Sunday, March 02, 2008

Forgiveness and my MP3 Player

Now that I have my own MP3 player (boy, do I feel trendy! Though trendy for me tends to be about 10 years behind everyone else), I am able to listen continually to my choice of radio shows without walking away from the radio before they're done...I get them on, and have started branching out listening to more teachers who I have never heard before. Just lately I've listened to Roger Salter, whose name I had never even noticed until looking over oneplace's website. In the first few radio shows, I didn't hear anything I disagreed with, and in fact found him quite good; then in listening to one, I heard something that caused me to perk up my ears with questions, though I didn't specifically disagree.
It reiterated a comment of a lady, Caroline, in our Bible study class from the previous week, who stressed that you forgive another when they ask you for forgiveness. I had learned as a new believer that you forgive another whether or not they come and ask forgiveness. This all got me rather confused...imagine getting confused over the topic of forgiveness when you've been a Christian some 18 years. So I e-mailed my friend Caroline, and asked her to clarify. I know from experience that not forgiving someone can be a horrendous, self-destructive feeling and I would rather get done with it as soon as possible. This withholding idea seemed like an unworkable thought.
Well, the issue I had been dealing with as a new believer 18 years back was with an unbeliever, and in that case forgiveness takes on a whole different element: I knew that the unbeliever in my life would never have considered herself to have been an offense in any way; she would have been shocked at any suggestion in that regard. We have to acknowledge the unworkable darkness in which unbelievers dwell, and forgive them for unbelievers. They can't do anything else! Therefore, for our own health, for theirs, for the strength of our witness, we have to love them and cover their multitudinous sins, and forgive them. If we wait for them to ask forgiveness, we'll die before it gets resolved.
Caroline spent some time listening to Salter, read and copied some paragraphs by Jay Adams on the subject, and said that as far as she knew, Salter was spot-on. But this withholding forgiveness is for believers, who should be held accountable for their sins, so that they will acknowledge that they have sinned and then be restored. This isn't for every sin, Adams says, but for "those which throw the covers off"--which he further says are sins which break fellowship and lead to an unreconciled condition. I don't know if you've ever experienced what I did in hearing Caroline's response, but sometimes I ask a question, and when I get the answer, I recognize the rightness of it, as if I already knew it though I didn't seem to just previously. This was the case when Caroline responded to me.
On the other hand, the Bible outlines a specific process for dealing with the significant sins of someone who calls themselves a believer, when you know they have clearly sinned, and that is to go to them directly. The process is clearly outlined in Matthew 18. I hate to recall it, but my husband and I have been involved in going to such a believer in this way, according to this process, and without success. The Bible then makes it clear that more people of the church should be involved in the process with a hope of increasing the pressure to bring that person to repentance. We did involve others only after two or more discussions with the person, but I don't know that any repentance occurred as a result. (I kind of think that going through this experience is what made Caroline's response to me so recognizable.)
Our pastor made clear to us that when such an attempt is unsuccessful, the next step isn't to retain anger or bitterness toward that person, because to do so is condemnation, and that is God's prerogative, not ours. So rather than carry it ourselves, we give it to God, and we are again unburdened. So this rather old and slow Christian learned something in the process of listening to others; maybe my experience will clarify specifics regarding forgiveness for you, too. I knew that MP3 player would bring good things into my life, other than just looking cool with those little black wires up to my ears.

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