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The Price of Forgiveness

Steve Bauer


Steve Bauer

Professor, School of Religion, Southern Adventist University


  • June 11, 2011
    11:00 AM
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in March of two thousand and nine the headlines were saturated with the name an Austrian man Nielsen principal who was arrested in Austria for imprisoning his eighteen -year-old daughter Elizabeth and holding her captive in less than a thousand square feet under the back yard for twenty four years during that twenty four years he fathered seven children with her down there three of the children he snuffed out as newborns with forged note saying I belong to this religious organization and will and have a baby would you please raise over and then they would mysteriously appear on the front doorstep during the night and his wife are he would discover the baby in the morning and so his wife not knowing what was going on he were raising these three what she thought were grandchildren from absence the daughter the other three he left with their mother in the dungeon and four until nineteen ninety nine two thousand and nine they had never seen the outside world just that eight hundred or so square feet the day lived in with mom the seventh child died as an infant very young because Frenzel would not allow him to be taken to a hospital for fear of getting caught himself and so it died and he found ways of disposing of it now if you are Elizabeth Frenzel spending over half your life being raped by her father and raising your father children through you in prison for twenty four years in advance and dirty place what would it mean to forgive your father that may push the issue slightly up from a slightly different angle early in my ministry was involved in the case I'll call her Samantha home whose stepfather abused her from age seven to fifteen at age fifteen she tried to commit suicide by jumping in front of a city bus except that she miscalculated its braking power and it stopped before theater shortly thereafter she set their apartment building on fire and so that led to a trip to the school counselor were finally the sordid details came out what would it mean for Samantha to forgive her stepfather and a more generic angle to approach the case from take the battered spouse Pharaoh husband nor wife gets angry or feels that you not stay duly under control and they take it out on you physically on over a period of time and and you are battered bruised and assaulted what would it mean to forget those forgiveness simply mean dropping charges and let's pretend it never happened if that's the as the dropping charges and pretending it never happened relegate me to a life of perpetual victimhood always forgiving but never delivered from the problem what does it mean to forget the problem is further complicated by the fact that we use the term forgiveness in more than one way for example our two -year-old in the high chair happens to there goes the cup of juice all over the place and were not happy but we know it wasn't malicious they don't have good judgment on you know spatial things and so we say we forgave them for spilling the juice and it becomes kind of the equipment of excusing but that doesn't quite seem to work for case like Elizabeth Hartsell there's something bigger and more crucial at stake closely related to this for is the more on meaningful offense but we effectively equally forgiveness with amnesty amnesty comes from the Greek root literally meaning no memory we get the same route as amnesia let's forget about how could Elizabeth that's a Lore Samantha Jeff forget something about that violate something in us there's something wrong that we can't quite put our finger on or in a twist of the amnesty view what I call the cost-benefit analysis and the basically this says is not worth it the whole all this anger is beyond your control all it's going to do is eat you up the same I will forget it and save yourself all this vexation it's a benefit to you let go of it there is a measure of truth to that but that's still has problems because of your segments or Elizabeth or the batter chronically battered spouse how can you just say it benefits me let go is there no protection from future future damage or to donate different direction we sometimes use it more in the context of a kind of penance thing where if a person tries enough tears and says enough I'm sorry is and makes enough compensation then we'll say we for gave them because they kind of paid their dues but how do you compensate for twenty four years of terror underground particularly when you're arrested in your logo mid- seventies for a and the probability is not likely to live more than eight or ten years how do you compensate somewhat than his biblical forgiveness will let me start with a basic definition and then I'd like to start unpacking I'd like to suggest that forgiveness is God 's way of healthily healing the relationship between the victim and offender so that they can have a meaningful and healthy relationship after the offense this means it has to mean more than dropping charges and amnesty kind of stuff it's got a be more than just let's pretend it never happened there's something deeper that we have to find but too many Christians today I think misunderstand what forgiveness is and it can lead to some severe hurt and dysfunction in homes and churches because life Elizabeth Fretz home there are deeper issues that the shallow approaches do not adequately address and yet at the same time were not supposed all the driving and the eventual so what are we to do with this problem of forgiveness not like to introduce the elements that I think is missing in the discussion up to this point and I will introduce it by having you turn to Revelation chapter six will eventually come back to Matthew eighteen Revelation chapter six I guess the question of trying to ask to be put at the leave this way when the wound is deep and it hurts like the dickens what does it mean differently Revelation chapter six we start in verse nine he opened the fifth seal and I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the this is born out with a loud voice sovereign Lord holy and true how long before thou will what Josh and of man how long before you judge and avenge our God on those who dwell on the year what is it that the souls under the altar have not had resolved matters of trust us they have been unfairly and unjustly killed and thus they are beyond the recourse to seek justice for themselves someone more potent and more powerful has denied them justice they have been unable to secure justice and they die without hope of justice and here they are symbolically represented as crying out to the Lord Lord we know you're just that are going to take care of it by how much longer where are you going to settle the issue when will the wrong be right and justice is a near primal instinct especially discernible in children leaves a slightly different word right it isn't faith and we don't like unfairness particularly when were the victim but it's one thing is something unjust happens to you and you have enough power to seek help in recourse but when you're powerless now what that's what these souls under the altar and that's what's missing in the discussion of forgiveness with people like Elizabeth and Samantha when you suffer unspeakable injustice what does it mean to forget now we need to expand the slightly because we were made with a sense of justice in order to protect us in a sinful world from unjust people so we can sell he's starting to hurt me let me take some precautions hearing she's both similar warps that good quality and we start to move from issues of justice and God-given rights that are violated to personal expectations and regardless of how reasonable or unreasonable my expectation is I began to invest that expectation of the same levels of God-given right and now you don't fulfill my expectations and I started crying injustice another development roads must a day though I think the solution is similar when we think we've been treated unjustly when we did well we can try the excusing game again or one that I forgot a little earlier sometimes we can recast the situation yellow they really didn't mean it that had a hard day and we find some way to say only for game cover excuse away as Norway Alyssa Fritz Okun explained away twenty four years that's not just a result of a bad day Mrs. intentionally malicious and inexcusable and when we cannot reframe an excuse and weasel our way out of it when the wound and sense of injustice is so deep what does forgiveness me well Marlon Yash Feehan 's book discipling in the church suggests that in the modern church we tend to have two popular approaches to forgiveness both of which are inadequate first one he calls the lenient view this is probably the most popular viewed today is closely related to the amnesty concept in this view forgiveness is about changing before give her the friend is the one with the psychological hangups and the anger and hurt and the pain and whatever else and self forgiveness is the tool we use to treat ourselves to get rid of the pain and the agony and so forth and so this is the one where anger is like the acid and the more I hold that the more it burns any as me therefore I let go and forget it it lets me feel and it benefits me it's about me the focus of the problem is the forgive her not the offender I find a lot of this on a guidepost magazine for example all I let go of it in my lives happily ever after he let go this was to get away with the benefit is when you do play that this cost-benefit game it does help you not eat yourself alive is that there are some benefits and but the fundamental problem is the offender is left unchanged and unchallenged to change consider the abused wife the battered wife and she says to her husband I forgive you for being as she hopes that moves his heart could change a what is she assuming she's assuming that her husband agrees that his behavior is wrong and the problem is most abusers don't see their behavior is wrong they think they got every right to discipline their wife or husband and so when she says I forgive you methinks you stupid idiot whether you than nothing the freedom of that you feel better and he keeps right on abusing and this sets up a scenario where we forgive and become the perpetual the other side of the coin is the strictly him this model whether going to earn it and the focus here is on compensation if you make enough compensation emotional physical monetary whenever that you finally I entitled to forgiveness and will let you off I like to illustrate this one with the basketball star Kobe Bryant who got caught on seeing some ladies he ought not to than seeing the way he saw them and he had a tearful press conference about I was a bad boy and I need to change my ways and so forth and then he went out and he bought his wife of four million dollar ring and self I spend enough money on expensive gift and we enough tears etc. now I can all be over it I'll be promised to be a good boy she'll forgive me etc. etc. one of the obvious problems here of course is that but we make a person squirm and wait for forgiveness and she finally prove yourself goodness I might think about forgiving you that seems to defeat the purpose right furthermore the offender is still left unchallenged chain because as long as they can make adequate compensation they don't need to change Britain speeding ticket terms if there were no point limits on your license in your rich enough you can drive through college they'll get a ticket every day as long as you have the money to pay right less the weakness on this line will views fail to call sinners to change and transform because neither address the deeper issues of justice whatever forgiveness is then I suggest that it has to grapple with the issue of justice and one of the problems that is damaged many Christian young people is that they had been forced by the authorities in their life to forgive in a way that makes them perpetual victim and violates tests and it is this issue why many mental health professionals have difficulty with what many Christians preach about forgiveness I remember in Samantha 's story she was a member of a neighboring district and integrate quirk of fate the step that ended up in the county jail and she ended up in the county psych unit for crying suicide and the two buildings from the same piece of property and her pastor visited her and then he got in his car and drove the quarter mile around and visited the stepdad who was not managed and maybe this was an evangelist moment the psych unit got wind and thought he was trying to broker a forgiveness arrangement where she would drop charges and so they responded by putting all Adventist pastor 's off-limits from visiting in that facility the mother finally negotiated that's a little bit rash but when we have a rule that evidence pastors don't visit both halves of the equation you visit one of you visit the other so they finally agreed to let that be the rule and since her minority this is the prison he would become the prison visitor so she needed a new pastor to visit in the psych unit and she called me but of course I had to go see the head psychiatrist I walked into her office and there was religious memorabilia of the Jewish faith floating around she pointed in a chair in front of her desk she was maybe low thirties high-powered personality I sat down there was no handshake there was no it's nice to meet you my name is she looked me in the eye and all adjust the vocabulary slightly she said I'm not going to let you visited this facility unless you promise not to discuss Christian forgiveness below me I thought boy aren't we professional today so I asked her what to understand Christian forgiveness to be and it was basically this lenient view all this just pretend it never happened and the hope they change them Bob Loblaw Bob and it leads to her wounds dysfunctions and perpetual victim so I asked her if she would mind if I explained to her what I understood Christian forgiveness to me well how could she say no such as about five minutes and about four and a half minutes in a little smirk started come on her face and by the time I got there about five minutes she was smiling and she said I have no problem with you gave me full access this lenient view in particular has been noticed by the mental health industry for its tendency to perpetuate victimhood in the name of forgiveness and their sense of justice is violated and they don't want here so what is that means lots what then is missing in these views of forgiveness Matthew eighteen now in our Scripture reading right before our Scripture reading where Peter says how often should I forgive what happens Jesus goes to this drill if your brother sins against you what is most of the garden Delaney and Bill forget according to the strict meal Makin twenty sweats enough that he forget was Jesus way to go talk to and if he fears you you are what gained your brother so we have a goal in mind here in the goal is to gain the brother to restore a relationship and so the reason we go privately is so that we don't make them lose face and embarrass them and so forth and so on and hopefully our respect of their dignity helps open a door for them to say there's a problem here I agree and then we have the right spirit and go to a healthy solution but that doesn't work you bring a couple witnesses again protect the dignity keep it confined but the point is forgiveness come from the problem it doesn't sweep under the rug so then of course it goes to the church and that of the own work and we have to treat them like an unbeliever which means evangelistic interest something as well one how often do I have to go through this process of going to my brother or taking through witnesses etc. is three times enough and Jesus is not enough seventy times seven whew and now Jesus tells and numbers story to explain on what Peter is there was a certain king he was doing his letters he discovers a man who owes him ten thousand talents folks now the like your paycheck only the national debt of the United States to somebody and he calls the guy in pieces many you got trillions of dollars of that here in the guy says I know but don't worry give me enough time on all pay back every sincere please notice this guy doesn't think he has a problem to me have time I'll get a fix like the abuser doesn't think there's a problem but the chain four gives him anyways come back to that in a moment this guy because he's not in the mode of grace and forgiveness this manifesto this kind of thing that Siemens often find somebody owes him money many of them in a pyramid scheme you know Scott Klassen on these tries to collect some of his pyramid Satan make a down payment season shawl the king that he's going to pay off this one of the lessons we get there it is again unconditional forgiveness with our admission of wrongdoing is proper confrontation doesn't accomplish what I want to go to the king 's side that's the focus of today what does it mean for this team to forget this guy is that was the first and most obviously means he's got a ten thousand pounds a study the national debt forgiveness is costly developed that in a moment is good the other half why is he eating the national debt is it so that this guy can go out and rack up another national debt not that would defeat the purpose of the forgiveness was the purpose of the forgiveness I need that so that law so that you can change unlimited free life so we can have a proper relationship with our the liens and background held against you the firm gave her absorbs a cost him cost involves justice at our level what we have to do is give the judicial side of justice to God and his agencies it's not my job to prosecute the case she following so when I told this doctor is this girl needs to prosecute the step that because he's not admitting he's got a problem we need some help but she's doing it for his good not her good and then once he acknowledges I have a problem we just don't say that now let's pretend in an Aspen that's a great way to become a victim again right forgiveness does not put the relationship where it was before the offense when the news provides the new slates not attached to the past to build and earn a new reputation so if the amusing father wants to go through the steps that show these changing and becoming safe then over a period of time he might be able to re- earn her trust as she sees it safe to trust see the other side of the coin is if he goes through all that work to be safe to trust and she never lets go though never be able to have the relationship this will silence the forgiveness is about putting the relationship on a proper and healthy funding and to do that before give or says instead of prosecuting you I will absorb and then paying that cost myself to give you a chance to change in this brings us to ask a question about the meaning of the cross why does Jesus die on the cross you know Rob Bell's recent book love wins whatever the book reviews but not the book but it does raise again the issues of the atonement and both advantages and out of Adventism we have some people think God is to love him nice he would never punish anybody he just simply tells us how the rules of consequence works unkindly and so Christ was demonstrating how soon is consequently dangerous I find that inadequate to explain cricket but the other side is the more penal substitution side where kind of the angry gone his wrath against sin is satiated by the death of Christ and now that the prices paid in the compensation is made he can be forgiven this leads to the most bloodthirsty view of I like to suggest there is a third option lacrosse is God incarnate so sacrificially absorbing the cost of justice force so that you and I can change into what he wants us to be without the sinful past being held as a liability against forgiveness does not subvert justice it fulfills it but it fulfills it with the other person is the forgive her who satisfies it not the offender who says but it's still satisfied in amnesty there is no satisfaction of justice is just to forget and I cannot do amnesty because if you just drop it that's an exception and once we make an exception the rest of the creations like to presume that they can mess around and still get an exception in so to avoid that chaos bought makes no exceptions but he steps in and says whoever wants to change and leave the life of sin and beyond my Lordship I absorb the cost for you so you can change and build a new reputation with me without the past being an anchor holding you back amen and so the cross is the great grand expression of a blonde who initiates and willfully absorbs the cost of justice before we respond to him in order to make a compelling appeal to which we can and so what is with us for us before giving we are going to initiate absorbing the emotional cost of justice to reach out to the offender and say I'm willing to build a new relationship with you if you're willing to admit there's a problem and let's work on healthy solution now we've got something let's see about the power of God who self sacrifices to absorb the cost of justice that we have a way to change and become what he wants us to be missing verses one two and five one two and five is him and him and him and him and him him to him and him to him and him to him him to him and him and him him and him and him him him and him to her and him and him and him and is the Lord Jesus help us to appreciate that while we were still enemies humans or the cost of justice goodness what a and and tremendous what do you know who says the victim be willing to absorb costs of justice like you to restore not dysfunctional relationships and perpetual victimhood to build new healthy and heal relationships we pray in the name of Jesus that the people say will know you will know


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