Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Not in the Bible

Here's a little list of a few words and sayings that a lot of people, Christians and non-Christians alike, think are in the Bible but aren't. I'll add more as I find them!

Money is the root of all evil
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
Personal relationship with Jesus Christ
God helps those who help themselves
End of the world
Second coming of Jesus Christ
The Anti-Christ
Old Testament
New Testament

Interesting, huh? If you think I'm wrong on any of these--and I could be!--let me know and we'll chat about it. God bless!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thoughts on Forgiveness, Part 2

I'm back to continue my thoughts on forgiveness. When I signed off Wednesday I had made the point that forgivenss doesn't make everything alright like so many Christians say it does. I believe that with all my heart. Forgiveness has limits and that should be admitted by believers; it doesn't make everything ok.

Yes, forgiveness can liberate people from the grip of toxic emotions and give them a new lease on life, but only if it's part of a larger process. It doesn't do that all by itself. The belief that it does has, I suspect, left a lot of hurting people sitting in pews all across America and the world, people who don't dare admit their true feelings for fear of appearing unChristian and/or getting chastised by their "caring" pastors and Christian friends.

Why do so many Christians believe that forgiveness is a panacea when the Bible no where says it is? I think it may be because of a discomfort with the emotion of anger, a discomfort that is itself unBiblical. A lot of Christians believe that anger is a sin; the Bible does NOT teach that! The Bible tells us to be angry but sin not, making a clear distinction between anger and sin. Jesus got angry at the Pharisees and at the moneychangers in the Temple. If getting angry is a sin, then Jesus was a sinner and, therefore, can't be the Messiah, who is supposed to be sinless. So Christians need to dump this false and harmful doctrine that getting angry is sinful and follow what the Bible actually says.

Another reason I think Christians believe forgiveness is a cure-all is the false "health, wealth, and happiness" doctrine. Simply put, this doctrine states that Jesus came to earth to give us health, wealth and happiness, and if we're not healthy, wealthy, and happy it's because of some secret sin in our lives, usually unforgiveness. Forgiveness is the ticket to God's blessings, to heaven on earth; unforgiveness blocks the divine gravy train. So, many Christians are "forgiving" people just to have access to the Cosmic Genie, also known as God. This is a sad state of affairs indeed.

By turning forgiveness into The Answer To All That Ails Us, Christians can end up being quite cruel to hurting, victimized people, even without meaning to. More than once I've heard tv preachers demean the feelings of wronged people. "You don't have a right to be angry!" "Who are you to judge anybody?!" "If you don't forgive, you're worse than the person who hurt you!" I've heard tv preachers say these, or similar, things without the slightest comprehension of the damage they were doing to a lot of people in their congregations.

The worst thing you can do to someone who's been hurt is to invalidate their feelings. Hurt and anger are natural and thoroughly appropriate reactions to being wronged, and they don't go away just by chanting the spell, "I forgive you". If Christians really want people to offer--and benefit from--truly genuine forgiveness, the first step is to agree with the injured person on both the depth of the injury and the rightness of his "unChristian" reaction to it. In other words, validate his feelings. Stop expecting instant forgiveness, and stop condemning when it's not forthcoming. And PLEASE stop telling people that forgiveness heals!

The idea that forgiveness causes emotional healing is, perhaps, one of the most deeply ingrained doctrines in the Church today. And I think it's one of the most unhealthy doctrines to dump on injured people. As I've said before, anger, hurt, and the desire for revenge are natural human feelings, but no matter how natural they are they can become horribly destructive if not handled properly. Teaching people that simply saying, "I forgive you", will banish these potentially deadly emotions from their hearts and minds is a gross disservice. These feelings need to be worked through, and the process can be long, hard, and messy. The end result, though, is an emotional healthy person who's ready to forgive. That's right; forgiveness can be and, if the truth were told, usually is the RESULT OF healing, NOT the means to healing.

That goes against virtually everything Christians today are taught about forgiveness. But Christians need to start thinking outside the box--not outside the Bible!--on what forgiveness really is and how to achieve it. Christians are commanded to forgive. If they really want to obey their Lord they should look at every possible means to do so and dump whatever doesn't work.

I will be posting on this subject again later. I'm not finished with forgiveness, and forgiveness isn't finished with me.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Thoughts on Forgiveness, Part 1

Well, here I am. Returning at last to my blog about God and God and me. Sorry for the long delay; I promise I won't be gone so long again!

As some of you may recall, I don't consider myself a Christian but, rather, a Christianist(see the post "Christianism" to learn what a Christianist is). Why am I not a full Christian? I have a lot of problems with some of Christianity's teachings and this post with deal with one of those.

Everyone knows that one of the central teachings of Christianity is forgiveness. I understand why Jesus would teach his followers to forgive, but I have a problem with making forgiveness a commandment. I've often felt that Islam's teaching on forgiveness was more realistic. In Islam, if memory serves, forgiveness is encouraged as the superior response to a wrong but it's not commanded; you can choose to not forgive those who've hurt you and still be right with Allah. Of course, in Christianity you're taught that if you don't forgive others God won't forgive you. I have a problem with that.

I'd like to say right off the bat that I've never been seriously hurt by anyone. Oh, people have made me mad and done things to me that at the time seemed like the crime of the century, but in hindsight I realize that those "crimes" weren't so bad. So I don't have any personal experience with hardcore forgiveness. I admire people who truly forgive those who've hurt them in truly horrifying ways, but I also understand people who don't, and it's always bothered me that God apparently doesn't understand them.

God, who can understand someone committing the most egregious evil, can't-- or won't-- understand the victim's unwillingness to forgive. In God's eyes it's worse to be unforgiving of evil than it is to actual commit evil. At least, that's the God portrayed in Christians' teachings on forgiveness, and I just can't swallow that.

Yes, I know that God loves everyone and that He makes His rain to fall on the wicked and the good alike, but surely God can't be so cold as to not understand the anguish of someone who's been horribly victimized and how that anguish can make forgiveness out of the question, at least initially. Surely God understands that pain, grief, hate, and rage are normal reactions to being wronged, reactions for which no one should be condemned. Yet, when I listen to Christian pastors on tv or radio talk about forgiveness, or read Christian books on the subject, I'm always struck by how judgmental they are toward those who haven't, can't, or just won't, forgive.

I remember watching Joyce Myers--I hope I spelled her last name right--on tv several years ago, strutting across the stage delivering a blistering sermon against unforgivers. Her attitude was so smug and self-righteous I wanted to puke. As she condemned those who hadn't forgiven their victimizers I wondered just how quick she'd be to forgive if she'd been hurt the way some of the people in her audience might have been. Rather than offering victimized people compassion, understanding, and a helping hand to lovingly guide them to forgiveness, she virtually opened the doors of hell and pushed them in!

Another tv preacher, one of my favorites, also said something about forgiveness that completely turned me off. John Hagee, whom I usually agree with, once said that if you don't forgive instantly and completely you're not a true Christian. When I heard him say that I was stunned. As with Joyce Myers I felt, and still feel, that Pastor Hagee's statement was totally devoid of compassion for the victims of evil. Forgive instantly?! And if you don't you're not a true Christian?! If the police came to Pastor Hagee's house and told him his son had been shot by a mugger, I seriously doubt if his first response would be, "Forgive him Father, he didn't know what he was doing." Yet Hagee, in effect, told his flock that that should be their first response.

I don't care how saved people are, giving forgiveness to the bad guy isn't going to be the first thing they do after they're hurt. Oh, they might say the words, but their hearts will be in the hurt, in the rage, in the grief, in the hate. That's only human, and that's ok. But too many Christians are telling people it's not ok. They're telling them to just say the three magic words, "I forgive you" and--presto!--all's right with the world. But that's not true; it's just not true!

Unfortunately, I've run out of time on the library's computer. I will be returning tomorrow or Thursday to finish my thoughts on forgiveness. Sorry for the interruption.