Category Archives: Forgiveness

I Have To Make A Confession

A Syllabus
Nearly two years ago, a social-media acquaintance of mine asked me to explain the Sacrament of Confession. I thought long and hard about what to say, and how to phrase it so that it would make sense to Protestant ears. Eventually, I decided on a logical path I could take that would explain the reason that Catholic theology requires the Sacrament of Confession.

This was the introduction to part 1:

As I began to formulate this answer, I realized that it would not be short or simple. Imagine going to a box of Christmas lights and attempting to retrieve only one. Most often, you end up with all the wires in the box coming out as one big ball. In order to retrieve just the one, you have to sit there and focus on the winding path of the one you want, paying attention to all the places where it intersects with the others. The doctrine of the sacrament of Confession is not all that difficult. I could answer it in a few short scriptures and be done with it. But, those scriptures a Catholic uses to support confession are not interpreted the same way by Protestants. And so in order to give an answer for why Catholics confess our sins to a priest, we must first address the nature of sin, the nature of sacrament, and the validity of the priesthood, and all of these concepts hinge on the way Catholics view Scripture.

I practically put together a syllabus for a semester-long lecture series. Ultimately, I became too daunted by the amount of material I couldn’t articulate, and I gave up.

Tonight, As I stood in line for confession, I realized that I had tried to give a lecture instead of an answer. So tonight, let me attempt to give the answer that I should have given two years ago. Continue reading

Noah: Deluge-onal or Buoy Genius?

I’ve just returned from watching Darron Aronofsky’s adaptation of Noah, and I’ve got a lot to say. I ask your pardon, in the middle of this review, my wife gave birth to a beautiful son, so this was written quickly in two separate sessions. If I have a few disjointed thoughts, I blame in on first night of sleep with a new baby.

On to the review!

Spoiler #1 There’s a big flood that covers the Earth.
Spoiler #2 When it’s over, only Noah’s family survives.
Are you surprised? Continue reading

Finding Freedom: Part IV – The True Mirror

 
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
—Matthew 5:23-24

Talking about forgiveness is uncomfortable when we are addressing those who have wounded us. How much more so when we look to those occasions in which it is we who were the offenders. It is the plank in our own eye, keeping us from accurately dealing with the speck in our offender’s. (Matthew 7:3)

When looking at ourselves and our own shortfalls, it is important to make sure our mirror is accurate. There are so many fun-house mirrors that will keep us from dealing accurately with our own sins. Some mirrors inflate our own righteousness, and
some inflate our guilt. In either circumstance, forgiveness and freedom will be kept at bay.

In some mirrors we cannot see our faults. We have justified our every action and demonized the actions of those around us. In this mirror we look like a victim to the whims of everyone around us, and we hold bitterness against our perceived offenders. While it is true that there are times when we are truly blameless, it does not hurt for us to reexamine the offense from another perspective. One way to do this, is to ask the questions, “How could I have handled this situation better?” and “Could any of my actions or responses be interpreted by another as an offense?”

In other mirrors, all we see is our own guilt. We feel as though any attempt to seek forgiveness will be mocked by those we hurt. We believe that no amount of humility will soften those we hurt, and no repentance will cause them to forgive us. This kind of guilt draws us into a despair where it becomes difficult to even forgive ourselves.

There is a true mirror though. One that will show us accurately our responsibility without crushing us with shame. David shows us the mirror in a prayer that he prayed in Psalm 139:23-24. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Homework this week: With paper and pen ready, pray the above prayer, and then listen.

Write down the things that God reveals to you. Do not argue with your thoughts, or justify your actions. If God brought it to your mind, it is best to deal with it honestly. Remember that God brings these to mind for your freedom and forgiveness, and not to condemn you.

Once written, pray over the list, and ask God how he would like for you to proceed. Perhaps a letter, perhaps face to face, perhaps, just to forgive yourself and let go of the past.

Lastly, rejoice! God is bringing you into freedom!

Finding Freedom: Part III – When Is Enough, Enough?

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” —Matthew 18:21-22

We’ve spent the last two weeks talking about Forgiveness. We established that forgiveness is a choice, for we know that God is not a tyrant commanding the impossible; and we defined Forgiveness as “releasing my right to be angry and/or bitter toward a person for the wrong they committed and releasing the outcome to God.”

We have addressed what forgiveness looks like in response to an offence, but what happens when the wound in question is not as a result of an event, but rather of a behavior. What happens when you can’t even count the number of times you have been wronged? The Rabbinical teaching of the day stated that forgiving someone three times was sufficient. Peter knew of Jesus tendency to require more than the other Rabbis, and so tendered the guess of seven times. After all, seven was the number of “completion.” Surely forgiving someone seven times would be enough.

“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Some translations read “seventy times seven.” The extravagance shown in Jesus’ answer does not provide us a number at which we are free to stop forgiving, but rather gives us insight into the heart of God. Jesus answer to Peter, communicated to him, and us, “your extravagance in forgiveness (seven times) does not equal mine.” His answer revealed that Peter’s question, and ours, was incorrect. By asking, “how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” we really mean, “How long do I have to put up with this behavior before I can harden my heart? When can I start getting angry and bitter? When can I start inflicting my own brand of punishment?”

To those questions, this is the answer that Jesus gave to Peter. “I want you to form a habit of forgiveness. I want forgiveness to be the first thing in your mind when someone sins against you. I want bitterness to be a strange emotion to you. And I want you to trust me to heal your wounds, and to execute righteous justice on my time.”

After all, isn’t that how Jesus treats us? He has forgiven us of our sin, but we still lose our tempers, we still fall back into our bad habits, we still struggle with our addictions, and we still cave to our old temptations. God is slow to anger, he doesn’t hold grudges or harbor bitterness toward us. He forgives, and forgives, and forgives, and forgives. May we all learn to forgive like Jesus.

Homework this week: Write or revisit a list of names of those whom you have not forgiven, and write their offense next to their name. Pray that God would give you the grace to forgive. Then, one by one, choose to forgive.

Below is a forgiveness template that I have found useful. Imagine that person in the room with you and address the offender out loud.

(Name), you hurt me very deeply when you X____. But (Name), by an act of my will, I choose to forgive you for X_____. God, would you forgive me for holding onto this offense for so long. Help me to walk in the freedom that true forgiveness offers me.

Finding Freedom: Part II – What Forgiveness Is… And Is Not

 
"This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

Matthew 6:9-15

Jesus, it seems, was pretty serious about our forgiving those who wrong us. He put some pretty strong conditions on forgiving, tying our own forgiveness to how we forgive.

We have established that God is not a tyrant, and as such will never ask us to do something that is not in our capacity to do. Unlike Pharaoh in the Old Testament, requiring more bricks, but providing less material, God will always provide for the task he calls us to. Through the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we can offer forgiveness!

But forgiveness is hard! When we even think about forgiving “that person” the pain returns and the wound feels as though it were just inflicted. All of the emotion returns, and try as we might, we just cannot bring ourselves to release them.

It is important for us at this point to properly define what forgiveness is, and what it is not. We often withhold forgiveness, simply because we do not understand what it means to forgive.

Forgiveness is: releasing my right to be angry and/or bitter toward a person for the wrong they committed and releasing the outcome to God.

Forgiveness is not: treating the event like it never happened. Forgiveness does not mean that you were never hurt; it does not imply that the offense didn’t matter, or that it was insignificant. Forgiveness recognizes the depth of the wound, acknowledges the seriousness of the offense, and then chooses to relinquish the outcome to God.

Forgiveness is not: reconciliation. Though there may be a time when God nudges you to seek reconciliation; and though reconciliation may sometimes flow naturally out of forgiveness, they are not synonymous. In fact, there are certain circumstances where reconciliation is either impossible, or unhealthy. In circumstances where the person has died, or dropped off the map, it is not possible to reconcile, and in cases of abusive relationships, it would not be healthy to re-enter into those relationships. Forgiveness does not seek to reconcile, it only seeks to release our bitterness and control of the outcome.

Homework this week: Write or revisit a list of names of those whom you have not forgiven, and write their offense next to their name. Pray that God would give you the grace to forgive. Then, one by one, choose to forgive.

Below is a forgiveness template that I have found useful. Imagine that person in the room with you and address the offender out loud.

(Name), you hurt me very deeply when you X____. But (Name), by an act of my will, I choose to forgive you for X_____. God, would you forgive me for holding onto this offense for so long. Help me to walk in the freedom that true forgiveness offers me.