I need to clarify something I recently said in a video I posted online, and have decided to make it a blog post not only because it’s an opportunity to teach on God’s character, but also to comment on one particular aspect of a healthy church.
We’ve been doing a Grow Vlog (video blog) for a couple of months now. It’s a collection of interviews of people at ReCAST who are growing in faith, community, and/or service. Simply put, they are testimonies of God’s work in people’s lives. In Uganda, testimonies like these are given Sunday morning, mid-service (often with a thank offering such as a live chicken or banana bunch) and encourage everyone gathered in worship to remember that God is living and active; here, we share them mid-week, over the internet (minus chickens), but hopefully with the same outcome of people being encouraged by God’s work in our midst.
This past week, I interviewed my sister Kelli while she cut my hair. She gave her life to Christ at an early age, did the church thing for awhile, then did the opposite. Over the past five or so years, she’s made her way slowly and steadily back into the loving and forgiving arms of Jesus, and even recently became a member of ReCAST. It’s a deep joy for me to be able to interview her about growing in faith and community; there was a time when I wasn’t sure if that would ever happen.
Part of Kelli’s story is the death of our mom. I was five and half, she was almost three and my twin baby brothers were two weeks old when she passed. Complications from the pregnancy with the twins resulted in a pulmonary embolism and she suffocated. Hard stuff for children to go through and we’ve each had to wrestle with our wounds as we’ve grown.
Kelli mentions this in the video and admits that a part of her faith struggle was asking God why he would let something like the death of our mom happen. It’s a common question for many of us in hard times. Why God? Why would you do this to me? If you’re powerful enough to stop it, and you didn’t, how can you be good?
I responded to Kelli, who was explaining that her experience in a Journey group had helped her come to peace with some of her past hurts by saying, “So, you kind of had to forgive God.” That statement requires some clarification, if not correction. I made that comment in a somewhat careless way, and want to make sure I don’t give someone wrong information about God’s character.
First, what I meant by what I said: when we suffer and find ourselves asking the question “why, God?”, we are often in a place where our human perception is that God is against us or has forgotten us. This feeling is expressed periodically in the Psalms, such as in Psalm 44:23-36, which says
“Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!”
Though subtle, there is a minor hint of accusation in the Psalmist’s words, a strain of “you are behind this, Lord, so cut it out”. The Psalms teach us rightly to bring God our raw emotions and perceptions, yet maintain our truth-based trust despite our feelings, but many of us don’t land there. Many of us hold a grudge and actually act as if God has wronged us. This always results in separation from God. Part of a person healing from this, then, is repenting of holding God guilty of an offense, though it may be that in His providence He did in fact bring harm (see Job 1:21). This repenting (“forgiveness” or letting go) results in inner peace due to believing that he or she is loved by God and under his guidance and protection. So that is what I meant when I asked Kelli if she had “forgiven God”––that she released herself from the faulty belief that God taking our mother was something he had done wrong or with ill intent.
But I stand corrected, in that it’s the wrong phrase to use based on what it can imply about God. God does no wrong. He is holy and righteous and perfect, a fact woven through nearly every page of scripture. 1 John 1:5 says that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. We are also told by James that God is not tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone with evil. To say that a person has forgiven God, even with the connotation described above, is to imply that 1) God has committed some offense (impossible), and 2) that a flawed human stands above Him on the higher side of justice (extra impossible). It is in fact a sin to accuse God of wrong. Job was exonerated partly because he refused to do this, even when his wife encouraged him to curse God and die.
“In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” – Job 1:22
It is based on the seriousness of these implications that I should have been more careful with how I used my words. Humans have no right or need to forgive God; we enjoy his forgiveness, repent of our broken theologies, and take refuge in Him in all circumstances.
A final thought. It was Zac Lloyd, one of our elders, who watched the video and brought the phrase to my attention. He could have easily let it pass, but instead took his role as elder seriously and identified with a humble heart what might have been a misleading statement. ReCASTians, you are blessed to be a part of a healthy church where the elders study the word of God and vigilantly work to guard the truth. That’s also the spirit I hope to convey in this post: one of humility and gentleness, even as a pastor willing to be sharpened by a truer understanding of the Word of God, brought in gentleness and love.