Friday, January 18, 2008


This blog post is the draft of a future vocabulary essay on forgiveness. It was prompted by my admiration for a book recently given to me, The Peacemaking Pastor, combined with my studying Mark 5 this week.

The seventh chapter of The Peacemaking Pastor does an excellent job describing the fullness of scriptural forgiveness. I was pleased to find that everything discussed therein appears condensed into a short story from Mark's gospel.

As a preface, some context...

In Mark 5 we read about three stories which tell us successive truths about the Kingdom of God. The theme of what the Kingdom of God is like--and especially how it is like family--is part of the broader context, a section of Mark bracketed by accounts of Yeshua interacting with his family (3:19-35 and 6:1-6) and commissioning his core disciples (3:13-19 and 6:6:6-11).

These three stories describe how Yeshua offers salvation: how people may enter the Kingdom of God.

They are clearly based on historical events but are not necessarily accurate as history. For example, Mark writes about a single man possessed by a legion of demons whereas Matthew 8:28-34 tells of two possessed men. Apparently Mark simplified the story because the point of the story is for us to identify with the possessed and his readers would make that identification more easily with only one individual. (Such minor editing is normal in first-century biographies, which were always written to teach the reader how to admire and relate to the famous person.)

The first story (5:1-21) is about how Yeshua came to earth to overcome Satan. Yeshua begins in a more holy location, but crosses an expanse to visit a troubled place. There he meets someone living a graveyard life, controlled by Satan's influences. He frees the person from Satan's control. The person then wants to return with Yeshua to the more holy location but is told his mission is now to spread the news of his deliverance to others living in the troubled place.

The second story (5:25-34) is about how Yeshua offers forgiveness and healing to any with the faith to reach out to him.

The third story (5:22-24, 35-43) is about how anyone Yeshua reaches out to receives life, even if all of their circumstances seem to be death.

That's the context. Now let's look in detail at the second story.
..and many people followed, pressing all around him [Yeshua]. And a certain woman who had had an issue of blood twelve years and had suffered a great deal under many physicians. She had spent all that she had, yet instead of improving she had grown worse. She had heard about Yeshua, so she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment; for she said, "If I may touch even his clothes I will be cured." Instantly the hemorrhaging dried up, and she felt in her body that she had been healed of the disease.

Yeshua, immediately knowing within himself that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

His disciples responded, "You see the people pressing in on you; and you ask, 'Who touched me?'" But he kept looking around to see who had done it.

The woman, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, came and fell down in front of him and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you: go in peace, and be whole from your disease."
This short story is tells us all about how Yeshua understand forgiveness.

First, he recognizes the serious of the offense. The woman was ritually impotent because of her infirmity. While working her way through a crowd she had touched many people, causing them to now be ritually impotent, which could have been very dangerous for them if they went into the Temple complex.

Furthermore, she had touched Yeshua while he was on his way to deal with a life-and-death situation. As it turns out this did not hinder him: Yeshua's holiness always cures the ritually impotent state, rather than being threatened by it. But the woman did not know this: she was potentially removing Yeshua's holiness before his attempt to pray about a life-and-death situation. Apparently she did not know about the daughter of the synagogue official either: she was not deliberately choosing to take her own healing at the cost of another person's life. But by touching Yeshua without his permission she effectively had made that choice.

So her offense was serious. Her desperateness had led to carelessness. If the circumstances had been only slightly different (if Yeshua was not inherently greater than the state of ritual impotence) she would have caused the death of a young girl.

Yeshua's disciples do not understand this since they do not know that the touching involved someone who was ritually impotent. They wonder why Yeshua is making a big deal out of being touched in a crowd. But Yeshua refuses to proceed until the offense has been dealt with.

Scripturally, to forgive is not to ignore an offense or pretend it is less serious than it really is. (There is a different concept, the Hebrew salach, hopefully translated accurately as "pardon".) True forgiveness requires looking clearly at the offense before dealing with it.

Second, the woman confesses. She is not merely regretful or apologetic, but explains "the whole truth". She admits to the attitudes that caused her selfishness. She admits to the specific action that caused offense. She accepts responsibility for her action rather than claiming her motives deserve pardoning the offense. She is willing to accept the consequences for her action. (Two final steps for a complete confession are not included in the story: she does not share how she had taken steps to avoid repeating the offense, and she does not explicitly ask for forgiveness.)

Third, Yeshua accepts her confession by calling her "daughter". For Yeshua, forgiveness is always about being a part of God's family. (See also Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15, and Luke 17:3.) As an impersonal judge God can at times pardon an offense while upholding justice. But only as a loving father can God forgive his child. And only as children forgiven by the Father can have the strength to be forgiving as often as necessary (Matthew 18:21-35).

Fourth, Yeshua explains how God perceives the offense and tells her God's verdict. Scripturally, forgiveness is completely unrelated to whether punishment for the offense is lightened or removed (see Second Samuel 12:12-13). Within his family God is usually as merciful as he can be while upholding justice. In this case, God saw the woman's great faith. Her selfishness was less significant to God. So she was healed, pardoned, and free to depart in peace.

To model scriptural forgiveness when we receive an offense we must also act with as much mercy as we can, while upholding God's justice. Scripture and prayer provide sufficient guidance about God's verdict for an offense and how to implement it compassionately. Forgiveness is not about the offender or offended getting the result they want, but that everyone allows God to get the result he wants. Only then can people truly depart in peace.

Secular psychology often claims something very different: the healthiest result for anyone who is offended is to pardon the offender. In other words, we should pardon an offense because otherwise we will dwell on the offense and how it weigh upon us and festers in our psyche does us great harm. This is not true: a situation receives wholeness when everyone accepts God's verdict. Extending a pardon inappropriately can allow the offender to ignore his or responsibility to fix the sinful attitudes and desires that led to the offense (Matthew 15:18-19, James 4:1).

Whether the offender was punished or pardoned, allowing an offender who is forgiven to depart in peace can be difficult. The offended person must accept God's verdict as sufficient and thus no longer dwell on the offense, talk about it with others, bring it up in conversation to humiliate the offender, or otherwise allow the forgiven offense to impair the relationship between two children of God.

Fifth, Yeshua makes a promise. On the surface he says that the woman's affliction will not relapse. But what Yeshua is really saying is that he accepts God's verdict in all the ways previously mentioned. Just as the offender should confess aloud to the offended, the offended should promise aloud to the offender that forgiveness is complete.

To summarize, the five parts of scriptural forgiveness appearing in this story are:
  • Yeshua recognized the seriousness of the offense
  • The woman speaks a complete confession
  • Yeshua affirms how forgiveness belongs in God's family
  • God's view of the situation is found, and God's verdict occurs
  • Yeshua speaks acceptance of God's verdict
It is important that Yeshua's followers understanding the depth of scriptural forgiveness, so they can live it! People who are never taught the difference between forgiveness and pardon will neither have peaceful lives nor demonstrate God's wisdom.