May 21-22 are significant anniversaries for me; I’ve learned to forgive God. They are the death of my son Joshua and the anniversary of my first marriage to Sheila.
“To forgive God” is a difficult expression and it must be carefully nuanced. When Rabbi Kushner adopted J.B.’s position from Archibald MacLeish’s modern retelling of the Job drama, he suggested that humans need to forgive God in order to move on with their lives. Humans need “to forgive God for not making a better world.” After all, in Kushner’s worldview, God is ontologically limited–he can’t do anything about evil in the world or heal diseases. To forgive God, then, is to recognize his limitations and not expect more from him than he can deliver.
This is not, however, what I mean by “forgiving God.” It is not to forgive God’s limitations or his unrighteous acts. The transcendent God does not have limitations and he is holy without any darkness. Forgiveness, in the sense of showing mercy toward an imperfection, is not applicable to God. So, what does it mean to “forgive God”?
Fundamentally, it means letting go of the need to judge God. It means letting go of “getting back” at God, of brooding over the seeming unfairness of it all. That kind of resentment and bitterness not only stalls spiritual growth, it can kill it. Instead of holding a grudge against God, we let it go.
This is has been my experience; my anger with God has led to self-pity and resentment. I have, at times, felt “picked on” by God. I have railed against God with the angry but despairing cry, “This is just too much.” I understand that anger and I cannot simply pretend like it is not there (though I have tried that as well, stuffing it down into my soul). But anger is not the problem–anger should be vented, expressed, prayed. At the same time, it is the deep mistrust that sometimes accompanies anger which turns it into resentment.
When we blame God, we tend to resent God, and are sometimes willing to simply give up on God. This often arises out of a basic distrust of God’s goodness and purposes. When trust re-enters, we can let go of the blame-game, let go of the resentment. This is a form of “forgiving” God. Trust conquers fear; faith triumphs over resentment; and love does not blame.
Perhaps we might pray:
“God, I don’t understand why this great sadness is part of my life. I don’t know why you allowed it. It seems so meaningless and hurtful to me. Every fiber of my being wants to protest and even rebel. But I know you are good. I know you love me. I trust you. I forgive you and let go of my resentment. Open your heart to me that I might enjoy the circle of your love and feel your fondness for me. Increase my trust and root out my resentment. Though I do not understand or know the way, I will walk by faith and trust that you will lead me in your way.”
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives transgression…” Micah 7:18
“forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you…” Ephesians 4:32b