Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: Despite the remembering

A couple weeks ago, Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, misquoted the Bible. Badly.

He was summarizing part of an address Obama gave where he said, “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.” A few hours later, a reporter asked Carney during a press conference, “Isn’t it a bit much to bring God into the jobs debate?” Carney responded: “I believe that the phrase from the Bible is, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.’”

Except the Bible doesn't say that. Anywhere. Of course someone was quick to bring that up, and the Obama camp smart.

Our culture has somehow maintained a collection of sayings that sound Biblical, but aren't actually in the Bible. They are repeated over and over, as if from the mouth of God, and are nothing more than idioms.

One that particularly bothers me is the directive to "Forgive and forget." Gosh, it kills me to hear people stumbling over this order that seems holy, and yet is mercilessly difficult. If you've ever listened to a radio program where people phone in for advice, you'll hear the burden people put upon themselves to forgive the heinous sins of others and then expect the memories to simply vanish from their minds, as if that is proof of true forgiveness.

Well, as far as I know, God is the only one who can choose to forget sin (Isaiah 43:25). And He does not require the same of us. True forgiveness is always in spite of the fact that we remember. In the circumstances that really matter, how could we not?

Some of us have endured some horrible things. I don't need to go into specifics. You know what I'm talking about. Really broken people are in our worlds, and sometimes were or are in our homes. I'm sure among the women reading this post, every sort of abuse and violation can be represented by our experiences. Some of the worst moments of our lives have been lived in the shadow of another's sin. Plain and simple.

And those moments mattered.

They are not going to easily erase like chalk on a blackboard. The wrongs committed against us were just that. Wrong. And God grieved with us the entire time. That's the truth.

Yet, we are called, as followers of Jesus, to forgiveness. Not based on the merit of another, by any means. Not because the other person feels remorse. Not because someone is even cognizant of his or her own guilt. Our burden to forgive is only because we too were forgiven by God Himself when we asked Jesus to be in charge of our lives. He paid the debt we couldn't pay, and then asks us in turn to clear the debts of others. To say to the ones who have damaged us: "You don't owe me anything."

Wow, isn't that a high calling? Almost unbelievable that God would ask that of us? I know that even in the small things, the day-to-day emotional injuries that happen, for instance, in marriage, I really want an apology. (How much more do we feel this in the bigger hurts!) I tell myself that I need an apology before I can function lovingly again. However, I've learned that is a lie intended to hold me back and keep me in bondage to my hurt. Focused on myself, dwelling on my rights, and completely forgetting whose I am.

True forgiveness must be a supernatural transaction. I cannot expect my own hurting soul to muster up that kind of grace. No way. Only the power and blood of Jesus can heal us enough to get us to that place. And these things take time. God is not in a rush for us to get there. But He does call us to obey:

"As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive"
Colossians 3:13

Forgiveness is also not a one-time deal. Because there's the remembering. God has created our brains to more deeply etch the things that move us most. The good and the bad. So naturally, the very bad hurts leave lasting scars in our memories. That is why the "Forgive and forget" mantra really messes us up. It's plain impossible. And anything but Biblical.

During some seasons, I've had to choose forgiveness daily. Sometimes several times a day, as the remembering continued. It is a choice of the will, and it is the fruit of healing, laying down my struggle before the Lord, and asking Him for grace.

Really, the more we understand what grace has done for us, the more we are able to have grace for others. Unmerited favor is a great definition for grace: nothing earned, just granted, simply because it was first granted to us.

I'm pretty darn thankful that Jesus didn't wait for my apology before He died for me.



  1. my dad says that ALL the time. and my husband debates with him about it ALL the time. i'm going to tell him obama used it. maybe he'll stop saying it... ;)

    but on a serious note, AMEN that he does not wait for our apology. AMEN that He initiates. He helps those who have no help without Him.

  2. my days are all running together right now so i can't remember if i read this post last night or this morning. but whenever i did, i couldn't stop the tears. i am totally in agreement with someone who has deeply hurt many and as someone who has been deeply hurt as well. thank you for the good reminder, leslie girl.

  3. I hate it when people quote things that are not actually in the Bible because I feel like it so often misrepresents the heart of God. Thank you so much on your thoughtful insights into forgiveness.

    I'm pretty sure I'm your new biggest blog fan. I'm actually feeling a little stalker-ish. :)

  4. Straight truth as always.:) I actually read your post earlier and didn't comment. Then sitting at a red light was thinking over everything. Forgiving is an action word..and i can't ever be done doing so. When i think about His forgiveness towards me, it's immediately humbling. Thank you leslie...:)

  5. I'm just not at a place where I can openly forgive, it would be forced and unauthentic. Are we even all worthy of forgiveness?, I'm not even sure about that. Surely there are some that even God doesn't forgive. So, I'm not quite sure what your message is to me as I struggle, holding deep wounds, bitterness in my heart about injustice and feeling that if I offer forgiveness the perpetrators get a free pass to continue hurting.

  6. 'merlin' since you don't have your email linked to your name, I'm replying to your comment here. I'm sorry for your pain, and I feel for you. It is okay that you are struggling and have not yet worked out the whole forgiveness thing. I'm with you - there's no sense in forcing it. In fact, I think you are so brave to admit that, and then share your thoughts here. I'm certain many others who read this today are in your same shoes. I'm thankful that you had the courage to represent this side of the issue.

    You are right. There are some people whom God does not forgive. And they are those who refuse His offer of grace and forgiveness, who say "no thanks" (or worse) to the God of heaven. Those people will experience the full consequence of their sin. We are all unworthy of forgiveness because none of us can attain the holiness God requires by ourselves. That's why grace has to be a free gift; none can earn it. And for those of us who receive God's forgiveness through believing in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross, that he paid the penalty for our sin, we receive forgiveness for all of it, no matter how 'bad.' It seems crazy, to our human minds, that He could possibly forgive the worst offenses if that person truly repented. But it takes faith to believe that God is both perfectly just as well as perfectly loving.

    As far as your job, well if God is perfectly just, then you don't have to carry around the weight of someone else's sin; you're not responsible for his or her punishment. God is. Trust Him to deal with those who have hurt you. He is your defender, you are His precious daughter, and He is a good Father.

    God wants us to be forgiving because He wants US to be free. I'll be praying you continue to seek the Lord for the healing and freedom He alone can provide. Thanks again for your honesty.

  7. Leslie, you've given me a rich response, I will reread it many times to grasp all of the wisdom. Already, I felt a shift, so I am hopeful. For your taking the time to reach out to me, I am grateful.

  8. i love grace on a thursday. i look forward to the nuggets of truth the spirit is going to pour on this page.

    wouldn't it be easier if it were forgiven and forgotten. if that were really the case wouldn't many of us be inclined to forgive a lot sooner?
    i know i would be. "what does unforgiveness do?" a lot of no-good. a lot. i know.

    abandonment by my mother, rejection by my dad, 6 step dads... and all that comes with that has provided me ample opportunity to forgive AND to LEARN (not without a fight) grace.

    relief from my pain has come because of grace.


  9. So, true... so true. It would be so much easier if the forget could really supernaturally happen.

    In forgiving, I have experienced the freedom that God gives me. Free from the emotional ties that hold me to an incident or to harboring bitterness against others. I become moved instead to pity and pray for others.

    I think that we also forget that repentance and reconciliation are also different that forgiveness itself. We can forgive and let go, but if the person does not repent, that doesn't mean we are automatically reconciled. It would be great if there was always repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, but it just doesn't always work that way, and it saddens me when Christians assume that you aren't being "Christian" if you haven't forces a reconciliation.

  10. this is so good.
    praise jesus for these true words.

    i have a few things that i truly have to forgive over and over again. it's like, my human heart just can't let it be DONE sometimes. i know i give god repeats, too. so grateful for his forgiveness and grace in my life.