Review: The Art of Forgiving

The Art of ForgivingThe Art of Forgiving by Lewis B. Smedes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s a lot of wisdom about forgiveness and how the gospel drives it. There are also a few flies in the ointment. For example, Smedes worries about “fast forgivers” who forgive quickly in order to avoid their pain (p137ff). This makes a lot of sense, not to fake forgiveness or say we forgive when we really don’t, but he never deals with what Jesus says in this regard: “forgive us our trespasses as those who trespass against us”, which is to say, right away because God doesn’t hold our sins against us. He talks about waiting for the right time and quotes Nelson Mandela, “Ah, yes, forgiving, it will have to come to that sometime, but not yet, not while the boot is still on our neck” (p139). It’s hard not to think of Jesus forgiving His mockers from the cross while worse than the boot is on his neck, praying to the Father to forgive them, extending His own forgiveness. In other parts of the book Smedes addresses the problem with thinking we can control others or protect ourselves by not forgiving, but misses it here.

Similarly, he also encourages people to “stay angry” and says, “Anger is aimed at what persons do. Hate is aimed at persons”, but Jesus connects the two: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:21-22). Anger against sin, including sin against us, can be good and righteous, but rather than “stay angry”, we’re told “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). We can get faithfully angry every day, but in order to keep it faithful and not make us bitter and unrighteously angry, we have to put it away with the sunset. So often people sleep on it thinking that will help but all it does it is marinate the problem overnight.

Forgiveness a promise: it’s something we do every day, maintaining the forgiveness we’ve granted in the past, and promising to forgive like Christ does again tomorrow. Of course we know that we can sin and grieve the Holy Spirit again tomorrow, but if we confess it, He really forgives us again and so His mercies are new every morning, enabling us to walk free and full of joy.

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