When have I received undeserved forgiveness?
It’s easy to be angry with those who have hurt us and those we love. The world can seem so unfair, and it’s hard to understand it all. Chapter two tells us that when we place our hope and trust in God’s promises, He gives us the grace to forgive and the determination to take steps toward loving others.
About This Study
Life can leave you doubting yourself and the decisions you’ve made along the way. You may wonder if God cares or is present in the midst of difficult situations. You are not alone. The following “Doubt” study follows Peter and Thomas, two of Jesus' closest friends, who also experienced times of doubt. Jesus met them at their point of need, and the good news is that He can meet you here, too.
Pastor Jenkins welcomed Henry to his office for their second visit. “Hello, Henry. I am glad to see you again. How are you doing?”
“That assignment you gave me was pretty tough. You said to study the Scripture. I realized after I started reading it, I wasn’t sure what you meant when you said ‘study.’ And praying that prayer daily was a challenge. Frankly, there were some days that I missed… I guess I totally messed up. I am sorry I let you down but…”
“Whoa, wait a minute. You aren’t letting me down. You’re right, the assignment I gave you was a tough one, but you are dealing with tough stuff. I’m not surprised that you found it difficult to pray everyday. I’m guessing from what you said earlier that you may be a bit out of prayer practice. Do you remember some of the exercises you had to do in basic training?”
“Of course. There is no way I would forget them.”
“How did you do those exercises on the first day of basic compared to the day you graduated?”
“There was no comparison. It was like night and day.”
“And I am guessing what made the difference was regular practice, commitment to the daily discipline of exercise. Well the same thing is true of our spiritual life. The more you practice the easier praying will get. Did you set a specific time each day to read the Scripture and pray?”
“No, I just tried to work it in when I had some spare time.”
“Well, that may be why it was difficult. Would you be willing to try it at a set time of the day?”
“Yeah, I guess I could do that. Before breakfast would be good. That way I could start the day focused on God.”
“Good. Now about what it means to study Scripture. It can mean a lot of things. First it means to pray that God will reveal to you how God would speak to you in that day through that Scripture. Second it means to think about what you are reading. As you think about what you are reading you will notice that certain words or phrases seem to grab hold of you. Stop reading when that happens and turn those words or phrases over in your mind. Ask what God might be telling you in those words or phrases for your life that day. It is sort of like decoding the script for your life right now. You might even have a journal to make your own notes as to what that Scripture means to you.
“The last time we met you mentioned you have PTSD. You might use those letters to guide you in your scripture study. Pray (for God’s guidance), Think (about what you are reading), Stop (when you come to a word or phrase that speaks to you) and Decode (the meaning of that word or phrase in your life now.) PTSD.”
“Gee, I guess I really did mess up. I mean I just read the words.”
“Henry, remember how you told me last time that you were doubting everything you did? Well you just gave us another example. You are blaming yourself for something that was my responsibility; I didn’t do a good job of explaining what I meant by ‘study.’ How could you have known what I meant, if I didn’t spell it out? That was my responsibility, not yours.”
“Now that you have said that, it reminds me of what I was hoping we might talk about today, Pastor.”
“It’s about how others mess up.”
“You mean like I messed up by not explaining what I meant when I said study the Scriptures?”
“Well sort of. I mean I not only doubt myself, I doubt others. I don’t think I trust anybody right now, even my own family.”
“So you find yourself doubting even the people you would normally trust?”
“Did you have any feelings like that in Iraq or Afghanistan?”
“Of course. Who wouldn’t? You are taught that your life depends on your buddies and their lives depend on you. You have to always be watching your rear and covering everyone else’s.”
“That sounds like a good strategy.”
“It is good until someone who is supposed to be protecting others screws up.”
“Did that happen to you?”
“You bet it did. We were in a fire fight; we were taking some heavy losses. Terry, a guy I had trained with, saw what was going down and stepped up. Looking back I think he was on an adrenaline high. He sort of went berserk. He ran forward and tore into the enemy like he was Superman and there was no tomorrow. He literally saved our hides, and miraculously he got by without a scratch. Then the enemy called in reinforcements and we knew we had to retreat. So we called in our own fire power. When our own artillery came in… they blew Terry to kingdom come. ‘Friendly fire’ they called it. He went down with ‘Friendly fire.’ I’ve got words for that, Pastor.”
“I’m sorry Henry. What a waste.”
“Yeah, Terry was wasted by our own men. I’d like to get my hands on the guys that did that.”
“So I am beginning to understand why you say it’s difficult to trust anybody.”
“That’s right. It’s too risky to put your life in somebody else’s hands. Sometimes I think I would like to join some of my buddies living on the streets, get away from being dependent upon anybody but yourself, I say.”
“So sometimes you think you would like to follow Peter’s example – go far away with a few friends. Catch a few fish. Don’t depend on anyone.”
“The way I figure it is, why be close to people when they can mess you over?”
“Henry, I don’t know if you are ready for me to say this or not, but what I am hearing is that you are very hurt, your trust in your own team was betrayed and you are angry that someone you loved, who stepped forward in the crisis, who probably saved your life, was blown off the face of the earth.”
“You bet I am angry. We were put in an impossible situation by those who had bad intelligence. We didn’t have the backup we needed at the time. We lost too many good men. When backup came, it killed one of the bravest men I’d ever seen in combat. You bet I am angry.”
“No wonder it’s hard to trust anybody right now.”
Henry sat in silence.
Pastor Jenkins found no words.
Finally he said, “Henry, how long have you been angry?”
Henry looked up, startled by the question. “Pastor, I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything. I’ve got good reason to be angry.”
“Yes, you do. And you may wish to carry that anger for the rest of your life. I suppose that Peter’s anger at those who crucified his best friend drove him back to fishing, too. But as I see it, you have a choice, just like Peter. You can be angry the rest of your life or you can decide that neither you nor anybody else is perfect. People make horrible, terrible mistakes that cause tremendous pain for others. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, but still it happens.”
“I suppose this is where that forgiveness stuff comes in. Well I didn’t do so well forgiving myself last week and I don’t think I am in any mood to forgive those…well I won’t use that kind of language here.”
“I think Peter was probably of the same mind. Your friend was killed unintentionally by ‘Friendly fire.’ Peter’s friend was deliberately murdered by torture in public. So how could either one of you be in a forgiving mood? No, I think if it was up to Peter, or to you, anger might be the primary motivation for the rest of your lives.”
“But you’re telling me that Peter changed, I mean I read that in the Scripture last week.”
“Yes, he changed because Jesus came to him. Remember, Peter jumped out of the boat when he recognized Jesus. And Jesus fed the disciples, including Peter. Jesus did not blame Peter for denying him, or for being angry, for that matter. Instead he gave him nourishment. He understood that Peter needed forgiveness and hope, not
“Yeah, I know, we talked about that last week.”
“Yes, we did, but what we didn’t talk about was the fact that Jesus asked Peter to “feed my sheep.” In other words, Jesus fed Peter and then asked him to feed others, to turn away from the temptation of living his life in anger, to turn away from living his life isolated from others, to turn away from separating himself from those who wanted to love him. Essentially Jesus challenged Peter to let go of his desire for revenge, to let go of filling his own emptiness with anger, to let go of living inside an empty shell, and let himself love and be loved again. Jesus invited Peter to make a decision, even though Peter had been in no mood to engage life again. Jesus invited Peter back to life. That is the decision I think Jesus may be offering you, Henry. And I think it scares you deeply.”
Henry did not respond.
After a lengthy silence, Pastor Jenkins offered, “Henry are you willing to take another assignment?”
“Well, as I have said, I think Peter’s story is your story, so I am going to ask you to study some of the same and some different Scriptures, and I am going to give you some more questions and another prayer to pray daily. Then I would like to see you in my office in a week. Agreed?”
“O.K., give me the Scriptures and prayer and I’ll see you in a week.”
Readings from the Old Testament / Hebrew Scriptures
Place your hope and trust in God’s promises.
You are my defender and protector;
I put my hope in your promise.
. . .
How certain your promise is!
How I love it!
Psalm 119.114, 140
“God keeps every promise he makes.
He is like a shield for all who seek his protection.”
The LORD promises forgiveness and opens the way to a new relationship with him.
The LORD says, “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant. The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the LORD, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the LORD, have spoken.”
The LORD promises to be with you.
“I am the LORD your God;
I strengthen you and tell you,
‘Do not be afraid;
I will help you.’ ”
Israel, the LORD who created you says,
“Do not be afraid – I will save you.
I have called you by name – you are mine.
When you pass through deep waters,
I will be with you;
your troubles will not
When you pass through fire,
you will not be burned;
the hard trials that come
will not hurt you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the holy God of Israel,
who saves you.”
Readings from the New Testament
In teaching about loving one’s enemies, Jesus is providing a lesson on God’s love and mercy for all people. Jesus said:
“You have heard it said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’
But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.
For he makes his sun shine on bad and good people alike,
and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil.”
Read again how Jesus loved and forgave Peter and initiated the process of reconciliation.
After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Take care of my lambs.” A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, “ he answered, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”
A third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!”
Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”
The apostle Paul gave some specifics about managing difficult relationships.
If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says, “I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.” Instead, as the scripture says, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink; for by doing this you will make them burn with shame.” Do not let evil defeat you; instead conquer evil with good.
The writers of several of the New Testament letters speak of letting go of anger and hatred.
If you become angry,
do not let your anger lead you into sin,
and do not stay angry all day.
. . .
Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger.
No more shouting or insults,
no more hateful feelings of any sort.
Instead, be kind and tenderhearted to one another,
and forgive one another,
as God has forgiven you through Christ.
Ephesians 4.26, 31, 32
You must all have the same attitude and the same feelings;
love one another, and be kind and humble with one another.
Do not pay back evil with evil or cursing with cursing;
instead, pay back with a blessing,
because a blessing is what God promised
to give you when he called you.
As the scripture says,
“If you want to enjoy life
and wish to see good times,
you must keep from speaking evil
and stop telling lies.
You must turn away from evil
and do good;
you must strive for peace
with all your heart.”
1 Peter 3.8-11
If we say that we are in the light, yet hate others,
we are in the darkness to this very hour.
If we love others, we live in the light,
and so there is nothing in us
that will cause someone else to sin.
But if we hate others, we are in the darkness;
we walk in it and do not know where we are going,
because the darkness has made us blind.
1 John 2.9-11
We love because God first loved us.
If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars.
For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen,
if we do not love others, whom we have seen.
The command that Christ has given us is this:
whoever loves God must love others also.
1 John 4.19-21
Dear God, at times I am so angry with those who have hurt me and those I love. You know that the world seems so unfair. People I care about have been hurt, some have died. I don’t understand. Actually I don’t think you could give me a good enough reason for the suffering I have seen.
So, dear God, I am asking you, what do I do? Do I spend the rest of my life feeling resentful, doubting everyone around me, living with this shell of resentment, pretending like I don’t care, acting like I don’t need anybody, dying a little bit each day?
Lord, I want more. Give me the grace to forgive. Give me the determination to take a step each day into your love that each day I may take a step into loving others. For this grace I pray. In this grace I will act each day, until it becomes real in me.
Thank you for hearing my prayer. Amen.
Thoughts for Reflection
<ol> <li>How does my mistrust of others keep me from letting myself be loved?</li> <li>How does my doubting the good intentions of others keep me from loving others?</li> <li>What would it take for me to let go of anger over things in the past that I cannot change anyway?</li> <li>If I forgave those who have hurt me, who don’t deserve to be forgiven, how would it change me?</li> <li>If I accepted God’s forgiveness for me, when I don’t deserve to be forgiven, how would it change me?</li> </ol>