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MK forum • View topic - Picky, picky, picky: A thread for theological pedants

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 4:29 pm 
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 11:25 pm 
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It's been suggested that it may be of some help if I spent a little effort explaining what I am not saying. Easier said than done! But, based on some feedback that others have been kind enough to share, I think I can hit a few of the high spots:

REVENGE: I am not saying that mindless, unbridled retaliation is a good thing. I am not saying that Christians should avenge themselves. I am not saying that anger and bitterness are emotions to be cherished and nourished.

FORGIVENESS: I am not saying that we should be unforgiving people. I am not saying that we should hold a grudge. I am not saying that we should not overcome evil with good. I am not saying that we should not bless those who persecute us. I am not saying that forgiveness is unimportant, or that our failure to forgive others will have no effect on our relationship with God.

THE GLORY OF GOD: I am not saying we should not seek to glorify God. I am not saying that God does not care how we live or how we treat one another.

PEDANTISM: I do not believe that there is anything wrong with being exacting in our study and application of God's Word, the prejudicial connotations of "pedant" and its relatives notwithstanding.

Speaking as a victim, I know how emotional and devastating this topic can be. I do not want to add one bit to the sufferings of anyone. If you find my observations, and those of others reckless enough to post on this thread, helpful, that is wonderful. If not, there is a great deal of good on other threads, often worded in ways that are more palatable, because done by hands more capable than mine.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2010 8:05 am 
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A recap on revenge/ vengeance: God's Word teaches that revenge is good and proper. As the word is used in Scripture, it is closely related to, if not synonymous with, justice. God is pleased by justice. God demands justice. We are not to avenge ourselves, but that does not mean that all vengeance has been deferred until Judgment Day.

I wonder if our aversion to revenge doesn't have more to do with its portrayal in action movies than on the way it is presented in the Bible. I have not been able to find any instances where revenge, vengeance, avenge or their cognates are used in the Bible with the negative connotations that they have in our society. (Maybe Genesis 4.23-24 would be an example of disproportionate, mindless, unbridled retaliation.) We are right to reject the type of revenge found in the popular culture of our age. We are also on solid ground when we acknowledge that revenge as presented in the Bible is right, just and in God's hands, not ours.

God has ordained the civil authorities to exact vengeance on his behalf, for our good. Reporting crimes to the police is not avenging ourselves; it is doing our God-given duty. God has put those "who bear the sword" in place with the express purpose of being a terror to evil works. It is not in our gift to frustrate that purpose.

The Bible tells us how we are to treat unrepentant evil people. For example: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. …. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. …. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

This passage seems to assume that there has been no repentance; the malefactors are styled as "enemies," not penitents. We are given many difficult things to do for/ to our enemies, none of which depends on the evil people themselves. Significantly, we are not told to forgive them. Neither are we told that they should not be punished. In fact, the entire context is one of vengeance, wrath and punishment.

Victims today are crying out for justice and, when not rewarded with silence, are accused of wanting Rambo-revenge, of seeking to destroy NTM, of being willing to sacrifice the souls of the unreached and ruin the ministries of innocent people just to satisfy their own rage. Call us pedants if they will, this sort of reasoning will not discourage us if we meet it with an open Bible.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 1:06 am 
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The parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18.23-35) ends an extended passage on forgiveness. In the parable, the King withdraws his earlier forgiveness and throws a servant into jail to be tortured because he failed to show mercy to a fellow servant who fell at his feet and begged forgiveness. We are warned that if we do not forgive our brothers from our hearts, our heavenly Father will treat us in this same way.

Well-meaning people tell us that this teaches that forgiveness should be undeserved, unlimited and unconditional. We are to forgive, or else! Forgiveness is, we are told, for our own good. So, being good people, we screw up our determination and forgive, even in the face of injustice. Somehow it doesn't feel right, doesn't satisfy. But, we know it is right; it must be right. Isn't this how God has forgiven us?

Later, when we are overwhelmed with guilt for being angry that our child was raped, we renew our determination and forgive again. And again. And again. And, we convince ourselves that this is what God wants. There is, after all, nothing worse than an unforgiving spirit.

I want to restrict my picky, picky, picky, pedantic observations to a single point in the parable: The unmerciful servant denied forgiveness to a fellow servant who was begging on his knees!

Have I missed something? Has Les Emory, to pick just one criminal, begged forgiveness on his knees? At all? Has he submitted himself to justice? Is he in jail? The teaching of this parable is hard, it is high and it obligates us to extend undeserved and unlimited forgiveness. But, not unconditional. I just do not see where it requires us to forgive unrepentant, perverted criminals. Who has the right to put victims under that kind of burden? God be merciful to us all!

If Les Emory confessed to the authorities, if he were punished for his crimes - as he deserves to be, and as no punishment can ever be sufficient - if he came on bended knee and begged through tears to be forgiven, it would strain every fiber of one's soul to forgive him. Why, in the name of God, is anyone being told to do so now?


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2010 7:42 am 
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In my post above, I was not using the Lord's Name in vain. Victims are being asked, in God's Name, to forgive unrepentant sexual abusers. When they are appalled at the suggestion, they are called bitter. I find this disheartening, to put it mildly. I believe it is a result of not understanding God's Word, but I am open to correction. This thread is my contribution to the discussion, but I am not the only one, or even the best qualified one, to address this. Others are welcome. And. . . needed.

Grieving 4u made this observation on a different thread: "What I'm wondering …. is why are we to forgive someone who is unrepentant, when God doesn't? I'm no theologian, but I thought forgiveness from God required repentance. Does anyone know of an instance in the Bible where God forgave someone who refused to repent? ….. It seems to me forgiving is an entirely different thing......'to pardon, overlook, free them from deserved punishment.'"

Maybe this only seems so insightful to me because it is exactly what I have been trying to say. It certainly seems that repentance is an integral part of the forgiveness equation.

Forgiveness is a wonderful gift, as pleasant to give as it is to receive. However, it always has a price, be it little or be it much. Forgiveness is never free; a cost of some kind is always involved. To quote Tuti Hess: "... forgiveness is a choice that is based on justice. An offense has occurred and a penalty must be paid to right that wrong." True words!

Some examples:

The neighbor children run though your flowerbed; upon their repentance, you forgive the infraction, but you must bear the cost of the ruined flowers. (You may, of course, also have to bear the cost of putting up a fence!)

Your best friend borrows, and loses, your prized copy of The Art of War by Sun Tzu. He asks your forgiveness, which you grant. The book is still gone, a loss that you have borne.

You were called an idiot, an ass, a Democrat. Something objectionable. Ornery, maybe. The words are retracted, forgiveness sought. You hesitate; those words really hurt! That these sorts of insults are so hard to forgive is pretty good evidence that the price of forgiving them is high, even if unseen, unquantifiable. You must pay with your feelings, your honor. Nations go to war over such things.

We are apt to think that forgiveness is easy for God only because we have such a deficient view of sin. Creation was spoken into existence in six days. Sin was not spoken away, willed away, forgiven for nothing. Redemption required the death of the Savior. "Without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness."

Forgiveness has certain parameters:

I cannot forgive on behalf of anyone else. I cannot forgive Les Emory for his sins against the MKs. That would be injustice. It would be like failing to turn him into the Philippine authorities.

I cannot forgive a person for sins they did not commit. I cannot forgive Raz for Les Emory's sins. That would be meaningless. It would be like forgiving Larry Brown for sins Frank Parker committed.

It follows that I cannot ask for forgiveness for the sins of someone else. I cannot ask Raz to forgive me for what Les Emory has done. That would be injustice and meaningless. It would be like the present Executive Board of NTM asking victims of sexual abuse to forgive them for the failure of past leadership to report crimes to the police.

Can we ask, recommend, require that one person forgive another? Under what circumstances, and with what conditions? Paul asked Philemon to welcome back (pretty cool synonym choice, regardless of which translation you use!) Onesimus: "If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. . . . I will pay it back." Unlike the advice MKs and other victims of abuse are often given, Paul did not say, "Just let it go. It's over now. Don't be bitter; forgive." No, Paul paid the price on behalf of his new-found brother in Christ. I hasten to add that Onesimus was repentant – an essential part of forgiveness.

The advice frequently proffered to victims of abuse to just forgive, to be sure to forgive, is not based on the Word of God, but on a faulty and sentimental conception of forgiveness that is at odds with that Word.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2010 8:14 am 
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Hey now...watch the "Democrat" cracks! Some of us are on here! : )


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2010 9:18 pm 
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Here is an excerpt from an article on one of the Hebrew words for forgiveness:

“ God’s forgiveness of sins is fundamental to biblical faith as epitomized in the “Apostles’ Creed.” Although the OT does not contain a systematized exposition of divine pardon, nothing said about God is as important as that he forgives sins (Koch, 224) and that humans are in constant need of his forgiveness (von Rad, 348). In the OT forgiveness comprises the removal of sin and the restoration of communion between God and humanity (TOT 2:455). It depends solely on God’s love, mercy, and compassion towards the sinner (C. Westermann, 125) and on his readiness to initiate the processes of reconciliation and atonement. It requires, and usually goes hand in hand with, the confession of sin, repentance, restitution, and renewal. Though it remains closely connected with the cult and sacrificial practices, it actually encompasses all spheres of life for the individual and the community. It entails the nullification of guilt, the release of obligations, and the reduction or total relinquishment of punishment (TOT 2:453). According to Sakenfeld (CBQ, 327) forgiveness is understood basically as the preservation of the covenant community and is thus implied in the total concept of God’s salvation (McKeating, 69). Forgiveness is not restricted exclusively to spiritual blessings but is also used in connection with the restoration of earthly blessings such as health, honor, children, etc. “

J. P. J. Olivier “Forgiveness.” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren. Grand Rapids, MI 49530: Zondervan, 2002. Pradis Version 5.13.0025.

This is what really jumped out at me:
“…forgiveness comprises the removal of sin and the restoration of communion between God and humanity…It requires, and usually goes hand in hand with, the confession of sin, repentance, restitution, and renewal.”

There is a concreteness to forgiveness that I had not seen in my foggy focus on not feeling resentful.

I guess I'm not feeling quite reckless enough to post my own thoughts here yet! :D


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 10:42 pm 
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Thank you, Sherpa Dude, for your challenge to be reckless. Yours has been a welcome and needed voice on these forums; you are able to speak to the heart-felt needs and address the experiences of many in ways that are unique. I hope others will be as reckless; we would all be better off for it!

Arara Azul, thank you for the level of scholarship you brought to bear on this topic. I've read and reread your post, and it looks like the sources you have found do not contradict anything I've posted so far, though they give a little more depth and substance to it. I think that is the case, at any rate, but if anyone else has a different opinion on it, be reckless and post your insights. It can only help.

And, don't worry, Threewillows, I'm going to try to avoid any more oblique references to political affiliations. That little faux pas makes a pretty good argument for an editor, I know. Or, maybe a censor. As well as a good example of being too reckless! :D

There is a tremendous amount of pressure brought to bear on Christians to "come to a place of forgiveness." It is almost as if the proper response to any offense is to begin by forgiving. After all, we are told, God forgave us. What we are not told, and what we often and to our own detriment forget, is that God forgave us on the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God did not first forgive us and then send Jesus to die for our sins. I know that is picky and pedantic, but that makes it right at home on this thread. And, it is also foundational, which really ought to make it at home on any thread.

I gave several examples of forgiveness above, but each of them could have been handled legitimately without repentance and forgiveness. It is entirely acceptable, according to the Scriptures, to overlook offenses, faults, sins. In fact, it is said to be an honor to avoid strife (Proverbs 20.3) and a glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19.11). This is not just an Old Testament concept. I Peter 4.8 tells us to love deeply, reminding us that love covers a multitude of sins.

Ignoring, overlooking or covering sins is not the same thing as forgiveness. That doesn't mean it's not a good idea. Most of life's irritations can best be handled this way. It's certainly preferable to being confronted with complaints about things that are described as "almost sin," an experience that I found to be an impossible trap. Even making concessions to do things my critic's way was unacceptable: "You're just doing it because you know that's what I want, not because you really agree."

Interestingly, it is generally the small, insignificant issues in life that grow into the huge, interminable fights among Christians. Things that could have, and should have, been overlooked are not. Instead, they are stored up, harbored, mulled over and gossiped about until they become topics of Christian confrontation, "personal ministry" or other incarnations of "church discipline."

A long list could be made of such things, but that is beyond the scope and purpose of this thread and even this forum. And, no matter how long the list became, abuse of children will never fit into the category of sins that can profitably be overlooked.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 08, 2010 6:40 pm 
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Sherpa Dude, it's just fine to be pedantic! Your post opens up a number of lines of thought, which is one of the exhilarating things about theology – you can never really get to the bottom of it! So, feel free to expand on your ideas.

One of the exhausting things about theology is that you never really can get to the bottom of it! I've tried to hit a few of the highlights of repentance and forgiveness, especially as they are often misrepresented and misunderstood. I have left a lot of ground uncovered, not because I don't think it's important, but because I'm exhausted!

Does an inadequate, simplistic, or unsound theology of repentance and forgiveness affect how we live? Well, let's review some of the results of a "forgiveness first" theology.

People are forced to redefine forgiveness for themselves, whether or not it matches what the Bible teaches, in order to reach an imaginative point of forgiveness. People are left to struggle with guilt over resentment and bitterness. Forgiveness is seen as something that must be done over and over, with no end in sight this side of heaven. People are encouraged to overlook serious sins/ crimes and concentrate on slights and differences of opinion – exactly backwards from what the Bible teaches.

When the Bible is carelessly handled and applied to people's lives, it isn't long before people hold it in disregard and look elsewhere for answers.


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