of issues are debt related. Just bear with me, I’m getting there. Jesus continues:

“And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

Matt 18:27

Obviously the servant’s promise was a cry for mercy that came out of a fear and understanding of the hopelessness of his situation. There was no way he could get himself out of it. The master sees this, has pity on him and just lets him off the hook. Just for a minute, close your eyes and imagine the emotions, the sensations that the servant must be feeling. Thankfulness isn’t a big enough concept to even encompass the experience.

This is the extent to which we are forgiven through Christ. That is why Christianity is such a different religion: it asks for nothing in return for salvation, for there is nothing that humanity can offer that can satisfy the debt. The verse from Romans that I mentioned earlier also has the same ending:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23.

However, the parable continues:

“But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [100 denarii = a days work], and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe me’. ”

Matthew 18:28

So off skips this free servant and he stumbles upon someone he happened to lend money to. You have to notice, his methods are a little more violent than his masters.

“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.”

Matt 18:29

Just as the servant pleaded with his master, so too does his friend plead with him. You’d think after having experienced such mercy that the servant would feel more inclined to give mercy himself but he doesn’t. This has consequence:

“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 has 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 18:32-35

The servant has his master to answer to. His behaviour has cost him the mercy he received initially. It seems almost illogical that he didn’t see how little his act of mercy would have been in comparison to the mercy he received from his master and yet he could not forgive.

So this is how forgiveness should work, then. God offers us mercy and forgiveness in our sin because there is no way we could fix the problems we’ve created on our own. Thus, this forgiveness should spur us to forgive others their wrongs which are so much less in comparison to what we’ve received.

Religion Leads to Violence

I know it’s been a long time since my last post but now I’m on holidays and I have more time to put thought into what I’m writing. I’ve been working on a few posts about topics people find hard about Christianity. Things that become road blocks to faith. I don’t want these posts to be about me dictating what I think, although that’s basically what I’m doing. I want you to have a say, so I’d like to encourage comments and thoughts.
So my first installment is a question or concept that one of my closest friends often brings up in our conversations. Violence.

Ray Galea, a few years ago, gave the only talk focussed on violence and religion that I have ever heard. He addressed attitudes on this topic and what response Christians should take, so here’s my attempt to sum it up. Remember, comments are invited…

Christopher Hitchens, a super famous athiest, wrote a book called “God is not Great: How religion poisons everything”. People have often approached me with this belief, that without religion or conflicting beliefs in this world there would be more peace and tolerance. That religion is this ironic dilemma that campaigns for peace by creating conflict and violence.

Ray Galea began his talk by saying:
“Religion is inherently violent, intolerant, feeds racism, tribalism and bigotry and even if you’re not like that you’re guilty by association.”

So if religion kills, isn’t the best thing to do is to just get rid of it, all of it?

How do I respond to this? (How do you respond to this?)

1. There is truth in that.

Atheism rightly shows the ugly side of religion, the reality is, is that religion has a lot to answer for.

Romans 1:18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of the men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

God pours out his wrath because humanity worships the created instead of the creator. That’s religion. Religion is always about running away from God. Ultimately, ruling our own lives.

Romans 1:21 – “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

God hands us over to our own sin (including violence).

2. Christian religion is guilty too.

There is a big difference between biblical Christians and thise that align themselves with goernments and ideologies, despite the fact that they look the same at a distance. Just look at the crusades, the holy wars and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France.

3. Are some religions more exposed to violence than others?

Put blatantly, yes. Ray Galea quoted from the Buddhist texts (ashamedly I admit that I couldn’t tell you where exactly) :

“If a child of Buddha himself kills he will be shut out of the community.”

And also from the Koran (Surah 95) 

 “Then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, then seize them and lay in wait for them in every stratagem of war.”

Now I’m not saying that this represents all Muslims, however, about 70% thought that 9/11 was justified.
Mohammad was a military leader and prophet, but Jesus is very different.
Yesturday at Bible Study, I was struck by how Jesus treated his followers even in the depths of betrayal and denial. In the moment that Judas betrays him in Matthew 26:50, Jesus calls him friend. He doesn’t condemn him and neither does he fight violently against those that have arrested him. As his disciples pull out their swords and one cuts off a soldiers ear.

“But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:51).

As Pilate interrogates Jesus before condemning him to death on the cross Jesus response is:

“Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”” John 18:36

Christianity is aimed in a different direction from other religions. It may cause suffering but that is inconsistent from the foundational teachings. Christianity is spread on a wave of hope and committment to the powerless, the sick etc. The only blood Jesus spills is his own.
Religions that are based upon a nation or on the possession of holy land or violent conversions all lead to violence.

4. Neglecting to good in religion.

The problem with the leaders of atheism is that they ignore the good stuff in order to win their argument. They present a slice of history. A biased, superficial reading and edit out a lot of recent research. “Religiously involved individuals are less likely to carry or use weapons, fight or exhibit violent behaviour” Galea quoted from a recent study.

5. The solution is not atheism.

They are happy enough to quote the evils done in the name of religion, but take a look at the three best known atheists: Hitler, Stalin and Mao Si Tung. Between these three they have executed around 100 million people. They lived with a worldview devoid of God. Without God there, there is no concept of right and wrong, is that not more dangerous?
What it all boils down to, where the problem really lies, is in us. The heart of the problem is the human heart. If it’s not religion, it’s ideologies and theories. Violence is found in every religion, simply because it is found in everyone’s heart.

So what does the Bible say?

Genesis 4: the first murderer Cane, is cast out and condemned.
Genesis 6: God unloads a flood because of the violence.
Just from these two references, which I encourage you to look up yourself, it is clear that God hates violence.

“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.” Psalm 11:5.

These words are too strong to be dismissed. At the core of his very being God hates violence. Throughout the Bible it’s clear that this is especially the case when it is against the minority, the powerless, in bullying, rape and in domestic violence. In Malachi 2:16 – “”I hate divorce,”says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garments,” says the Lord Almighty.”
My mother when she was around 20 went searching for meaning. She had come to the conclusions that money was the problem and that peace would be found in a place where money was lacking so she went searching for truth in Fiji. She lived there for a few months and what she found there wasn’t a society of peace. Instead a world of domestic violence and suppression of women. At dusk she would sit in her hut (or whatever it was) and listen to the village women’s screams as their husbands beat them in their blind drunkenness. She told me that in their culture, that’s how the husband would ensure that a women knew her place.

Psalm 140:1 – “Rescue me, O Lord, from evil men; protect me from men of violence.”

God’s people cry out against it. Christians have the privilege of prayer. The knowledge that when we cry out to God he listens and doesn’t turn a blind eye. God, ultimately, is who will bring justice in this world. And that’s where our hope lies. It’s not our job to act on feelings of revenge and the like in an effort to balance it out, but we know, and often struggle to remember, that when Christ returns, everything will be made right.
Despite all this, the God who hates violence is accused of causing violence. Whenever, God reimposes his will on rebels, it always comes with a quota of pain.
Now I am aware of the wars that God fought alongside Israel in the old testament. But think about this. I’ll use the example of Canaan, a nation that for hundreds of years sacrificed their very own kids to their gods, and it is here that God authorised the only permitted holy war. God acted and sent his people to eradicate them.
violence is only violence when it is not authorised, when it is not proportionate to the crime, when it is not done according to justice. The thing is, we think we know what justice is, but we have violence in our hearts and that warps our perception. Christian’s recognise this and do their best to refrain from attempting to bring justice but instead aim to bring peace and to glorify God instead of being God.
It is the existence of Hell and the reality of judgement that prevents us from being violent with each other.
In Romans 12, paul writes, love your enemy, you don’t have to excercise revenge, God will.

But just think about this. The God who hates violence allows himself to be violently abused. From the moment Jesus was born, Herod tried to take him out. When Jesus preached his first sermon they had tried to push him off a cliff. Jesus knew he would be flogged and killed, betrayed even.
There is violence everywhere, people in the wrong place, at the time.
Violence is not a religious problem, it’s a human problem.

Mark 15:19 – “Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees they paid homage to him.”

Jesus suffered under the hands of men, he suffered the agony and utter humiliation of suffocation. He know what it’s like, he’s walked in the shoes of victims. But what’s really extraordinary about him, is that he didn’t just come to save the victims, but he came for the offenders.

Isaiah 53 (read it, seriously). At the cross, Jesus became the wife basher, the armed bully…..the list goes on. It was the will of God that Jesus would be punished for all of our violence.
He created a new community marked by love, a lack of violence, an ear for false teachers, gentleness and respect. As Christians it is our job to protect those that are powerless. The gospel has the power to transform these violent people into loving followers, just look at Stephen Lungu who has one of the most breath-taking testimonies I’ve ever heard. A man who was at the heart of a gang and became a follower as he sat in a church with the intent to set off the bomb he was holding. I recommend you read his book. It’s one of those transformations that reminds you why you are a Christian and of the power of the word of God.

So the real solution to the problem of violence is not to rid the world of religion. It is the new heavens and the new earth that will arrive when Christ returns. It is the restoration of justice by God. Preaching the gospel changes hearts. Pray for those that deal with violence and violent people such as those that work in prison ministry. And protect the powerless.

So have a think about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts, not so that I can shoot them down, but