In an age in which everything is permitted and nothing is forgiven, Tim Keller’s Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? (Viking, 2022) is a powerfully timely book. Here are 20 quotes on the freedom that real forgiveness provides a bitter and broken world.
Forgiveness is a form of voluntary suffering. In forgiving, rather than retaliating, you make a choice to bear the cost. (6)
American culture, which pits self-fulfillment against self-sacrifice, [will] produce revenge or withdrawal as a response to any mistreatment. . . . In such a culture, forgiveness is seen as self-hating, and revenge and anger are considered authentic. (36–37)
As Yale sociologist Philip Gorski argues, the secular assumption that all things must have a material cause makes morality either the product of our evolutionary biology or the construction of our culture, which is always designed to support the people in power. Either way, morality is relative—there are no absolutes. In such a worldview, confession and forgiveness are always something of a sham: Who is to say what a sin is? Why should I feel guilty for something I want to do? Who are you to declare whether I am forgiven or not? (51)
The Bible puts condemnation in proximity to the most famous verse on love [John 3:16]. In other words, the Bible never sees God’s love and anger being opposed to each other. Indeed, the Bible tells us that in God, not only are they not in tension but they are meaningless apart from each other and indeed they establish each other. (74)
When we see all the references to God’s wrath in the Bible, we instinctively imagine God’s anger must be like ours, and so we recoil. However, his anger is not wounded pride as ours is. God only gets angry at the evil destroying the things he loves—his creation and the human race he made for his own glory and for our happiness. God is not just a God of love or a God of wrath. He is both, and if your concept of God can’t include both, it will distort your view of reality in general and of forgiveness in particular. (74, emphasis original)
If you see only a loving God who never says no, or if you only see an angry God who never says yes, it will distort your life. . . . Perhaps it is too simplistic (but not by much) to say that if you believe only in a God of love you will live like a spoiled child but if you believe only in a God of wrath you will live like an abused child. (75)
Only a grasp of what Jesus did on the cross—the doctrine of substitutionary atonement—can prevent spiritual distortions. . . . Only this doctrine keeps us from thinking God is mainly holy with some love or mainly loving with some holiness—but instead [he] is both holy and loving equally, interdependently. Only this view of God makes the spoiled or the neglected into the healthy and the loved. (84–85)
The Bible says the persons most quick to defend themselves are the weakest, not the strongest. (88)
These are not two kinds of forgiveness but two aspects or stages of it. One could say that the first must always happen, and the second may happen, but that is not always possible. Attitudinal forgiveness can occur without reconciliation, but reconciliation cannot happen unless attitudinal forgiveness has already occurred. (107)
The secular framework . . . has nothing to give the wounded conscience to heal it. It has nothing to say to the self who feels it is unworthy of love and forgiveness. Anyone who has seen the depths of their sin and what they are capable of will never be mollified by the bromide of “Be nice to yourself—you deserve it.” (139)
True repentance begins where whitewashing (“Nothing really happened”) and blame-shifting (“It wasn’t really my fault”) and self-pity (“I’m sorry because of what it has cost me”) and self-flagellation (“I will feel so terrible no one will be able to criticize me”) end. (149)
[Wraith] is an old word for a ghost, a spirit that can’t rest. Ghosts, according to legend, stay in the place where something was done to them, and they can’t get over it or stop reliving it. If you don’t deal with your wrath through forgiveness, wrath can make you a wraith, turning you slowly but surely into a restless spirit, into someone who’s controlled by the past, someone who’s haunted. (163)
If you cannot forgive your parents for the things they’ve done, it will distort your relationship with authority figures. If you have your own children, you may overcompensate and do either more than or the opposite of what your parents did to you. You might end up parenting your children not according to their needs but according to your own. (163)
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. (164–65)
Forgiveness is not the opposite of seeking true justice. It is, among many other things, its precondition. (167)
Forgiveness is granted (often a good while) before it is felt—not felt before it is granted. It is a promise to not exact the price of sin from the person who hurt you. . . . It is likely you have always thought, “Well, I have to feel it before I grant it. I have to start feeling less angry before I start to not hold them liable.” If you wait to feel it before you grant it, you’ll never grant it; you’ll be in an anger prison. (173)
It is possible to inwardly forgive without being able to reconcile with the offending party. Yet anyone who truly forgives from the heart will be open to and willing to reconcile. (185)
If a relationship has broken down, it is always your move to initiate relationship repair. Matthew 5 says, “If your brother has something against you, go to him,” while Matthew 18 says, “If you have something against your brother, go to him,” so it doesn’t matter who started it. A Christian is responsible to begin the process of reconciliation, regardless of how the alienation began. (190)
Evil wins when, through you, it helps the perpetrator in his or her self-justification. If you maintain your anger, coldness, and ill will toward the wrongdoers, that can make them feel more justified. They tell themselves what a cruel person you are and how you deserved it. If we don’t defeat evil through forgiveness, evil wins—in the world, in the perpetrator, in you. (192)
It is hard to stay angry at someone if you are praying for them. It is also hard to stay angry unless you feel superior, and it is hard to feel superior if you are praying for them, since in prayer you approach God as a forgiven sinner. (192)
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