Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thoughts from an Unsuccessful Elk Hunter

Seeing a live, wild animal close up in the woods without being seen is strange and wonderful. Elk droppings, still wet through, on the path ahead make elk seem real in a way, but seeing the ruddy, course hair and muscular sides of an elk brings that feeling to a new level. Knowing elk exist and inhabit the woods you are in is dull compared to watching an animal that can with dignity cover two miles of broken terrain in a few minutes walk calmly past not thirty yards away.

As a boy I would often try to sneak up on birds. And though the birds I was approaching often lived in neighborhoods or parks and were half tame, I had only tried it a few times before I became convinced that even a half-tame animal will only be approached on its own terms. So it thrills me to approach a wild animal like a deer or coyote on my terms.

We value things more when we realize that they could slip away at any time. When a mother jerks her son out of the road as a bus roars by, she gasps and hugs him for a moment before she can bring herself to reprimand him. She realizes how he could have been gone instantly, and that makes him seem the more precious. Seeing a deer walk by is a fleeting experience. Nothing is holding the deer near to you; it could slip away at any time, so seeing the deer is the more precious.

To the man stalking in the woods, an elk is a phantom that leaves behind a lot of sign but has no physical presence. Trees in all directions point up, but there is nothing between them. A wood is like the landscape of the moon. On the moon, stones are strewn about, but nothing is there. In the woods, hoof marks are imprinted deep in the mud, but they are left by a creature of ether. There is “only a host of phantom listeners”* in the empty woods that tease a man’s imagination and subconsciously convince him that nothing is there.

So when a deer moves through the empty woods not thirty yards away, the woodsmen is struck simultaneously by how ordinary the deer is and by how outrageous it is that the deer is walking calmly in front of him as if he were the vapor. The deer is opaque, gray like a rock. It makes sound; it takes up space. It is ordinary.

And yet electric. Its own demeanor is demure, but the woodsman feels the wonder of it in every part of his tingling body. Something far off has abruptly drawn near. Seeing it is like being hit by lightning. There is no warning, the shock is intense, and then it is gone.

It is easy for someone who enjoys animals to wonder why a hunter would want to go out and kill a living creature. A common misconception is that hunters are sadists who enjoy destruction. But as a man who belongs to the world cannot understand the joys of knowing God, a man who has not been hunting cannot know its thrills. Someone may have a lot of fun playing with his dog or riding his horse, but I cannot believe he enjoys his animals as much as a hunter enjoys the wild creatures he sees.

*From Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners.

Bulls in the Ruts

Most hunters have a close association in their minds between “radical insanity” and “bulls in the rut.” Consequently, if anyone had seen Nick G—— and me four-wheeling away from our elk hunting camp this year—no one did, because everyone else had already hightailed it out of the place—they would likely have mistaken us for bulls in the rut. And they would have been right, in a way; for much of the journey back to the civilized world (the part of the world where roads are differentiated from roller coasters) we were stuck in eight-inch-deep ruts.

There were three of us elk in the pickup—Nick in the driver’s seat, Muni Beduhin in the passenger’s and a cow in two coolers. The bed of the truck and the trailer were stuffed full with a wall tent, a large roll of carpeting, a stove with a grill, bottles of propane, a water heater, two cots, four sleeping bags, bins of clothes, bins of cooking utensils, coolers of food and many other articles. After we got out of the backwoods onto the open highway, we topped out at 30 mph over a 65 mph pass. It should not be hard to understand that while we were still where the character of the road meant that 15 mph was closer to demolition than titillation, we didn’t float over the mud.

The mud, resulting from several inches of snow that night and morning, was closer to fish slime than something made of dirt. Driving that road when it was mostly dry wasn’t for wimps. The ruts are deep, the mud holes are numerous, and the rocks embedded in the road are large. I was glad Nick was driving now that the road had confused itself with a slough.

We had chains on all four tires, which was helpful for pulling ourselves forward—and backward the time when we almost fell into a deep hole—but we had no side-to-side traction. The trailer was fishtailing behind us, jerking us all over the road as we remarked on how hard it was to stay out of the ruts. When we reached the top of a hill, the road curved quickly to the right. The truck, like a belligerent ox, plowed straight ahead. The drop-off was steep. Considering that our mini-caravan had been obeying Nick’s steering about as well as most of us live out our doctrine, it was not surprising that Nick was hollering as he steered wildly to the right. “Nice ruts!” he cried. “Ruts are wonderful! I want to be in them!”

We hadn’t learned our lesson completely, though. As we approached “The Pond,” Nick pulled us out of the ruts again, in attempt to escape the worst of that worst of mud holes. But once again the truck refused to turn, and Nick barely got us stopped. Six more inches and we would have been nose-down in a deep hole. We backed up and resigned ourselves to going through The Pond in the ruts. However, someone had put aspen logs at the bottom of it for traction, and our left front tire picked one up and jammed it between our axle, bumper and steering shaft. It took the bow saw to get us out of that mud hole.

After that we stayed in the ruts, and discovered an unexpected perk of doing so. I was looking out the window when Nick said, “I don’t even bother to steer anymore.” His right hand was resting on the gear shift and his left elbow was sitting on the open window. The wheel was turning according to the ruts as we went down the winding road.

I don’t know whether or not it is advisable to hunt the rut, but it is definitely advisable to drive in it when you are going over a slick, three-dimensional road with an elk and a hunting camp in tow. Not going over any cliffs is more important than not pushing logs down the road ahead of you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

End of the Evening

The sun is falling away now

and as the valley is slowly torn from its clutching fingers
it leaves scratches of flame in the clouds

It clings

—and falls away

The valley is all sprinkled with ash.
The coals on the peaks burn out:
the day dies

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

One time, reading through Ezekiel, I got to the last part and bogged down. I decided to draw a diagram of the Temple as I read the description of it to help me pay attention and understand what I was reading. That proved to be beyond my meager capabilities, but did draw the east gate (the gates were identical) on a vector-based drawing program in Windows 98 (Micrographics Draw). Here are the results; hopefully you will find them helpful.

The view is from above. You might go back and read the text as you look at it to fully understand it. There are several versions of the drawing to flesh it out.

Location: Eze 40-48 (no physical location actualized that I know of)

The East Gateway (from above, plain)

The East Gateway (from above with labels)

The East Gateway (from above with measurements)

Friday, May 16, 2008


Spring lit the wick
        and the flame crawled
        up! and up!
The fireworks blew up quick
        I could almost hear the
        pop! pop!

They exploded in yellow,
        purple, orange, pink,
        white, blue, and
        red! so red!

nature’s fireworks flared. Mellow,
        and instead of burned paper,
                        the product was berries overhead

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


like grace,
falls from heaven

and covers the sin-scarred world
like a blanket of righteousness.

But soon it melts
to black sludge

Because men,
like fish,
wear a layer of slime.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Milton's Fiery Language

...Instead of Fruit Chew’d Bitter Ashes, Which th’Offended Taste with Spattering Noise Rejected...

John Milton may have had bad eyes, but his tongue and ears displayed masterful skill. The flames of his passionate language still leap from the page more than three hundred years later, as in this passage from Paradise Lost about how God tormented the demons as they tried to applaud after Satan bragged to them about his success in tempting man (Book X, lines 545-562) :

...Thus was th’applause they meant,

Turn’d to exploding hiss, triumph to shame

Cast on themselves from their own mouths. There stood

A Grove hard by, sprung up with this their change,

His will who reigns above, to aggravate

Their penance, laden with fair Fruit, like that

Which grew in Paradise, the bait of Eve

Us’d by the Tempter: on that prospect strange

Their earnest eyes they fix’d, imagining

For one forbidden Tree a multitude

Now ris’s, to work them further woe or shame;

Yet parcht with scalding thirst and hunger fierce,

Though to delude them sent, could not abstain,

But on they roll’d in heaps, and up the Trees

Climbing, sat thicker than the snaky locks

That curl’d Megaera: greedily they pluck’d

The Fruitage fair to sight, like that which grew

Near the bituminous Lake where Sodom flam’d....

Had I written this, no one would bother to read it:

They meant to applaud, but instead, they hissed very loudly! They had been feeling triumphant, but now they felt embarrassed, because the hissing had come from their own mouths.

There was a grove nearby, which grew up when they changed into snakes...

Unlike mine, Milton’s language is concise. The way he phrased his sentences allowed him to say a lot with few words. He rarely used more than one adjective or adverb per word, often opting to let the word fend for itself. Consequently, his verse is strong, like lemon juice concentrate.

The few words he did use are robust with energy. They are strong enough to carry the weight of the epic without assistance. He choose “stood” over “was,” “sprung up” rather than “grown up”; even “hard by” instead of dull-sounding “nearby.”

Milton was a painter. With a small number of strokes, he could conjure up entire scenes full of sensory detail. The reader can’t help but envision the fabulous events Milton describes in concrete detail. Instead of saying, “laden with fair fruit like the fruit of the Tree of Life,” Milton packed in a verb, a strong noun, and a haunting phrase, “the bait of Eve”—as if Eve were an animal baited by a demon hunter. Instead of saying simply, “the Fruitage fair to sight, like that which grew near Sodom,” he includes a grimy lake; moreover, Sodom doesn’t sit vague and dull—it burns. Milton rendered this clause so successfully that he created an aura of Hell, without explicitly reminding us where the scene in question was taking place.

Writing was the art that allowed this blind man to paint brilliant scenes, which like the picture of the Dawntreader in CS Lewis’ book, start to move when one looks at them, and are likely to swallow one up into the extraordinary story they comprise.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Professor No More, The Professor Yet

They were building a new building. As they had built the last,
They had often seen him give a—well, a look as he passed.

The principal of the college thought building much fun—
Until the professor asked quietly, “Hmm. Another one?”

The principal caught his breath, knowing what was meant. “You cannot pass!
By the secret flames, if you go now, who will teach next week’s class?”

With a kind smile, the reply: “Your buildings. But I won’t stay.”
And lifting off his professor’s hat, he threw it a very long way.

The principal tried to block the professor’s perilous path,
but the gentle professor quickly gave him some math.

Then slowly and silently walked to the wall.
The other looked up and croaked out a call

but the professor went over. It was not the glass on top
that made the principal, distrot, whisper, “Please stop.”

They hired trackers who sought him with hounds,
but the clever old professor was not to be found.

The principal rushed to the prof’s house and banged on the door.
A little girl answered, with a sweet, “What’s the pounding for?”

Unused to being spoken to so, he flushed thuroly red.
The shame cut so deep he then would have fled,

but she said softly, “If you are looking for my grandpa, he is here.”
He was aghast at his own odious response, which was: “Oh dear.”

The prof was in the kitchen, sleeping on (what the girl called) the picnic table.
The principal tried to say “Hi.” Instead came, “Um, Mr. Mentally Unstable—”

“That’s so; I never have kept horses in my brain.
The weight is likely to cause a good deal of pain.

“One day an obnoxious reduced my granddaughter to tears,
so I stuffed equines into his head till he bled thru his ears.”

Involuntarily the principal offered, “Is that story true?”
Not even looking. The girl said, “He made it for you.”

Again accidentally—“Hey, you can’t scare me, dude.”
“What?”—a hint of surprised anger. “Were you rude?”

Still looking away, the prof wrote, “Granted: permission to go out.”
Mission forgotten, the principal ran, barely swallowing a startled shout.

He consoled himself: “He’ll be back; he must turn a resignation in.”
But that was that. The professor never set foot on the campus again.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Dying Grandfather

Like a man who smells a storm
he could feel the breath of death’s yawning gullet—
a wind like a blade of ice that slashed through his dirty jacket
and left him coughing up blood and clinging to his daughter-in-law,
withering and rotting like a fig,
softening and crumbling like a fallen aspen,
his cloudy eyes and loose face
showing a despair too strong to brave,
and a man too weak to scream.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

America—The Hope of the World?

Partway through a paragraph, I stopped reading. My mind had hung up on a gripping phrase several sentences earlier. I backtracked and reread the sentence: “History textbooks go even further to imply that simply by participation in society, Americans contribute to a nation that is constantly progressing, and remains the hope of the world.” (Lies My Teacher Told Me, pp. 257-258) There wasn’t anything exceptional about the first part of the sentence, but the last bit grabbed my attention—“a nation that is...the hope of the world.” The phrase echoed and reechoed in my head. “The hope of the world.”

Is Loewen right? I wondered. Does America consider herself the hope of the world? Maybe the reason that this statement struck me so hard was that it hit home. It had an eerie ring of truth though I had never heard anyone say anything like it before. I realized that I often did think of America this way, subconsciously supposing that she could cure any kind of problem: Are you persecuted in your home country? Immigrate to the Statues! Are you poor? Wealth is to be found in the US! Is someone somewhere in the world in trouble? Don’t worry. America will come to his aid.

America is a privileged country, so sometimes poor and persecuted people do immigrate and find wealth and release from persecution. But only a small percentage of the people in the world can immigrate to America. America cannot rescue every hurting person in the world. In fact, she cannot rescue even one. Making someone wealthy might make them comfortable for a few decades, but in light of eternity that is negligible. The same can be said for release from persecution. America may be able to give some measure of temporal relief from suffering, but can she do anything to ensure that this will have any kind of permanence?

No, of course not—only Jesus can do that. This is the strength of Loewen’s phrase “the hope of the world”—for a Christian, it should immediately bring Jesus to mind. Jesus is the only hope in a dying world. He can give the eternal life that America cannot offer. If we think of America as the hope of the world, we are breaking the First Commandment by “having something else before” Him.

God chastised the Israelites for trusting in Egypt (Is 30:1-7). To put our hope in America is as foolish now as putting one’s hope in Egypt was back then. America will never save anyone. When I think of America as the hope of the world, I am showing my preoccupation with the things that America has to offer—only things of this world. I need to remember that the greatest nation on earth is nothing to God, and only Jesus can save anyone in the eternal sense of the word.

In Praise of Lunacy

The professor is old—how old nobody knows.
It is believed that his beard caresses his toes.

The class was impatient—“Why should we wait?”
For as was his custom, the old professor was late.

When he finally came in, at least a half hour over,
he explained he had stopped to sniff at the clover.

“How do we know you won’t come when you should?”
His simple reply was—“The clovers smelled good.”

Yet they persisted, “Now will you give us a lecture?”
“That,” he said slowly, “is no more than conjecture.”

“Today,” he continued, “I will instruct you on how to be crazy,
for the insane are most often hardworking and never at all lazy.

I know many lunatics who are good and kind,
‘cause the right way to be is out of your mind.

For madmen are generally of very good cheer;
I myself have been mad now for many a year.

Simply scream out if you have any questions,
for I am quite open to all kinds of suggestions.”

“Well,” shrieked one, “what of two plus two?
With your lunacy method, what do you do?”

“If you do not know that one,” his teacher kindly intoned,
“I don’t know how you got here.” The students all moaned.

“Professor, what would you do if there was a war
and an enemy soldier came through at your door?”

“Now that is a real question,” the old man said.
“Perhaps I would ask him to stand on his head.”

“Do you skin a beaver from the bottom or top?”
“My personal preference is a sharp lollipop.”

Oh, how they mocked, how they all laughed and jeered;
the professor’s only response was to play with his beard.

They called him names; they shouted out, “Fake!”
The professor did not hear. He was eating his cake.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Essay: "Reasons for Forgiving Other Christians"

October-November, 2007

It doesn’t take but a cursory read of one of the gospels to realize that holding a grudge against a fellow Christian is sinful. It takes a little more mental work to realize how silly not forgiving a fellow Christian is. Here I present six reasons—some of which you may be familiar with, and some you probably haven’t thought of—for forgiving Christian brothers, in the hope that you will be impressed with how unreasonable it is not to forgive another Christian.

  1. You must forgive your brother because you do not get to choose whom you will love.1

To be saved by Christ is to be conquered. When Jesus breaks in, everything one hitherto called “mine” is forfeit. “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.”2 The New Testament places strenuous emphasis upon the truth of Christ’s ownership of his people,3 ownership that is, as John Piper notes, double: “You now belong doubly to God: He made you, and he bought you. That means your life is not your own. It is God’s.”4 A man who is in possession of himself can decide whom he will love, but a man who belongs to someone else is subject to the will of his owner. Someone who has surrendered to Christ doesn’t even have the leeway to be nice to everybody while only genuinely liking a few people. Christ and his apostles make this clear:

I command you to love each other.”5 —Jesus Christ

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love.”6 —The Apostle John

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”7 —The Apostle Paul

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.”8 —The Apostle Paul

Somehow we ignore these clear and sweeping commands to love and forgive our brethren. Even people who hold to Reformed theology—a teaching that says, “a person’s life is not his own; no one is able to plan his own course”9—deep inside think of themselves as autonomous. Our attitude is that King Jesus may tell us what to do, but generally not what to think, and especially not what to feel. But Christ has no scruples about commanding his disciples to love each other—an order that extends over the totality of their beings, encompassing their actions, thoughts, and emotions. He doesn’t ask his people for their opinions before he commands them to forgive. He pays no attention to the autonomy we think we have or to all our careful, reasonable excuses. We simply have to forgive. He leaves us no room to wiggle.

  1. You must forgive your brother because he has claim to you and your love.

If you are Christ’s, you are your brother’s, for your brother is in Christ. The Bible is clear about this. “Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you.”10 Likewise, you belong to him, so you belong to his children. In trying to quell an argument in the Corinthian church in which people were laying special claim to individual leaders, Paul admonished, “Don’t take pride in following a particular leader. Everything belongs to you: Paul and Apollos and Peter; the whole world and life and death; the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”11 To paraphrase, “Don’t bother to say, ‘I follow Apollos’ as if that gives you special claim on Apollos, because you already have claim to Apollos, and to me, and Peter, and in fact everything.” This claim we have on each other is due to our unity with Christ. “Since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.”12 Moreover, our treatment of each other should be based on our mutual ownership: “Put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”13

Sinful humans’ ideas about being autonomous are resilient, so the previous point about belonging to Christ, which should have been a one-hit K.O. to your ideas of autonomy, may not have completed the job. This point should finish it. If thinking that the King of the universe can tell us what to do offends our sensibilities, this assertion will be downright insulting: You are not independent; you are a slave to all Christians. Every Christian owns you.

What’s the connection between being owned by someone and forgiving them? When my Dad told me about a guy who pitched his tent right where grizzlies often passed, I was not surprised to hear that he had been eaten. However, when he told me about a lady in France whose dog ate her face after she overdosed on drugs, I was not only grossed out but shocked. How could someone’s own dog attack them so viciously? When a man owns something, he has claim to its fealty and affection. Another example of this is the story of Micah’s idol.14 How strange and unnatural that Micah should steal from his own mother, the one who has claim to him as her son! Similarly, how strange it is to not forgive someone to whom you belong. You owe your owner your loyalty and love. You cannot detach yourself from other Christians by holding a grudge against them, for they have claim to you and to your forgiveness.

  1. You must forgive your brother because God has forgiven you.

When we comprehend even a small part of God’s infinite forgiveness, it is absurd not to follow his example in forgiving. While praying for all of his people shortly before his death, Jesus showed the connection between hearing the truth and becoming righteous when he said, “Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth.”15 If we had “the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is,”16 the knowledge of his love would have a powerful sanctifying influence on us—his truth would make us pure and holy. Therefore, it makes sense to take a quick look at the forgiveness of God.

God’s forgiveness is like a wild elephant—something extremely large and muscular that cannot be impeded or stopped, something that is huge and passionate and ferocious and apparently insane. Our primary trouble with understanding the forgiveness of God lies in its immensity and intensity. God Almighty’s forgiveness crashes through the jungle, and no sin forms an impasse for it. He forgives sin regardless of its seriousness. “‘Come now, let us argue this out,’ says the LORD. ‘No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool.’”17 When God decides to forgive someone, he cannot be stopped. His bleach—his own son’s blood—can turn jet black to snow white. Gorilla Glue may be the strongest glue on planet earth, but it has its limitations. But not one sin can even be conceived of that is too strong for the forgiveness of the infinite and gracious God. He has no limits.

Not only is the LORD unstoppable, he is thorough. When he forgives, he does so completely. In Isaiah he says, “I have swept away your sins like the morning mists. I have scattered your offenses like the clouds. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”18 I went elk hunting this fall with some friends, and one morning when we woke up and walked out into the air, a heavy fog covered the landscape. But by noon, the sun’s rays had swept it all away. The morning mists, which had seemed so durable, were gone without a trace. God’s forgiveness is that complete.

And his forgiveness is eternal; it never reverts to anger. “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come fearlessly into God’s presence, assured of his glad welcome,”19 because we know for sure that he has blotted out our sins completely. “I—yes, I alone—am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.”20 Our sins have permanently been banished from his view.

After all this amazing forgiving, you won’t find God’s “forgiveness elephant” panting. He doesn’t have the “But, Mom!” attitude we often have about forgiving people. Forgiving is a joy to God, not a drag. In the words of Jesus: “Don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”21 Or as Paul wrote, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.”22 He does not begrudge prodigals; he throws a feast for his wayward sons when they return.

God’s forgiveness means love, not neutrality: “But now, O Israel, the LORD who created you says: ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba as a ransom for your freedom. Others died that you might live. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you.’”23 God’s forgiveness is not a movement from anger to ambivalence. He loves those whom he forgives, and works everything together wonderfully for them. He is passionate about his children.

Sanctification is a result of meditating on justification, as Pastor Mike Shea belabors in his Romans sermons.24 Imperatives flow from indicatives. If we understood that God’s forgiveness of us is irresistible, complete, permanent, joyful, and implies that he loves us, Jesus’ “I command you to love each other,” would be reasonable and natural. Like God, we would be eager and glad to forgive others. And like him, we would forgive our brethren completely, unconditionally, forever, and would replace our grudges with love.25

  1. You must forgive your brother because legally he has no faults.

You must forgive your brother because God has forgiven him. All Christians are righteous before God: “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty.”26 Not guilty is the verdict a judge gives when he finds that someone did not commit a crime. Imagine trying to explain to God that you are mad at your brother for a sin for which your brother has been found, in Christ, not guilty. As it doesn’t make sense to be mad at someone when God isn’t mad at you, so it doesn’t make sense to be mad at someone whom God isn’t mad at.

Moreover, “not guilty” is God’s verdict on every sin a Christian ever committed. John says of “those 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth”27 that “no falsehood can be charged against them; they are blameless.”28 Elsewhere John tells us, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”29 You will not find a sin that you can hold against your brother, because God has forgiven every sin your brother has ever committed. You will not be able to count to seven or to seventy-seven or to seven hundred and seventy-seven and then stop forgiving, because God forgives an unlimited number of sins.

  1. You must forgive your brother because his faults are rapidly perishing.

Not only has God forgiven all your brother’s sins, he is continually working to stop your brother from sinning at all. And he will accomplish this completely—soon.30 All Christians will soon be sinless. We get a promise of this in the book of Joel. “You will know that I, the LORD your God, live in Zion, my holy mountain. Jerusalem will be holy forever, and foreign armies will never conquer her again.”31 God isn’t promising to make some buildings holy. A promise like that would do us little good. He is saying he will make the people who live in the city—the true descendants of Abraham—holy. After all, the holiness of a city does not depend on whether flowers grow in people’s gardens or rain splatters the buildings with mud, but on whether the residents honor God’s name or defile it.

John gives us a similar promise: “Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, and we can’t even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”32 And he is holy. An unrighteous person is not like Christ!

One common excuse for not forgiving is that the offender has not repented and turned from his offensive ways. This excuse is invalid when applied to unbelievers, but even more so when applied to the ransomed of the Lord. Every believer’s faults are rapidly being destroyed: it will not be long until he will no longer commit a sin like the one you are mad at him for. If you knew that in fifteen minutes, your brother would in deepest sincerity repent of what he had done and never do it again, would you not be much more hasty to forgive? Now, fifteen minutes is hardly fifty years, but seen in the light of eternity, they are both insignificant. True, one is much longer than the other, but both are small in comparison to what matters.

We do not find it hard to make excuses for bad behavior from someone who is sick. Imagine that someone goes to talk with his friend who is in the hospital. His friend, who is on pain-killers and is barely coherent, insults him. The visitor is saddened, but he is not mad at his friend, because he knows that under normal circumstances, his friend doesn’t act that way. He knows that there is another force active in his friend besides his friend’s own personality. The way the sick man acted did not display who he really was.

This situation is analogous to being insulted by another Christian, even if he insults you deliberately and maliciously. You still must tell yourself that his actions do not display who he really is. Another force is active in him that makes him act differently from who he is. After being converted, a man cannot be looked at in the same light. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come!”33 His sins should be seen as a perishing part of him, not as a part of the “real him.” He is going to spend all but a few years of his existence in perfect holiness. Why do you have to pick on him now during his time of weakness?

  1. You must forgive your brother because it will bring you the most joy in the end.

Hating a brother will not make a man happy. It will give him only a weak illusion of pleasure, and let the pain fester in the meantime. Frankly, we humans are not good judges of what is pleasurable. We choose instant gratification even when it gets in the way of the delayed pleasure which would be much more intense. We shortchange ourselves by spending our money instantly, rather than investing it so it will grow and buy us more in the end. It is shortsighted to not forgive is shortsighted, for though forgiving is initially painful, you can take it to the bank.

When we think of forgiving someone, we tend to think of the initial pain it will bring us. Yes, the pain of forgiving is severe: it was all-surpassingly painful for Christ to do what was necessary to justly forgive us—but the Lord knew that the joy that would ensue would outweigh even the infinitely intense pain of being hated by God. “He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward.”34 Forgiveness is initially painful, but much joy results, for “how wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live together in harmony!”35 Yes, “A bowl of soup with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate.”36 Or again, “A dry crust eaten in peace is better than a great feast with strife.”37 Forgiveness ushers in harmony, love and peace—things far more important than monetary wealth.

Pharaoh’s dream in Genesis 41, reversed—switched around so the fat cows eat the skinny ones and the full heads of grain, the withered ones—illustrates this well. The joy of forgiving will consume the pain. The pain will be forgotten, because God’s commands are sweeter than honey. God always commands you to do what will ultimately make you the most happy. Hating your brother will wither your soul, but forgiveness is delightful.

We make up a lot of complicated excuses for not forgiving, but when viewed in light of what the Bible tells us about forgiving, all that complex logic is nothing but irrationality. It is strange that we follow the path of foolish misery when we could have wise joy.

1And love implies forgiveness. “Love...keeps no record of when it has been wronged.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) (All Scripture quotations are taken from the New Living Translation, first edition.)

21 Corinthians 6:19.

3John 13:8; 15:19, 21; 17:9, 14; Acts 18:10; 27:23; Rom 1:6-7; 8:1; 14:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 3:3, 9; 6:15; 2 Corinthians 10:7; Galatians 3:29; 5:24; 6:17; Ephesians 1:3, 6; 2:13; 6:1; Philippians 2:1; 4:2; Colossians 3:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:7; 3:13; 5:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:19; Hebrews 3:1; 1 Peter 3:16; 1 John 2:3-4; 3:10; 4:4-6; Revelations 12:17.

4Piper, John. (2003.) Don’t Waste Your Life. Wheaten, Illinois: Crossway Books. Preface, p. 9.

5John 15:17.

61 John 4:7-8.

7Ephesians 4:31-32.

8Colossians 3:12-14.

9Jeremiah 10:23.

10Galatians 4:7.

111 Corinthians 3:21-23.

12Romans 12:5.

13Ephesians 4:25.

14Judges 17:1-6.

15John 17:17.

16Ephesians 3:18.

17Isaiah 1:18.

18Isaiah 44:21.

19Ephesians 3:12.

20Isaiah 43:25.

21Luke 12:32.

22Ephesians 1:5.

23Isaiah 43:1-4.

24Pastor Shea’s sermons can be found in MP3 format online at

25See also Jesus’ story of the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18, which is the prime illustration of how ludicrous it is for a forgiven man not to forgive.

26Romans 3:23-24.

27Revelation 14:3.

28Revelation 14:5.

291 John 1:9.

30I say soon deliberately; see Psalm 90 on the shortness of time.

31 Joel 3:17.

321 John 3:2.

332 Corinthians 5:17, NIV.

34Hebrews 12:2.

35Psalm 133:1.

36Proverbs 15:17.

37Proverbs 17:1.