Tag Archives: trust

Challenging Forgiveness

“How can I forgive her if she hasn’t said she’s sorry?” My son looked at me with his penetrating blue eyes, his sincere question about his sister unwittingly peeling a scab off my past.

How can I answer him when I haven’t yet resolved this issue myself? My mind instantly brings up the faces of people whose actions and words once wounded me so deeply that I still wince at their memory. What continues to hurt is not what they said or did, but the outstanding fact that they have never acknowledged that it was wrong.

Have I forgiven them?

If forgiveness means that I have completely forgotten their mistreatment, that I carry on our relationship as if it never happened, then no. I have not done that. I’m not sure how I could relate freely with those whose words and actions damaged me so deeply, not to mention radically redefined our relationship. The truth is, I don’t entrust myself to them, not if they haven’t expressed remorse or at least evidenced a desire to change.

Is it unforgiving of me to hold back, to maintain a bit of physical and emotional distance between myself and them? What is it that God is asking of me when He tells me to forgive?

Forgiveness has many appropriate manifestations, each determined by our current stage of relational healing.

Not to hold Joseph up as a perfect life model, but I think his story lays out an excellent example of what forgiveness looks like in the different stages of relational healing. His brothers had stolen from him his identity, his dreams, and his whole life as he had known it. Their betrayal cost him everything, including the ability to trust himself to them again.

Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
Genesis 41:51

But even in a state of woundedness, Joseph did not harbor a grudge against his brothers. Rather than feed on memories of how horrible they had been, he simply tried to forget them. Though that was not an adequate long-term solution, I think it was an appropriate form of forgiveness for that stage of their relationship.

As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them.
Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! And this is how you will be tested: …Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth.
Genesis 42:7, 14-16

When God brought his brothers unexpectedly back into his life, Joseph did not seek revenge. Nor did he immediately run into their arms and pick up where they had left off. Joseph kept his distance and his anonymity, allowing himself the time and space to ascertain if they had changed. Instead of shutting himself off from them forever, he demonstrated another layer of forgiveness by creating opportunities for them to prove themselves worthy of his trust.

They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.”
They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. He turned away from them and began to weep…
Genesis 42:21, 23-24

Joseph may have seemed harsh and unyielding, putting his brothers through the tests that he did. But his goal was true restoration, not revenge. Like God so often does with us, he graciously set them up for a re-match. Another round of jealousy-inducing favoritism, this time towards Benjamin. The recurring offer to throw their little brother under the bus to save their own hides. But when they pleaded for Benjamin’s life, offering themselves in his place, Joseph knew that they had changed. He knew it was finally safe to come out of hiding.

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him…
Genesis 45:1-2

Deep springs of pent up emotion burst forth as Joseph made his startling revelation. That emotion could very well have been anger or bitterness. But Joseph’s tears manifested the forgiveness that had been working its way through the layers of his heart all along. Tears of grief over his freshly-awakened pain. Tears of sorrow over the years of lost relationship. And tears of relief and delight over this wonderfully unanticipated fresh start.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes.
Genesis 45:4-5, 15, 22

Joseph did not wait for an apology or an explanation. He already knew their hearts. He threw himself on his brothers, hugging and weeping over each of them like the prodigal son’s Father. He did the explaining for them, welcoming them back into fellowship and soothing away their fears. And he demonstrated the extent of his forgiveness, bypassing probation and jumping straight into extravagant provision. New clothes. New inheritance. A land for their families to settle in right alongside his. A relationship restored.

…”‘I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
When their message came to him, Joseph wept. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? … So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Genesis 50:15-21

But the reconciliation process wasn’t finished yet. Nor was Joseph’s healing. Years later, after the death of their father, fear prompted the brothers to finally apologize for what they had done to him. It had been a long time in the coming, and in many respects Joseph had moved on, not expecting to hear it, but their apology hit the spot. A fresh round of tears. A healing opportunity to verbalize his forgiveness.

Forgiveness is more of an attitude than a status,
a heart posture than a court verdict.

I look over these layers of development in Joseph’s story and begin to conceptualize forgiveness in a new way. Maybe forgiveness is more of an attitude than a status, a heart posture than a court verdict. Maybe what God is calling me to is to desire and work towards reconciliation, even if it is not a current possibility. Short cuts won’t get me there. Faking it won’t work. But persistently loving those who hurt me opens the door for God to bring about true restoration, one that neither compromises my wholeness nor denies God’s grace.

So how do I forgive those who haven’t said they are sorry? I pray that, just as He did with Joseph’s alienated brothers, God will write them back into my story. And I wait with open arms.

I Need a Hero!

Terrified. Trembling. Powerless. Crushed. I’m not big enough to handle this. I can’t keep fighting it. Where can I find a champion strong enough to protect me? I need a hero.

David had always been that hero, the one who showed up to protect everyone else. He had thrown himself at the lions and bears that threatened his sheep, charged at the giant who bullied his people, and chased off the armies that terrorized their land. From childhood, he had been fearless and undaunted in facing down his enemies. So why was he now a trembling wreck?

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
Psalm 5:1-2

Vulnerable. Bewildered. This time the enemy was not so obvious. This time the danger was hidden, intimate, within the bounds of a relationship that he had thought was safe. He had not been on his guard towards Saul. He had looked up to him as a leader, a protector, not someone from whom he needed to protect himself. He had trusted Saul like his own father, and Saul had used that trust against him. Now which hero could he trust? To which refuge could he run?

When David had fled and made his escape, he went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. Then he and Samuel went to Naioth and stayed there.
1 Samuel 19:18

Samuel seemed the right man for the job. He was a spiritual giant, the one who had appointed Saul to his position of power and the one who had gotten David into this mess by anointing him, too. And yet Samuel was riddled with fear for his own life when it came to Saul. He welcomed David and listened to his painful story of betrayal and abuse, but there was little he could physically do to protect him, or himself, from Saul’s jealous rage.

But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple. Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies– make straight your way before me.
Psalm 5:7-8

So Samuel took David to his place of refuge. Naioth was no fortified city; it was merely a ragtag community of prophets. What made this place safe was not a wall of stone around it, but rather the Spirit of God within it. Together they took refuge in God, receiving the comfort and assurance of His powerful presence surrounding them.

You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.
Psalm 5:4-6

Despite David’s escape into prayer and worship, his troubles soon caught up with him. He watched with horror as a group of Saul’s men approached their sanctuary, armed and ready to forcibly return him to his abuser. He witnessed his worst nightmare unfolding in front of him, and he was powerless to stop it. But his Hero wasn’t.

Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied.
1 Samuel 19:19-21

One by one David’s feared aggressors stopped in their tracks, dropped their weapons, and joined in the worship. Their ferocity was turned into futility, their hostility into halleluiahs. Two more groups of soldiers arrived, and twice more David saw God turn their strength into weakness, their crafty plans into blathering incompetence. And as he watched, David’s fear was turned into faith. He had never seen anything like it. What kind of champion could overpower people from the inside out?

At the height of our vulnerability,
our Hero proves His super-ability.

But could this Hero protect David from his abuser? When Saul showed up at David’s safe place, David was brought face to face with the man whose very name struck terror into his heart. The mighty warrior was once again reduced to a quivering mess.

So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even upon him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay that way all that day and night.
1 Samuel 19:23-24

At the height of David’s vulnerability, his Hero proved His super-ability. Saul the arrogant oppressor fell flat on his face. He was not allowed to touch David, not able to speak a word to bring him harm. Overwhelmed and undone by God’s Spirit, Saul was reduced to public stripping and incoherent babbling. David’s heart slowly stilled, his fears put to rest by the sight of his terrifying abuser rendered as helpless as a child before God.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Psalm 5:11-12

Abuse turns the mightiest of us into frightened children. It strips us of the confidence to defend ourselves and leaves us in search of someone else who will. In the desperate search for a hero, we are tempted to indiscriminately latch on to anyone who will take us in and provide us a sense of safety. Sometimes we unwittingly turn to people who are abusers in disguise, who prey on our vulnerability and take advantage of our desperate trust. Sometimes we find people who are worthy of our trust, who will do all within their limited power to love and care for us. But standing head and shoulders above all the others, God awaits, ready to gather His trembling lambs into His arms, able to come to our defense. We have a hero.

Power Plays

Uriah showed up in his pastor’s office dusty, worn, and still reeling from the intensity of battle. For weeks on end he had been in the trenches, grappling with a powerful enemy by day and constantly on high alert for an attack by night. He had stared death in the face more times than he could count, and he had watched as many a comrade in arms had fallen prey to it. But he soldiered on despite it all, believing body, mind, and spirit in the worthiness of the cause he was serving.

Being suddenly called off the front lines of battle by his leader came as quite a surprise. The job wasn’t done, his friends were still in the thick of the fight, and he was desperately needed. Nevertheless, he dropped everything and came, trusting that their leader must have some more urgent assignment for him.

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.
2 Samuel 11:6-7

High, cedar-beamed ceilings. Pristine corridors. Ornate furnishings. A smooth, polished handshake. Have a seat? Something to drink? Uriah wasn’t really up for the small talk. His mind was still on the battle, his instincts still honed in on the urgent matters at hand. Since when had his pastor been so concerned about the details of how he and the men were getting on? Why didn’t he just get to the point of why he had taken him away from the battle? But that would have to wait.

Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
2 Samuel 11:8-9

Before Uriah knew it, the interview was over. He was being dismissed with a casual order to take a break and “enjoy” his wife. The pastor’s secretary came after him with a fruit basket and a gift card. None of this made sense. It was so completely incongruent with the life and mentality that Uriah had been immersed in, that his pastor had preached to him time and time again. His every action was directed by a passionate commitment to serve the kingdom of God, no matter the cost. His pastor of all people knew that sleeping with his wife would make him ritually impure, disqualifying him from the spiritual battle in which they were currently engaged. Why would his pastor tell him to just forget all that and indulge in a delightful but forbidden diversion? It must be a test.

When David was told, “Uriah did not go home,” he asked him, “Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home?”
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
2 Samuel 11:10-11

The next day Uriah was called back in to the pastor’s office. Why didn’t he go home to his wife? Wasn’t he long overdue for the pleasures of a “normal” life? Finally, he had the opportunity to speak his mind, to talk with his leader about the issues that perpetually churned in his mind and burned on his heart. Of course they shared the same values. Of course his leader would understand where he was coming from and would support him in his actions. But again Uriah left his pastor’s presence confused. Something just wasn’t right, but who was he to question his spiritual authority?

The “process” was becoming ridiculously long, and Uriah still couldn’t figure out what it was all about. Why was he here? Why were his time and energy being used up in endless, seemingly pointless meetings?

Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
2 Samuel 11:12-13

The next evening he was invited to a nice dinner with his leader. This, too, felt like a violation of his commitment, a betrayal of his co-workers, but how could he refuse? Sumptuous food. Free-flowing wine. Uriah politely tried to turn it down, but his leader insisted. By the end of the evening he left the party reeling under the influence, but still he did not go home. He refused to compromise his purity. He refused to be corrupted.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
2 Samuel 11:14-15

Little did Uriah know it, but that was the last straw. His incorruptible integrity threatened his leader’s corrupted agenda. His straightforward loyalty unmasked his leader’s hidden betrayal. And that just couldn’t be tolerated. The pastor’s subtle power plays had failed, so he dealt his final card.

So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
2 Samuel 11:16-17

The pastor had to find a way to eliminate the threat while keeping his own “integrity” intact. He would never consider cold-blooded murder, but he knew someone who would do his dirty work for him. A short but to-the-point note to the church administrator: Uriah needed to be gotten rid of. A conveniently arranged accident: Uriah became a casualty of war.

David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”
2 Samuel 11:25

“What a shame, but unfortunately, these things will happen. It’s just as well; this will work out for the greater good.”

But the thing David had done
displeased the LORD.

2 Samuel 11:27

A Lamb Exploited

For as long as she could remember, the young woman had been surrounded by people who adored her pastor. She had grown up hearing her father tell stories about the amazing things that he had said and done. Both her father and her husband had devoted themselves to full-time service under his leadership. Their work took them away for long months at a time, but they always came home full of praise for their leader and full of delight over the significant ways that he was using his great influence to change the world for God.

The woman herself was deeply moved by the things of God. Like her husband and her father, she wanted her life to be pleasing and devoted to Him. She paid great attention to keeping herself pure and clean, following the practices for godly living that she had been taught from His Word.

So one evening when she received a rather unusual message from her spiritual leader, she had little reason to question it. Her husband was away on one of his long trips, and her pastor was requesting that she come and meet him right away. It did seem a bit odd to be asked to his home after hours, but frankly, she felt honored. The men in her life were always getting summoned into his regal presence, interacting with him face-to-face and being sent on important assignments. But she was just a woman; he had never really had a reason to take note of her. She hurried to his home, wondering what he wanted with her.

She was so fully convinced of his righteousness that it never occurred to her to question his intentions.

The interaction that followed was incredibly confusing. She was so fully convinced of his righteousness that it had never occurred to her to question his intentions, but the way he was treating her made her increasingly uncomfortable. It didn’t feel right, and yet she kept telling herself that somehow it must be right. He was a godly man. Everyone respected him. Her husband trusted him with his life. The least she could do was cooperate with whatever he wanted her to do.

This man had always been so closely associated with God that being close to him felt like finally getting closer to God.

As things heated up between them, she felt increasingly torn. By now it was painfully obvious that what she was involved in was wrong, but she didn’t know how to stop it. Maybe she wasn’t completely sure she wanted to stop it.  It felt really good to be noticed by someone so important, to be the sole focus of his passionate attention. She had always craved intimacy with God. In her eyes, this man had always been so closely associated with God that being close to him felt like finally getting closer to God. At the same time, she had never felt farther from Him.

Tainted. Dirty. Guilty. The woman tried to wash away the impurity of her adulterous affair. She went back home and tried to return to her normal life. But nothing she could do now would erase what had done. She had defiled herself. She had betrayed her husband. She had sinned against God. And now, everyone was about to find out. She was pregnant.

What would everyone think of her? What would they think of their leader? His reputation would be destroyed, all because of her. This must somehow be her fault. She had led him astray. She should have known better. God must hold her responsible.

The LORD sent Nathan to David. …
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. … I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. … Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
2 Samuel 12:1, 5-10

But He didn’t. Not primarily, at least. God confronted the shepherd who had abused his position of spiritual authority and relational power to take advantage of one of the sheep under his charge. His message was severe: You devoured what was yours to protect. You took what did not belong to you. You were heartless, pitiless towards those weaker than you. And in abusing them, you despised Me.

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. When she had purified herself from her uncleanness,* then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
Samuel 11:2-5

The Scriptures tell this story about Bathsheba, whose father and husband were among the inner circle of mighty men who served David, the shepherd of Israel. But it could just as easily be told about any number of vulnerable women (or men) seduced into inappropriate relationships by someone they respect. In a strange twist on the way things are supposed to be, their spiritual strength is exploited by a spiritual leader, who manipulates their love for God and uses it for his own twisted purposes.  But God is not blind, either to their actions or to their deeper desires. He extends forgiveness for the wrong choices they willingly made. He extends grace to cover their confusion and hurt at how they were used. He brings healing to restore the dignity and the trust that were destroyed. And He calls to account those who indulge in such spiritual abuse.