FORGIVING

C. L. Embrey

All of us know that Christians are a forgiving people. At least we know that we should be forgiving. Whether or not we are a forgiving people is not for me to say. But I am sure that many of us are not as forgiving as we like to think we are. Jesus said:

"If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses".

We cannot be a Christian and be unforgiving. But there are some things about "forgiving" that I find very difficult to understand. Perhaps you have a similar problem.

The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah in characterizing the New Covenant, saying:

"For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more". (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12, 10:17)

God said that He would "remember their sins no more". Our sins that God has forgiven will never be remembered by Him again. Those sins have been removed from His memory. It is as though those sins had never happened.

That sounds very much like amnesia. I have forgotten most of what I have learned and what has happened during my life up to now. But very little, if any, of the wrongs done to me by others has been forgotten. It is not that I cannot, or do not, forgive. I can, and do forgive. But I cannot selectively remove anything from my memory, try as I might.

When Peter asked our Lord how many times he should forgive his brother who had sinned against him, our Lord replied,

"I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven."

Of course Jesus is not saying that we should forgive our brothers four hundred ninety times but no more than that. He is saying that the nature of forgiving is without limit. I have found that concept very difficult to make a part of my thinking process. We are more prone to say, "If you defraud me once, shame on you. If you defraud me twice, shame on me". We mean that if you defraud me once I will not give you a chance to defraud me again. If my brother betrays my trust once I would have trouble having full faith and confidence in him again. But when we sin against our Father, then we repent and pray for forgiveness and He forgives us, He will not remember our sin again. I seriously doubt that we are required to forget sins against us. We are to forgive our brothers and sisters when they repent and ask forgiveness as often and as many times as they repent and ask. This is very difficult for us to practice.

We all know of examples of forgiving that are more than just remarkable. Examples like that portrayed in Somerset Maugham's novel, "Of Human Bondage". In the novel, a physician loved a prostitute. His love for her was so complete that she shamed and degraded him, and he still loved her. I experience emotional upheavals just watching such a story unfold through the pages of a book. We lose respect for a man who would allow himself to he drawn into such a relationship. But there are true stories of this kind of forgiving.

We are all, more or less, familiar with real life tragedies of this kind. I am thinking of one such relationship that I would like to review. The man in this story is very religious. His religious convictions were of such strength and kind that he spent much of his life preaching. But this man married a prostitute. I would suppose that she married him for the security of marriage. She surely didn't love him. She was unfaithful to him from the
beginning of the marriage, and sometimes she disappeared for days at a time partying and sleeping with anyone who would favor her with attention and gifts. But he would go after her, find her, bring her home and care for her. He still loved her. He had two sons and a daughter with her.

Frankly, I would have a lot of trouble living as this man lived. I doubt that I could do it. But this man was very unusual. He married the prostitute because God told him to marry her.

Of course, as you know, this man's name was Hosea and his wife's name was Gomer. "The words of the lord which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, 'Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry, and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.' So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son."

Hosea did his prophetic work after the kingdom divided. He lived and worked in Israel, the northern kingdom. From its very beginning the northern kingdom was in a spiritual decline finally ending in the kingdom’s total destruction and the scattering of its people so that they disappeared from history. Hosea told of this end in more detail than did Amos. Hosea is called "the weeping prophet" of Israel, as was Jeremiah "the weeping prophet" of Judah. Hosea portrays Israel, through unusual imagery, as the adulterous wife of Jehovah, but he says that she will eventually be recovered.

We sometimes use words like "jaded" which means "Rendered dull or insensitive as if by excess or by surfeit; sated: ... b. Cynically or pretentiously callous". God used expressions such as "through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron", to describe the same thing. People become insensitive to sin.

This is what had happened to Israel. The litany of callous sins by Israel is startling.

"Plead with your mother, plead - for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband - that she put away her harlotry from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness and set her like a parched land, and slay her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no pity, because they are the children of harlotry. For their mother has played the harlot, she that conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink’" (Hosea 2).

A scar is almost totally insensitive to touch. Israel's conscience was so scared by long-standing sin that they were practically unmoved by the explosive message of Hosea. The people of the Northern Kingdom were never brought to repentance and back to God. Their unrepentant sin eventually brought Assyrian captivity and the ten lost tribes of Israel. Lord Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib" is a moving portrayal:

"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast.
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!"

The prophesy of Hosea is sometimes called "tragic pathos". It is a story of a people who seem to have a "death wish". The people of the Kingdom of Israel are bent on self-destruction. But God loved them in spite of their destructive sinfulness.

How are the people of today, who say they believe in God, doing in maintaining and exercising the "faith of our Fathers"? To me, the appearance is that we are heading in the same direction followed by the Northern Kingdom of Israel. We don't seem to have a consciousness of sin.

All of us who pay any attention to what is going on in the world around us know what the current condition of public morals is. A few months ago we had a Supreme Court nominee publicly charged in a most debasing public testimony of sexual harassment of a woman who is now a Law School Professor. The nominee was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. A senator is now being charged with sexual harassment over a twenty year period. The case is current so we can't know how it will turn out. In 1993 about half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. About seventy-five percent of high school students in a recent survey acknowledge that they have cheated in their school work. Hardly anyone will deny having at some time cheated on their tax return. A Professor teaching a graduate course in the Business College at the University of Texas at Austin publicly told of a survey he gave to a graduate class of 22 students. He asked them to suppose that they stayed at a hotel on business and when they checked out the desk manager included a twenty dollar bill with their receipt, obviously an attempt to encourage repeat business. He asked what they would do with the money. Eighteen of the twenty-two graduate students said they would keep the money. The article the Professor wrote was titled "Business Ethics".

Sexual activity outside of marriage is so common and expected today that the words "adultery" and "fornication" have become archaic. Sex outside marriage is not thought of as sinful. Sex outside marriage is thought of as natural. So high school students are taught to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and from sexually transmitted diseases, not that premarital sex is wrong.

How far away from God people go and how sinful they become does not determine whether they can come back. It isn’t only that the sinful can came back. Our Father is waiting and watching for the return. When the prodigal son returned, his Father saw him while he was yet a great way off, and he had compassion, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. – C. L. Embry (formerly Protrepo)