I came across an article the other day that thoroughly shocked me. The title? “Will You Forgive God?” by R.T. Kendall. Red flags immediately began popping up, but I decided to give it a fair shot and see what the author had to say. Sometimes it’s simply semantics.
As I read through the article, I began thinking, “OK, this isn’t too bad. In fact, he’s giving some really insightful suggestions. Never giving up … Continuing to read the Word and seek God even if you feel betrayed by Him … God never betrays us, even if we feel that way … Sounds great!”
Then I came to the final paragraph of the article, which says, “If you need more time before you can totally forgive God, He is OK about this. He loves you like you are. He will be there waiting for you. He is not rushing you. He will come through for you. I guarantee it–that is, if you persist in faith.”
My jaw dropped. Forgiving God? Nothing else in the article even suggested the notion. What is going on?
I realized, as I read that article again, that there are some people who harbor a misunderstanding when it comes to the concept of forgiveness.
And yet forgiveness is one of the most important concepts when it comes to worship! Remember when Jesus told us to leave our gift at the altar if we have an offense with another brother, to go make things right with the person, and then return to worship? (Read Matthew 5:24 to see His teaching.) Bitterness and unforgiveness are some of the deadliest obstacles to truly worshiping Jesus Christ. Jesus said it so clearly. It fills me with holy fear to think of it: “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:15; Mark 11:25).
Wow. How can we worship the God of true, pure forgiveness if we ourselves are harboring resentment?
That said, it’s important to understand what forgiveness really is. Jesus demonstrated it perfectly when He told us the parable of the king who forgave his servant millions of dollars’ worth of debt. Right afterwards, this servant went out and began choking his fellow servant, saying, “Give me what you owe me.” It was about a couple dollars. Really?
In response, the king was infuriated with his servant and threw him in jail for not forgiving a friend’s small debt after his own astronomical one was canceled.
And that’s what forgiveness is: canceling a debt.
When someone sins against you, they owe you something, whether it be an apology, the money they stole, the fidelity they broke, kind words they withheld from you, the truth after they lied to you … Whatever it is, they owe you something. Whatever it takes to make up for the wrong they did, that is what they owe you.
With that in mind, it’s important to remember we can’t forgive someone for something that is not sin. There’s a difference between forgiving someone and simply being patient or even embracing someone’s quirks.
And neither is forgiveness making excuses for people’s sin. “You know, what that person did wasn’t really wrong. They were just hurt. Or confused. Or…” OK, sometimes those are ALL true. But sin is sin. If someone wrongs you, that is sin. There may be understandable hurts or reasons they have for committing that wrong, and remembering those reasons can help us understand their perspective. But in the end, forgiveness is not about making excuses for people. In order to forgive, you have to see what debt they owe you, and acknowledge the reality of that debt.
Forgiveness is you then looking at that debt square in the face and … writing CANCELED across it. They owe you nothing now. If they offer that apology, awesome. If they return that stolen item, great. That is the right thing to do in God’s eyes, and God will still discipline them if they refuse to do so. But if they don’t, it doesn’t change anything on your part. Because you have forgiven them.
With that understanding of forgiveness, how on earth can we possibly say we should or even can “forgive” God?
What If It Feels Like God Has Let You Down?
I understand feeling betrayed by God, even though it’s not a true betrayal. As the Kendall rightly puts it, “God never betrays us. I do not believe God truly lets us down; we only feel let down.”
There are times when we believe God is going to do something, and it doesn’t happen. Or we ask Him fervently for something we desperately desire, and we don’t get it. Or the thing or person we love most is stripped away from our grasp, and we’re all alone. I understand. Believe me, I have felt that way several times before.
But how can we cancel a debt that doesn’t exist?
The truth is that we never have to forgive God. We never can forgive God because there’s nothing to forgive. God never owes us anything. We, on the other hand, are indebted to Him, yet He chooses to cancel our debts. The promises He makes, He keeps. Always. Without fail.
We can look at our pain, our feelings of betrayal, our sense of anger or fear and say, “God, I don’t understand. I’m furious. I’m hurting. Help me. I need You. I trust You.” Sometimes that is all you can say. But those are the words that matter the most.
David didn’t conceal his sense of betrayal toward God. Neither did Jeremiah. Check out Psalm 22, Jeremiah 15, and Psalm 44 for just a few examples of this sense of hurt and confusion toward God. But they never, ever said, “God, I forgive You.” That, my friends, would be the definition of “ludicrous.”
So I do not disagree with R.T. Kendall’s article. I disagree with how he redefines forgiveness. And before you say, “It’s just semantics,” remember that what you believe about forgiveness will dictate who you forgive, why you forgive, and how you forgive. Let’s forgive as Christ did. He didn’t pretend we didn’t sin against Him. He looked at us in our filth. And He looked at us with love. Compassion. Desire. And hope. Then He laid out our list of sins, took up His pen, and wrote “canceled.”. And now we’re free.