Marked by Forgiveness in 2023

I am a BIG Albert Mohler fan. Maybe it is my Baptist background or the fact that he was my Sunday School teacher, but either way, I'm a fanboy.

Maybe it is my Baptist background or the fact that he was my Sunday School teacher, but either way, I'm a fanboy. For years now, I've heard Al talk about the sexual revolution in regard to the great moral crisis of our time. Much of what Al says seems always to point back to sexual licentiousness, and rightly so.

Thus, I paused when reading Tim Keller's newest book about forgiveness. In his book, Keller
argues that the great moral crisis of our time is not sexual liberty, rather it is vindictiveness. It's
the desire, or disposition, towards revenge. Keller points out there is no better platform for
vindictiveness than social media, which he calls "crack for moralists;" there's no high like the
high of seeing someone get what you think they deserve.
I've recently finished the book, and I've got to say, I think Keller is right...
Recently, Collin Hansen interviewed Keller, who spoke about forgiveness. The discussion in its
entirety is excellent, here are some headlines:
Hansen: How does our therapeutic age make forgiveness more difficult?

Keller: It changes the motive. The therapeutic reason for forgiveness is self-interest and self-
actualization. You do it strictly for your own mental health, your own "freedom," and peace of
mind. Now, true Christian forgiveness can bring you all those things—but as by-products. The
ground motive of biblical forgiveness is, first, to honor God—to forgive as he has forgiven you—
and, second, to bring about change for the common good.
You should want the wrongdoer to repent for his or her sake, for God's sake, and for the sake of
possible future victims.
The therapeutic motive of self-interest won't really work. If forgiveness is all about making you
happier—well, lots of people find that nursing a grudge is quite pleasurable!
Hansen: Is forgiveness more of an event or a process?
Keller: Forgiveness is granted (event) before it's felt (process). It's a promise before God not to
take revenge on a wrongdoer for his or her sin against you. Making that promise entails three
practical commitments. You promise:
1) not to constantly bring the sin up to the wrongdoer in order to browbeat and punish her.
2) not to constantly bring the sin up to other people in order to hurt the wrongdoer's reputation
and relationship with others, and
3) not to constantly bring the sin up to yourself—not to keep the anger hot, not to replay the
video of it in order to cherish the feeling of nobility and virtue that comes from having been
treated unjustly.

At first, when you make those commitments—granting forgiveness—you don't feel forgiving at
all. You are still angry. That's natural. But if you keep the commitments in a disciplined way
(which will be hard), and you remember the "vertical" dimension, that you're a sinner living
wholly by God's grace, then slowly but surely you will feel the forgiveness you have granted.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you have to feel forgiving before you can grant it. If you try to
do it that way, it will never happen. You must grant forgiveness in order to feel it.
Hansen: You state forgiveness is not the opposite of seeking true justice; 'It is, among many
other things, its precondition' (pg. 167). This seems counterintuitive. What do you mean?
Keller: If you don't internally forgive first (see previous answer), then when you go out to seek
justice, you will more likely be out for vengeance. Vengeance is always excessive. That was the
point of the lex talionis. Why did it say "a tooth for a tooth"? Because vengeance for a knocked-
out tooth always wants more—it wants to knock out all the perpetrator's teeth.

Vengeance tends not only to be disproportionate but to be surrounded with hateful, caustic, cruel
language that does not help perpetrators repent—it only leads them to dig in and oppose all your
efforts to put things right. The perpetrators rightly see you are not really after justice for their
sake, or for future victims' sake, or for truth's sake, or for God's sake; you are after vengeance
for your sake, and you just want to inflict suffering on them.
To forgive is to reject any vengeance or payback for the wrong—it is not to act as if the wrong
never happened. So if you are going to effectively pursue justice, you should first forgive,
eschewing vengeance, but then go out to rectify the wrongs.
Keller is spot on—vengeance for a knocked-out tooth always wants more. More pain, more
harm, more "justice." Why? Because it's all about me, I always think I need more or less,
whether receiving or giving forgiveness. Keller says that even when we are wrong, we don't
believe we are "that wrong..."
"If a cartoonist wants to make someone look ludicrous, she can create a caricature. She can take
something about a person's face that's unusual or a bit unattractive and exaggerate it, making it
prominent so that the person looks foolish. That's exactly what your heart does when someone
wrongs you. You think of them one-dimensionally, in terms of that one thing they've done to you.
If somebody has lied to you, you tell yourself, "She lied because she is just a liar!" But if you ever
are caught in a lie, and someone asks why you lied, you say, "Well, yes, but it's complicated. I
didn't mean . . ." Yes, you did lie, but you are basically a good person. So while you continue to
think of yourself as a three-dimensional, complex human being, you start to think of the person
who lied to you as a one-dimensional villain (pg. 164–65)."
Blinded by my desire to be right and feel vindicated, I wonder how often I've thought and acted
in a way that said to someone, "you're a one-dimensional villain." In what ways have my
religious, political, and social moorings become more condemning than edifying?

So good was Keller's book, often I would put it down, asking myself, "do I really know how to
forgive?" If you're looking for a book on forgiveness, I can't recommend Keller's book enough.
Historical, biblical, theological, and powerfully practical, Keller does what Keller does best: he
teaches. It's worth noting because of cancer, Keller will not be with us much longer. How fitting
his last work (potentially) is on forgiveness. A dying man, speaking to dying men. Even at
death's door, Keller teaches us that "at the heart of what we believe, we worship a King who died
for His enemies."
I wonder if I have enough love in my heart to do the same...