The Cost Of Forgiveness :: Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice (originally published February 10, 2015)

“My family was profoundly betrayed at levels we could never have imagined. Knowing we had to forgive, this post helped us to understand not only what forgiveness is but what it isn’t as well.” — Lisa

Genesis 43.31, 34
After Joseph had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.” […and] they feasted and drank freely with him.

Research on forgiveness has surged, according to a PBS series on mental health. Those who forgive, “are more likely to be happy, serene, empathetic, hopeful, and agreeable,” the series summarizes, adding that forgiving people also experience:

  • Fewer episodes of depression
  • Higher self-esteem
  • More friends
  • Longer marriages
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Closer relationships
  • Fewer stress-related heath issues
  • Better immune system function
  • Lower rates of disease

It’s important to clarify what we mean by forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the same as (1) reconciliation, (2) forgetting, (3) condoning or excusing, or (4) justice, clarifies Sonja Lyubomirsky in, The How of Happiness.

Forgiveness is an act of faith where the offended party chooses not to be taken captive in a cycle of retribution. It’s a way for the offended to release themselves from the control of the offender. 

Forgiveness always has a cost. The deeper the wound, the higher the cost. We see this in the story of Joseph’s feast with his brothers in Genesis 43. The most significant cost wasn’t financial or social, although Joseph sacrificed in both ways. (Feasts were expensive and ancient Egyptians considered eating with Israelites an abomination).

The greatest cost was the toll forgiveness and restoration took on Joseph. He retreated to his private room to weep after he saw his brother Benjamin. Upon returning Joseph intentionally blessed the brothers who cursed him.

By hosting a feast for his brothers, Joseph was inviting the source of his deepest pain to partake in the fruits of his greatest blessing. 

Forgiveness rarely comes out on top in a cost/benefit analysis. The only sufficient reason to forgive is if we look beyond the parties of the offended and the offender. Forgiveness for the Christian is less about conjuring an emotion and more about praying to God for the ability to extend his forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

In Joseph’s case, being willing to endure the cost of forgiveness laid the groundwork for an entire nation and ultimately for Christ — the suffering servant who would forgive us all.

Our Father in heaven, holy is your name. We see that your calling to forgive others is better for us, yet we struggle in the realities and pains of life. Strengthen and guide us to forgive as you have forgiven. We ask for this in Jesus’ name.

Today’s Readings
Judges 17 (Listen – 1:50)
Acts 21 (Listen – 5:55)


Modern Persecution and Religious Violence :: The Weekend Reading List

“The future of Christianity in the region of its birth is now uncertain,” writes Eliza Griswold in The New York Times Magazine. “ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.” Griswold’s stores of families torn apart, mass beheadings, crucifixion, displacement, forced labor, and rape are heart wrenching.

Sadly these atrocities are not unique to the Middle East — active persecution is present in well over 100 countries according to a Pew Study. Even more disheartening, violence, persecution, and harassment of religious minorities is occurring at greater levels every year.

Religion and Violence
The lack of awareness around modern persecution is striking. It is one of a few global issues that are treated with passivity. This may be the fruit of the misguided cultural assumption that violence is the natural path of religion.

In her book Fields of Blood, which explores religion and the history of human violence, Karen Armstrong draws a key historic trend to the surface. The New York Times Book Review summarizes her thesis:

“First, throughout most of human history, people have chosen to intertwine religion with all their other activities, including, notably, how they are governed. This was ‘not because ambitious churchmen had mixed up two essentially distinct activities,’ [Armstrong] says, ‘but because people wanted to endow everything they did with significance.’

“Second, this involvement with politics means that religions have often been tied up with violence: Crusaders, conquistadors, jihadists, and many more. But — a point Armstrong cares about so much that she makes it dozens of times — the violence almost always originates with the state and spills over to religion, rather than vice versa.”

“Third… ‘As an inspiration for terrorism… nationalism has been far more productive than religion.’”

Persecution’s Root
Armstrong’s argument is important because it reveals the fact that religion is not the world’s problem (a point missing in many current debates). Of course the mishandling of religion, by people, governments, or radicals, is not the core problem of our world either. If humankind’s problems were so simple we would surely have come to our own rescue by this point in history.

Our world aches and groans under the brokenness, pride, and destruction of an evil we cannot conquer. The good news of Christ is that we are not left to our own resolve — he has secured the victory we could not.

While we await the full fruit of his righteousness we join together to remember those languishing under the scourge of persecution. We can give ourselves to them in prayer, as well as direct action through groups like Voice of the Martyrs.

Together we join in the cry of the church throughout history: come quickly, Lord Jesus.


Today’s Readings
Judges 14 (Listen – 3:35) Acts 18 (Listen – 4:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Judges 15 (Listen – 3:13); Acts 19 (Listen – 5:47)
Sunday: Judges 16 (Listen – 5:59); Acts 20 (Listen – 5:22)

The Weekend Reading List

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July30 (1)

Above the Interruptions :: Throwback Thursday

Acts 17.28
[Paul said,] “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’”

By Samuel Annesley

If a man loves his life so much, why should he not love God more, by whom he lives, and from whom he expects greater things than this life? Love to God must go through and possess our whole nature, and all the powers of it.

Loving God With all your Heart
We are to love God with the whole heart positively and negatively. Positively, where all powers of the will are set to love God. Negatively, you shall so love God that nothing contrary to the love of God is entertained in thy heart. These things we cannot do perfectly while we are travelers in this world — we must await our heavenly country.

Loving God With all your Soul
Plainly, and in short: it is not enough to love God in our will, but we must not admit any thing contrary to the love of God in our sensual delights. Whatsoever sensualists do for the gratifying of their lusts and desires, let those things be drained from the dregs of sin and consecrate them all unto God.

Loving God With all your Mind
To love God with our minds is to have our understanding moved and commanded by the love of God. To assent unto those things that are to be believed, and to admit nothing into the understanding which is contrary to the love of God. We must always converse with God in our minds and thoughts; our thoughts must kindle our affections of love.

Our love to God must get above interruptions. All the powers of soul and body must be taken up into his service.

  • That our eyes, beholding the wonderful works of God — the sun, moon, and stars, the clear evidences of his Divinity, — may be in love with him.
  • That our ears, piously hearkening to his instructions, may be in love with him.
  • That our mouth may love to praise him.
  • That our hands may act for him.
  • That our feet may be swift to run the way of his commandments.
  • That our affections may be withdrawn from earthly things and delivered over to the love of God.
  • That whatever is within us “may be bound over to the service of God.”

– Excerpt from How May We Attain to Love God With all our Hearts, Souls, and Minds?

Today’s Readings
Judges 13 (Listen – 3:44)
Acts 17 (Listen – 5:28)

July29 (1)

Church as an Irrelevant Social Club

Acts 16.22-23, 25
The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison… About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

“I have wept over the laxity of the church.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his 1963 Letter From Birmingham Jail. “But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise?”

“There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

“All too many,” observed Dr. King, “have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.

“I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say it as a minister of the gospel who loves the church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its Spiritual blessings, and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

“If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

Father, may your Spirit convict us where Dr. King’s words reveal our complacency. Encourage and strengthen us where we languish because of our faith. It is only by your grace we endure. We long for you.

Today’s Readings
Judges 12 (Listen – 2:21)
Acts 16 (Listen – 5:53)


The Heart of the Gospel

Acts 15.11
Peter said, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 

When it comes to the topic of religion, our culture frequently vacillates between two extremes. On one extreme, we are relativists. As comedian George Carlin once said, “Religion is like a pair of shoes… Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.”

On the other extreme, we are legalists. As the men from Judea insisted, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses [i.e., obey the letter of the law], you cannot be saved.”

Where does the gospel fit on this spectrum?

Here, in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council had to decide whether the new Gentile converts needed to be circumcised in order to receive the full blessings of Christ. Paul and Barnabas didn’t think they did. They argued that God had already given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles apart from circumcision. Why, they asked, should man place a requirement on them when God had not?

The Council agreed. But when they wrote to the new converts, they added some requirements — “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” How were these not legalistic add-ons?

Peter and Paul tried to contextualize the gospel as much as possible. Elsewhere Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

On the one hand, they avoided legalism — here, the requirement of circumcision. On the other hand, there is a point that our contextualization becomes permissive and leads to relativism. Here, the prohibitions they added were activities traditionally associated with idol worship. They were about the heart of the gospel, not mere marks of behavioral obedience.

Lord, the love of Christ compels us because he died for us that we may no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised again. Yet we confess that we often tend toward relativism or legalism. We give you thanks, however, for giving us the ministry of reconciliation. Give us hearts full of courage and love. Make us “Greeks to the Greeks,” contextualizing the word in the world. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Judges 11 (Listen – 5:53)
Acts 15 (Listen – 5:49)

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