On Forgiving God

[My book Meeting God at the Shack, from which some of the following is derived, is now available on Kindle.]

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

5 Responses to “On Forgiving God”

  1.   Barry Jones Says:

    One can not understand another’s sorrows… even if he has had similiar experiences. I have devised a philosophy of life that has helped me understand my place. I call it Christian Determinism. It is the idea that no matter what, God has given me what I need to survive all this world’s trials. If thus-and-so happens to me or to another, it may be God’s direct intervention or it may just be the world randomly dealing sorrow upon those who live and die here. I believe that God has willed that He loves me through all of the world’s temptations. Whether it be pain, or success, or loneliness and fame. I allow only God’s will to be my pivot point… not my own understanding or level of suffering. If I must live in pain, this is what is best for me. If I can ease the suffering of others, I do it as God directs. I know it will all work out as long as I am faithful through it all. I hope and pray that the scriptures will help us all learn our place. And I hope my Lord has mercy on me and won’t overload me to break me.

  2.   Harold Says:

    Thanks, John Mark for On Forgiving God. Downloaded last evening and read then and this morning. Thanks for the hard work you did on this. God uses us workaholics in peculiar ways.

  3.   baltimoreguy99 Says:

    For me, I felt deeply hurt by God at having a homosexual orientation that he would not take away and that caused or added to depression to the point that I wanted to die. I’m at a better place now but it is still a painful journey much of the time. I can’t remember the title of the book now but it was a turning point for me when I read I think from Walter Brueggemann something to the effect that “To study the evangelical religion is to learn how much more God is for us than we are for ourselves.” I had despaired of having any reason to go on living but, since then, I have realized that God did not agree and has not forsaken me even though it sure felt like he had.

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks to all for the response, your faith, and your pursuit of God.

  5.   Tricia Norman Says:

    John Mark,
    You are loved by so many today and always. My heavy heart joins in your sorrow, forgiveness and perseverance. Won’t Heaven be grand! Tricia

Leave a Reply