‘”You must forgive God!” Good advice or bad advice? It is not always easy to work out what is helpful and what is not helpful regarding the advice people give to one another. One lesson I learnt when conducting many funerals was to hold my tongue when people greeted, for example, the grieving widow or mother who were standing beside me at a funeral service. Often friends would come up to the grieving person beside me and say what I thought were very inappropriate words. But the grieving person would throw their arms around their friend and say, “Thank you.” Or “Thank you for being here.” The words were overlooked because the grieving person looked beyond the words to the genuineness of the sympathy and love being offered to them by their friend.
It may be the same thing when friends try to help each other in giving advice. The words said are often overshadowed by the sincerity of the people offering the advice. Sometimes the advice is heard but not acted on. At other times though, the advice is heard and acted on even when the advice is ultimately unhelpful.
In this study we look at three bits of advice that on first appearance seem to be good advice. However closer investigation shows that they are unhelpful and could be quite counterproductive as a means of helping people. The sayings are:-
1. “You must forgive God!”
2. “You must forgive yourself!”
3. “You’ve got to forgive and forget!”
SAYING No 1. “YOU MUST FORGIVE GOD!”
The first time I heard this said was at a meeting of ministers. One of those invited to speak at the meeting talked about his ministry as a Chaplain. He described how he tried to break down the barriers some people had towards God. Part of the process he said was this, “I get them to forgive God.”
I could understand his thinking in the sense that if the people had a barrier towards God they needed to get rid of it. So instead of holding a lingering resentment against God he encouraged them to get rid of that barrier by forgiving God. He stated that it seemed to help some people.
I understood his logic but disagreed with it. I told him that I felt it was not really helpful to get people to do that. Some discussion followed. As we left the meeting a senior Bishop said, “I agree with what you said. It’s almost blasphemous isn’t it?” We both respected the minister involved but disliked the saying because we both saw it as being ultimately unhelpful.
Why then do people encourage people to forgive God? The minister gave one explanation. He said that many people blame God for some or all of the adverse things that happened in their lives. They believe, for example, that He failed them in not providing for them or in allowing some tragedy to happen in their lives. Because of that they maintain a hardened attitude towards God. Naturally that hardness has to be removed before such people are willing to draw on the love and grace of God.
One writer added that of course one can’t really forgive God but when people are encouraged to do it and feel a bit better as a result, they can then ask Him to forgive their presumption in “forgiving” Him. So in that sense it is helpful he suggested.
What does the Bible have to say about this topic?
A). BIBLICAL TRUTHS TO KEEP IN MIND
1. One can only forgive someone who is guilty of sin. If no sin has occurred then there is nothing to forgive.
2. God has never sinned and never will.
• Abraham declared before God his confidence in Him, Gen 18:25 … Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
• Moses praised God in his song. Deut 32:4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
• David spoke these words before God when He delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. (2Sam 22:31) This God–his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Also in Ps 18:30)
• Jesus spoke of His Father as being perfect. (Mat 5:48) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
• James wrote of God’s unchangeable nature. Jas 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
3. If we think God has sinned against us in some way, is our opinion of Him right or wrong?
It is obvious that our opinion is wrong and needs to be repented of. God is a God who loves to give and especially to those who love His Son.
• As Paul wrote of His generous love, Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
• His purposes centre in His Son in whom believers have all things. Rom 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
• His purpose for His people is good. As Jeremiah wrote, Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
• Paul expressed it as God working all things for good for His people, Rom 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
4. God commands us to do many things such as to worship Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to serve Him etc, but never does He command us to forgive Him. Why should He if He has never done anything wrong?
5. God is never the originator of evil. He may allow it in His world, but He does not introduce it.
• Joseph saw the over-ruling hand of God in all that happened to him. His brothers may have had evil intent in their treatment of him but Joseph saw that God had over-ruled their sin to preserve a generation through him. Gen 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
• In a Psalm that speaks so much of the sin of humankind, David wrote, Ps 5:4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.
• James saw that God is not evil; nor does He tempt people to do evil. Jas 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
• Paul wrote that God may allow temptation but He provides the way of escape so that people need not sin. 1Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
6. We sin against Him when we accuse Him of evil. It is blasphemous to look at what God does in his world and call it evil. That was the sin of many of the Jewish leaders who saw God at work through Jesus and called it evil.
It is also blasphemous to look at the course of our own lives and to accuse God of not caring for us or of initiating evil against us. The problems humans get into are often the result of their own foolishness or sin and are not caused directly by God.
7. It is sheer presumption to think that humans can stand in judgment of God. God is infinite and beyond all human judgment. Finite beings are not in a position to judge God the infinite. His thoughts and His ways are far beyond the capability of humans to understand. God spoke through Isaiah in Is 55:7-9, let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
B). A GODLY PURPOSE MUST BE ACHIEVED IN GODLY WAYS
There is an old saying that says “The end does not justify the means”. It is true in the sense that the way to establish a good end (or result) requires a good means of achieving it. To achieve a godly end, godly means have to be used.
The lessening of a person’s hostility against God is a wonderful aim but the way to achieve that aim has to be godly as well. A godly “means” does not mean attributing guilt to God who is never guilty and never needs to be forgiven.
It is the truth that’s sets humans free, not lies. Jesus reminded His Jewish followers of this fact, Jn 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To accuse God of being or doing evil is a lie or comes from deception. Satan is “diabolos” the accuser and he functions through lies and deception. We see this even in Genesis where the serpent tried to confuse Eve saying, Gen 3:1 … “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve replied, Gen 3:2 “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”
The serpent then told Eve a lie, Gen 3:4 “You will not surely die”. He followed that with a besmirching of the character of God. 3:5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. In other words, “Don’t trust God. He is a liar trying to deceive you.”
Jesus taught that Satan was a liar, Jn 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Satan tries to prevent people from hearing and responding to the truth that can set them free, Mk 4:15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.
Paul saw unregenerate humankind as under the power of Satan. Satan desired to keep people bound in darkness and in his power so that they did not turn to God for acceptance and forgiveness. Acts 26:18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Satan as the accuser is opposed to God and to His purposes for humankind. He deceives mankind and tries to blacken the character of God by saying He has evil intents.
My very deep concern with encouraging people to forgive God is that to some extent we may be doing the Devil’s work for him, in suggesting to the people we are trying to help, that God has sinned against them and needs to be forgiven.
If we start people on the process of forgiving God, where will it end? Instead of encouraging them to see the loving hand of God in the circumstances around them we are encouraging them to look for faults in God that they can then “graciously forgive”. The concept of forgiving God is dangerous stuff indeed!
C). DEALING WITH OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
How then can we help people who feel some degree of anger or resentment against God? We do it by stressing the truth as found in the word of God. These are some suggestions that do work in practice. The resentful people need to do the following:-
1. Recognise that God is perfect in all His ways, and that His promises are to be believed and acted on.
Reality is not what people feel but what God says in His word. His word describes the loving nature of God who has done so much for humankind in sending Jesus to die for sinners and to reconcile them back to Himself. They need to feed on the passages which describe His love for us in Jesus, in order to overcome their unjustified resentment. .
2. Recognise that God is so much greater than we are. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, for they are “higher” than ours, Is 55:8-9. God knows exactly what He is doing in His world. He is in complete control. We may have thoughts about what is happening in the world and what God may be doing, but we can never fully comprehend the incomprehensible wisdom of God.
His ways are also beyond our limited understanding. We may think that God should work in a particular way as we pray about a situation but God does something completely different which we see later was a much better answer.
3. Confess any anger or resentment on our part against Him as sin.
God demands our total love and our trust. So anger and resentment have to go. They cannot be excused or held on to. “Confessing” our sin means acknowledging our sin before God and calling it sin.
He has done nothing wrong. So instead of “forgiving God” as a means of getting rid of our resentment against Him we ask Him to forgive us for our resentment.
4. We must ask Him to forgive US for harbouring negative feelings towards Him.
God hasn’t sinned in His relationship with us. We have sinned as humans. As David showed in the Psalms we humans can tell God exactly what we feel and can even question His ways. But the time must come when we cease from harbouring those negative thoughts and emotions and humbly submit ourselves to Him. We do it without getting all the answers we were seeking. We need to get right with Him as soon as possible through confessing our sins, receiving His forgiveness in Christ and moving on in our Christian pilgrimage.
5. The fault is not with God but with our distorted picture of God.
Our God is unchanging. He has a track-record of caring for His people. If our concept of God does not fully appreciate all He is and all He has done, then the picture we have of God in our minds has to change. It is a distorted picture coming from the pain we may have experienced and from believing the lies of the enemy.
Having confessed our sins against God we can ask Him to break any wrong pattern of thinking about Him we may have had and to renew our minds according to the truth of God’s word.
SUGGESTED QUESTIONS FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION OR GROUP DISCUSSION
1). When you went through difficult times were you tempted to blame God for being uncaring? What help (or otherwise) did you find from doing so? What do you think now about blaming Him?
2). When you were tempted to blame God for difficulties you faced did you ever try to work out your own personal responsibility (or irresponsibility) in the situation or did you find it easier to simply see it as God’s fault? Do you now see that as fair? Why or why not?
3). Do you think that people can become more healed if they have a picture in their minds that God is unloving? What needs to happen for them? How can that best happen?
4). If a friend shared with you their resentment against God for some difficulty they experienced, how would you try to help them open up to God to receive His healing? What biblical truths about God and about humans would you share with them?
5). Do you think you can help another person who is antagonistic to God if you yourself are harbouring some form of resentment towards Him? What might you need to do and how would you do it?
Blog N0. 213. Jim Holbeck. Posted (Easter) Monday 17th April 2017