The topic is Unpacking Forgivness by Chris Brauns. It is a great book, well written, and needed.
I’ve talked about this book before and I will continue to talk about this book. You need to read this book, no matter who you are or where you are in your walk. If you’ve read it, you probably need to read it again. I thought this little exchange would be a great way to bring it back up on the blog. And since I’ve had plenty to say but haven’t posted anything since July I obviously need to restart things with something simple.
Any time anyone even sort of asks for my opinion on a good book for personal or group study, I will bring up Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns. My Circle has been going through this for 10 months now and I love the level of engagement from everyone of them. They have always read the chapter, they always dig into the meat of the subject. It’s something that matters and, sadly, this book has a lot to teach us about forgiveness because our culture isn’t dealing with it.
So, back in the summer I mentioned it to a friend who then apparently passed it on to another friend. This is the email I found in my mailbox this morning:
I have an interesting question for you, from chapters 11 and 12. A friend was reading exerpts on the internet because she might want to use it in a Bible study. She came across a test question about whether it is always right to forgive. The answer was no, and it was cited that God does not forgive the unrepentant. It said this would be discussed in chapters 11 and 12, but it did say that a view of our always forgiving was too simplistic. My friend questioned whether this view is Biblical and wanted me to ask, since I recommended the book because you had told me you were studying it. I’d welcome your response to her question. Since I have not read the book, I have no idea if what she read on the internet was accurate. Thanks!
I thought it was a great question. It’s why Chris Brauns starts his book with that little quiz. We all think we know what forgiveness is. And he does a great job of getting our attention when we realize we flunked the quiz on what we thought were the easy questions.
I sent her a response knowing and hoping she would send it on to her friend with the questions. It doesn’t begin to cover what the whole book says – that’s why there is a whole book. But I realized as I was typing that what most strikes me as I read this book for the 3rd time in 3 years is the definition of forgiveness requires so much more of us than we think. I think most of our “forgiving” is closer to “not forgiving” than true forgiveness.
The rest of this post is what I sent as my response – this got my juices flowing at 6am!
Yeah, a lot of us missed that question on the quiz. We think it sounds holier to say we will forgive everyone And that is probably the root of why the entire study is so helpful. He challenges our current cultural attitude that we must always forgive everyone everywhere, even Hitler and serial killers who never think they did anything wrong. But then, if we say we should always forgive because God always forgives, we deny the reality of Hell. And Hell is quite Biblical.
In chapter 1 Brauns points out some things about God’s forgiveness
- God’s forgiveness is gracious but not free – God bought that gift at an infinitely high price, purchased at the expense of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ
- God’s forgiveness is conditional. Only those who repent and believe are saved
- God’s forgiveness is a commitment
- Forgiveness lays the groundwork for reconciliation
- Forgiveness does not mean the elimination of all consequences
A definition of God’s forgiveness: A commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences.
A definition of forgiveness for Christians: A commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.
He then goes on to say that Christian forgiveness is a commitment to the repentant and it is not automatic. But then he does say that Christians must always forgive the repentant. If someone repents then we must forgive. And that forgiveness is a commitment and the beginning of reconciliation.
Chapter 2 immediately gets to the root of our problems. It discusses the difference between therapeutic forgiveness (the only person you hurt when you refuse to forgive is yourself) and biblical forgiveness.
There are a whole lot of good points in this chapter that makes the case for why saying forgiveness is just a feeling and is ceasing to feel resentment or bitterness is incomplete and not biblical.
But then he says “Therapeutic forgiveness results in “cheap grace” and a reluctance to identify and name evil….when it is assumed that Christians ought to forgive automatically, it is not long before people begin to assume that God ought to forgive automatically.” p69
He talks about how cheap forgiveness prohibits healing in the Christian community, how it can encourage someone to avoid dealing with their sin, how it can leave Christians unprepared for true persecution.
For me the great point that Brauns is making is that forgiveness is a commitment to pardon the offender. In a later chapter he points out that when you forgive someone, you don’t just say “I accept your apology” and then don’t talk to them ever again. You restore your relationship with that person.
He has so much more that’s wonderful in here. He talks about why we need to be humble. He talks about when something isn’t even worth ‘forgiving’, just let it go. He talks a lot about how to work through forgiveness when someone has really hurt us and then comes to us repentant. And he talks about tough stuff – a rapist and his victim, a young boy and the man who molested him. He isn’t just talking about holding a grudge against Sally for sitting in your pew at church. He’s talking about real offenses that can’t just be ignored.
But now let’s jump to chapter 11: “How should a young mother remember her father who repeatedly molested her, never took any ownership of his offenses, and is now dead? How should parents remember their child’s killer who never took responsibility? How should New Yorkers remember the terrorists of 9/11?” He introduces a few principles here
Principle 1. Resolve not to take revenge.
Not the same as punishing justly, of course. He talks about the hollywood style revenge we might contemplate when a heinous crime is committed. But he also talks about the “garden-variety revenge that many cultivate regularly” and lists things like this one “Parents resent their adult children changing churches. Over the years they make small hurtful remarks designed to show disapproval.”
Principle 2. Proactively show love
- “we are to use our mental energy creatively to plan a response that will end the cycle of violence” p135
Then chapter 12
Principle 3: Don’t forgive the unrepentant but leave room for the wrath of God
“Jesus told his followers that we ought to forgive people as many times as they ask for forgiveness (Luke 17:3b-4). But what about those who do not ask for forgiveness?”
He then refers to Deut. 32:35, 43. Then Romans 12:19. Then 2 Tim 4:14-15.
“It is not recorded that Paul ever forgave Alexander. He did not pardon his behavior. On the contrary, Paul told Timothy that he was resting in the truth that God would repay Alexander for his deeds, and he wanted Timothy simply to ‘beware’ of Alexander.”
Anyway – I could repeat the entire book here. It is very biblical. He is very careful to point that out on every page of every chapter. And if forgiveness were something we clearly understood we wouldn’t need a book about it. It is a great challenge to our thinking and at the end of it, instead of leading us to forgive less, I think it teaches us to forgive more correctly and completely.
[Note: By the way, what you probably don't know is that Chris Brauns regularly checks in when his book is mentioned. I kind of expect a visit on this blog from him sooner or later as a result of this post. He's commented (politely) on prior posts about this book. I hope he'll point out if he thinks I've misrepresented anything here. But of course, mostly what I hope is that you'll read the book, study the Bible, and consider what you need to learn about forgiveness.]