I’ve often spoke and written on forgiveness, and it occurs to me that there is a lot of different understandings on what it is. Some say “forgive and forget” – a near psychological impossibility – while some have attempted to leverage the pain others caused them to prove the haters wrong; using their unforgiveness as a sort of fuel to drive them forward.
But I find that we all know instinctively that forgiveness is important and necessary for our own well being. I’ve often taught that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison, but expecting it to hurt the other person. Others have said that forgiving is like setting a prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was actually you.
We know we should forgive. Often, we want to forgive. But how do we forgive someone who has wronged us, and how do we know we’ve truly granted forgiveness to the other person?
- Forgiveness is a choice. That means it starts with your will, and the good news about that, is you have direct control over it. The feeling of forgiveness follows the decision to forgive.
- Forgiveness is a process. It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers, deciding you’ve forgiven someone, and it’s over. This is why it’s harder to forgive some things more than others. The greater the hurt, the harder the process. So once you’ve decided you should forgive someone, you’ll often have to “re-forgive” their offense, as the feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness try to creep back in.
- Forgiveness is self-care. It’s not simple a matter of whether the person who hurt you deserves to be forgiven. Truth is NO ONE deserves to be forgiven! But love requires forgiveness. Love for the other person, but also love for yourself. Forgiving someone doesn’t just mean that they get to move on, it means you get to move on.
- Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. As mentioned earlier, you can’t! We lie to ourselves when we say “forgive and forget”. Sometimes, forgiveness means I’m not going to trust you again. Sometimes it means, I’m not putting myself in a position where I have to forgive you again.
- Forgiveness has a calling card. You know you’ve truly forgiven when you get to the point where you want what’s best for them, not what they “deserve.” If they get hurt back, and you think “Ha! Karma! Finally!” You definitely have not forgiven them. If instead you hurt for them, that’s a sign you’ve truly let something go, and given them what you would want – what you need – when the role is reversed.
We live in a time where it’s super easy to feel informed, and simultaneously remain completely sedentary with such information. As a result, we’ve come to the false conclusion that by sharing our opinions, we care about a particular issue.
We have confused expressing our opinion, for being active.
For example, if you say you care about homeless veterans, but the closest you’ve come to doing anything about it is sharing a meme about how “we” don’t take care of homeless veterans, you in fact, do not care for homeless veterans – You just have an opinion, about how other people, the government, churches, etc. should be caring for homeless veterans.
You don’t actually care just by saying that you care. In reality, it makes little to no difference to you, unless you’re willing to get involved. Any issue only really matters to you to the extent that you’re willing to do something about it. And just saying, sharing, posting something, or criticizing others’ actions is not the same as caring or doing something about it.
James 2 tells us that if we see someone hungry, cold, or just otherwise in need and, “…say to them, ‘Go in peace! Be warmed and filled’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use it that?” [emphasis mine]
As my father taught me growing up, A “God bless you!” never fed anyone.
The same goes for sharing our faith as Christ-followers. It isn’t enough for us to post a verse, or a cute pic of something inspirational. We have to go out and tell it. We have to live it – embody the gospel – to the world around us.
The world doesn’t need another Facebook warrior, it needs people willing to actually intervene, spend their time, money, well-being, even their very lives if necessary, to do what is right.
So, care. Do something. Get involved. Go to the needy. Serve the broken. Pour your guts out to make this world a better place. No one cares what you and I think. But they can’t ignore how we serve.
A friend, and member of my church recently asked this question, as he and his wife were both in some degree of uncertainty on the subject. Both of them are faithful godly people who have been in church, read the Bible, and heard the Scriptures most of their life. So this was no novice question. They’re not alone. I’ve heard many people ask this question, and theologians are even somewhat confused on the subject.
Here is my best, short-ish explanation to this curiosity question.
The only biblical basis for this question at all is found in Acts 2:27, where an Old Testament prophecy is quoted in some translations as, “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (KJV). However, “hell” here – at least, as we generally understand it – is misinterpreted. This misinterpretation is regrettably repeated in other translations, and then again in the Apostle’s Creed, which directly says that Christ, “descendit ad infernos“. Yes, infernos, in Latin always understood as the eternal burning hell. Thanks, for the confusion, fourth century church leaders…
But this verse in Acts is a direct quote from Psalm 16:10, “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol [emphasis, mine]; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.” (NASB). This Psalm prophesied the death and resurrection of Jesus nearly a millennium in advance. And the original word in the original quote being understood as “hell” in Acts 2:27 was actually the Hebrew word, Sheol – “the place of the dead.” It was a general reference to the grave, the spiritual dimension, the afterlife in general, or, yes, hell – as in THE Hell… infernos, as the fourth century writer’s of the Apostle’s Creed put it.
We must utilize biblical context to understand which meaning is accurate for the original writing. This quote was written in Psalm, a Hebrew song and poetry book that consistently rhymed thoughts rather than sounds like we do in music and poetry today. So it frequently repeats a thought by rewording it. This gives the reader or listener deeper understanding by hearing the same exact thought expressed a different way. So in our verse from Acts 2/Psalm 16, we read:
“Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades [In Hebrew, Sheol],
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”
The second part of that thought-rhyme is clearly telling us that God would not allow Christ’ body to remain in the grave long enough to receive significant corpse decay. Since this was written in the format of Hebrew poetry, returning to the first part of this quote about Christ’ soul not being abandoned to “Sheol”, it’s safe to understand that as His soul being left “in the place of the dead” or “separated from His body.” Thus, being reunited with his glorified body, before decay, and not leaving His spirit in “the place of the dead.”
But what if we got it wrong… what if it meant this, but also meant THE Hell? Three thoughts…
- 1 Peter 3:19 makes reference to Jesus “proclaiming to the spirits who are imprisoned”. Some think this meant in Hell. But if you read in it’s context, you’ll see that this is likely referring to demonic spirits – not human ones – whom it appears that Jesus was judging after He rose again. Still, there is a vague possibility that this occurred IN Hell, but many think that’s a bit of a stretch.
- In Revelation 1:18, Jesus Himself says that He possess the “keys to Hell and death.” So what? Didn’t say where or how He got them. Maybe He’s always had them. I mean, who else would have them?
- If… and I do emphasize IF, Jesus went to THE Hell at all, He did not go as a prisoner. He went as the warden. On the cross, Jesus cried out “It is finished” meaning that the debt of our sin had been paid. So IF Jesus went to Hell, it was not to suffer or pay for our sins – it was to exert His rightful authority and position to stand in judgment because of who He is, and what He had just done.
There. I hope that cleared some things up or at least gave you some decent content to process as you form your own opinion. Regardless, we know He’s at the right hand of God the Father now (Hebrew 12:1-3).
You ever feel like you do the right thing, and yet bad things happen anyway?! It’s like “Karma” got drunk and punished the wrong person. No good deed goes unpunished – that was a phrase I heard growing up from other adults expressing this exact frustration.
The Apostle Paul had to know that feeling too. In Acts 16 we see this remarkable event where he and Silas were preaching the message of hope in Jesus, even performing an exorcism on a slave girl – in a city called Thyatira in modern day Turkey. For this, they were arrested, physically beaten, and thrown in jail. Well this sucks, would probably be my impulsive response to such circumstances. But what happened next was even more incredible:
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They worshipped God – after being beat up, and thrown in jail… hardly feels like the occasion to celebrate. And while it doesn’t give us a ton of detail, it tells us that they sang hymns – those are songs of worship addressing God directly. There wasn’t anything sarcastic or halfhearted about it.
It was after this, that God literally shook the prison open, freeing them from their cell – but they didn’t leave! I mean why bother? If God could open their prison and decide they could go, there’s hardly any need to rush. The prison guard (who woke up from the earthquake) saw all the doors open and assumed the prisoners fled, was about to take his life – knowing that a far greater punishment awaited him once his centurion supervisor discovered his failure. But upon finding Paul and Silas still there, he hits his knees and asks about their hope in Jesus. Now that is a miracle…
We don’t tend to celebrate or worship God in the middle of difficulty. It’s easier and far more convenient to wallow in self-pity, anger, guilt, and resentment. But when we find within ourselves the capacity to praise God through the pain, God literally opens doors and sets us free. And often times, the outcome is not only our own deliverance, but also that of someone who’s been silently watching us, just like the prison guard. Or your children. Or coworkers.
Praise God through the pain. Find the good to acknowledge. Trust in His sovereignty, that this will somehow work together for your good and His ultimate glory. You didn’t want a comfortable, boring life anyway. You wanted a life that mattered. And nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
I’ll pray for you. It’s the “proper” response in American church culture whenever someone shares something with you about their struggle. It really sounds nice. And I believe it’s almost always offered with the purest intentions. But it tends to have as little sincerity as “bless you!” does whenever someone sneezes.
Because of this, when I was raising support before we moved to launch LifeCity, I literally asked no one to pray for me. I felt like it was ridiculous to ask people who claimed the name of Jesus to pray for one of their own who was trying to start a church. Sure, it sounds spiritual to “ask” for prayer. But even if you don’t like me, you’re not going to pray for me unless I ask you to?! Pardon me, but your prayer life needs help if that’s the case.
Now it’s our obligatory, knee-jerk response on social media whenever a terrorist attack, natural disaster, social injustice, or some other form of tragedy affects some other part of the world to flood social media with hashtags, quotes of solidarity, and temporary profile pics expressing our love – and again, prayers – for those suffering such terrible losses…
Then, of course, one week later, we’re back to our completely unaffected lives. The hashtags fall from the lists of “what’s trending” and the temporary pics revert to our normal selves, and like our often completely meaningless expressions of prayer – nothing has actually changed.
No one without food was fed. No one homeless found shelter. No one grieving a loss was comforted. Nothing. NOTHING! was changed by our shout-outs saying that we’re praying for any city, country, or people group affected by such things.
Look – I don’t mean to be such a kill-joy, and I certainly dislike coming across as a jerk – especially regarding praying! But we need to really, really quit blaming prayer for our inaction. Hear me out…
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us, “23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
Offerings were presented in the Temple as part of the prayer rituals of ancient Israel. Jesus literally tells His followers to stop their prayer offering to go make things right with someone they’ve offended. In other words – it is more important to God that we actually do good instead of simply praying for good.
Please note – in the very same passage, Jesus tells His followers to then go and present their offering after they’ve reconciled with the offended brother; but the priority is not on merely doing “religious” exercises, but improving people’s lives.
It is far more difficult to look someone in the eye and apologize, or offer forgiveness to them than it is to “pray” for them and hope that God just glosses over a situation you would rather avoid altogether. Prayer does not work that way.
Prayer moves the hand of God only to the extent that I’m willing to obey Him. Where obedience is lacking, so is the power of prayer. I’m not saying that prayer doesn’t work. I’m saying that prayer without faith doesn’t work. And faith in God is always accompanied by a corresponding action. James talks about that in James 2:14-17. Paul even talks about this in Ephesians 2:10.
So don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “Don’t Pray!” I’m saying that we need to quit hiding behind prayer as an act of disobedience for doing actual good. Feed a hungry family. Donate some time to volunteering in your city. Restock a coat closet at a school for students in need. Spend some time with someone who’s hurting. Go and actually do something! Go and be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Have a strong bias toward action. And then pray for them, and that others would join you in trying to meet real needs in this broken, hurting world.
Otherwise, don’t ask God to do something He’s already commanded and enabled you to do. Seriously.
P.S. – The next time someone tells you they’re struggling with something you genuinely can’t do anything about, try this. Instead of saying “I’ll pray for you,” just do it. Just pray for them right then and there. Say, “Can I pray for you right now?” Put your hand on their shoulder (if appropriate) and pray for God to intervene right then and there. And afterward, make sure they’ve got your number in case there is something you can do to help.
“Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men… For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” Proverbs 4:14, 17
Bread and wine… interesting choice of words for Solomon, the writer of Proverbs 4. In preparing for a message on this passage recently, this detail did not pass by me unnoticed. Interestingly, we see bread and wine pop up in Scripture often.
Bread is brought up often as a reference to food in general in the Bible, and is symbolic of receiving satisfaction. Likewise, wine appears frequently in Scripture and is typically symbolic of joy.
Some examples of bread symbolizing satisfaction include…
- Gen. 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”
- Gen. 18:5, “and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves…”
- Lev. 26:5, “And you shall eat your bread til you are full…”
- Psalm 104:15, “…And bread which sustains man’s heart.”
- Matt. 6:11, “Give us this day, our daily bread…”
Of course, Jesus also refers to Himself as the Bread of Life in John 6:35 – the ultimate source of our satisfaction.
Some examples of wine symbolizing joy include…
- Job 1:13, “One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine…”
- Psalm 4:7, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.”
- Psalm 104;15, “…Wine, which makes the heart of man glad…”
- Pro. 3:10, “then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
- Ecc. 2:3, “I tried cheering myself with wine,…”
- Isa. 24:7, “The new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan.”
The fascinating thing about bread and wine, is that we see them together frequently in Scripture, but never more clearly than at “The Last Supper” an event that we reenact in part today in commemoration of Jesus words during that meal. We typically refer to this memorial as “communion,” or “the Lord’s supper.” It was at this event that Jesus told the apostles, “Take eat [this bread], this is my body which is broken for you… This cup [of wine] is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you…” When we take communion, not only are we “remembering the Lord’s death until He comes,” we’re also declaring “Jesus you are the Bread of Life, and the only thing that can ultimately satisfy my longing soul. You are the only One who can fill my life with joy unspeakable – full of glory!”
But in Proverbs 4, it says that those who find themselves on the path of the wicked “Eat the bread of wickedness,” and “drink the wine of violence.”
When we get our lives on the path of the wicked, we get everything backwards. Those in this passage get their satisfaction from rebellion and wickedness; they get their joy from harming others.
Whenever we get off the way of wisdom and down the path of the wicked, we’ll call wrong what God says is right – and call right what God says is wrong.
The net result? We rebel. And harm others. And get our satisfaction and joy from doing such. May God help us to not twist His Word, to love others and show mercy, to be humble and gracious – even as Jesus has been towards us. Remember this the next time you take of the bread and wine at communion.
Blessings, Pastor John