Category Archives: Psychology and Mental Health Issues

Some Healing Balm for Grief and Loss

Becky Baudouin’s book, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy was so full of helpful ideas on grieving loss (not only cancer but any loss) that I want to share just a few of the multitude with you this morning:

“Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same.” Gerald Sittser, A Grace Disguised

“Sometimes you will never know the value of something until it becomes a memory.” Dr. Seuss

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Helen Keller

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when your pain has caused you to forget it.” Cherelea A. Purcell, Restored

“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” David Augsburger

“Grief and pain are the price humans have to pay for the love and total commitment we have for another person. The more we love, the more we hurt when we lose the object of our love. But if we are honest with ourselves, would we have it any other way?” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

“Grief is not a one-time visitor…Grief comes, always uninvited…Grief demands acknowledgement…So invite grief in. Take your time and unpack the bags. Listen to the stories and feel the feelings. Don’t rush the process. Do the hard work of grieving—and make no mistake—it is some of the hardest work  you will ever do.” Becky Baudouin, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy

“When you make your way through grief, you don’t leave that person behind. You bring that person with you, where your memories of that person and your thankfulness for that person [become] a happy experience and not filled with so much pain.” Susan Lutz, GriefShare

“Resignation is an outer posture; surrender is an inner one. Resignation is giving up; surrender is accepting…Surrender invites us to a radical but always freeing posture of nonresistance to reality.” David Benner, Soulful Spirituality

“You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have.” Corrie Ten Boom

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning…Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.” Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder

“I did not get over my loved ones; rather I absorbed the loss into my life…until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.” Gerald Sittser, A Grace Disguised

The rest are all by Becky Baudouin from her book, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy:

“Like a GPS processing new data so it can determine a new route, we do our best to recalculate—to adjust our thinking based on what we know to be true. Our changed reality forces changes in us. In some ways we become a different version of ourselves, a different version of who we were becoming. We are shaped and forever altered by these moments.”

“I am beginning to see that maybe the best way to lead my children is to let them walk with me.”

“Cancer threatens our future time together, but the gift is that it also fully opens us up to the present.”

“It is a profound privilege to walk with a loved one on an unwanted journey, because in the midst of the darkness and the fear, when we can’t see where we are going, we find out that we are not alone.”

“Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers.”

“I’ve searched the Bible for this verse promising that God won’t give us more than we can handle, and I can’t find it…I believe that God is in control and does allow trials to come our way, and that he is always working for our good. but it’s not our own strength that determines how we will weather the storms of life; it’s our dependence on him that matters most.”

“When we put our faith in God rather than in a desired outcome, we are empowered to take the next step, even when we can’t see where we are going. We can rely on God’s unfailing love and goodness even through life’s darkest trials. We can worship him even in the midst of crushing grief and loss, holding on to the promises that he will see us through and heaven awaits us. ‘We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2, New Living Translation).”

“Fast-forwarding is great for skipping television commercials, but it would not be good in real life, even for skipping over the hard moments, because God is in those moments.”

“It’s often difficult to know what to do when our loved ones begin to lose their independence, their health, or their abilities. It is a transition that is never easy or smooth. There is a delicate, impossible-to-find balance between encouraging and pushing, between helping and enabling.”

“Life is best lived in community. She showed me that healing comes as we make ourselves vulnerable and tell our stories…Our stories have the power to become a transforming force in the lives of others.”

“I didn’t expect the sorrow to be laced with beauty. In some ways, it remind me of childbirth…I see my mom being born into heaven.”

“Some people call it grief brain. It feels like your head is stuffed with cotton, and you can’t think clearly…Here’s my explanation for why we can’t think clearly after a tragedy or loss: Part of the brain is processing what happened and another part of the brain is protesting. Amidst this tug-of-war between acceptance and disbelief, there is a whole lot of remembering and mental reorganizing taking place. All of this requires enormous amounts of energy, and it is absolutely exhausting.”

“In pretty much any given moment, if I quiet myself, I can imagine what my mom would say to me. I can still hear her voice and feel her love. Now I know what she was trying to tell me. Her love has become internalized inside my heart, and in a way that means she lives on in my thoughts. It means that she is always with me, in my heart.”

“I don’t think true happiness is found by escaping our everyday lives. I think it’s available and attainable in the mundane, ordinary, less-than-perfect places. I think it’s found by loving God and loving others.”

“Spending time together as a family is one of the best things we can do this side of heaven…loving and accepting one another is the greatest gift we can give, and…together we can make it through anything. We were never meant to walk alone.”

 

Last Will and Testament

Have you ever thought about the fact that—unless the Lord returns in your lifetime—you will surely die? Have you written out a will? Alan and I have a will, but I have to confess, it is a legal document that only specifies how to dispose of our physical belongings…a “will” to be sure, but I don’t think a real “testament.”

It occurs to me that writing out what we would like as our last statement could be more than a great exercise, it could help us focus on how we want to live and be remembered. I’ve heard it said that no one is really ready to live until he’s ready to die. So, what would I like written on my tombstone? What would I like as a “last will and testament?” I’m thinking hard about that one! How about you?

Meanwhile, here’s the closest thing I can find in the scripture to a last will and testament, written by the Apostle Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:1-8

Brain Research and Brain Dialysis

(By guest writer, Jane Anderson)

A few years ago, then President Obama approved $100M to start an initiative for study of the human brain. “There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked,” Obama says.  No doubt! I, too, have been fascinated by the way my brain works [or doesn’t]. In fact, I’m often baffled by how people think. And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, I fit into that classification of people with sensible thoughts one moment and totally illogical thoughts the next. Try mind mapping that!

I’m not slamming the research project. I understand the mission behind it, which according to the White House “aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.” I get that. However, there’s a much more significant brain research project available that’s 100% free and has eternal benefits, except it’s a do-it-youself project that no one else can do for you, and it starts with this observation: What we think actually affects the health (or illness) of our brain! In a very real way, we become what we think about. Every act started as a thought – in the brain. “Right thinking leads to right doing.” No amount of brain research is going to alter that truth.

There is a map in our brains, and all paths stem from the initial thought. To act right, thoughts must be right. But, how can we clean up our map of wrong thoughts and get on the path of right thinking? How often do we get onto a path of wrong thinking—worry, pessimism, negativity—and then wonder why we can’t shake the despair?

Have you ever wished there was such a thing as dialysis for the mind?  I sure have.  I have a friend who has dialysis on a regular basis. I have zero medical expertise, but I know that in that process her dirty blood is drawn through a machine that cleanses it and puts it back. It’s a fascinating process. In dialysis, man-made equipment and procedures perform the life-preserving act.

However, when it comes to our minds, it’s all up to us! We have to take responsibility for cleaning up our minds (although we can have access to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, of course).  Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This is the ultimate dialysis for our minds! Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold, but instead be transformed by renewing your mind. It’s not easy, but renewing our minds is the only way to think rightly.

It would be a phenomenal achievement if my brain could be mapped with all the right paths deeply embedded so I don’t fall off the track. It would be so much easier if I could hook my brain up to a machine and have the contents cleaned up and put back while I do nothing but wait. What are your thoughts on that? Well, don’t think too long because that’s not how it works. You know…free will and all. We have work to do in our minds, in our hearts, and in our acts.

If we get the inside right the rest will take care of itself.  How can we focus on the right things, so our acts will be right? We have some clues in the Bible.  2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Let me assure you, if our thoughts are obedient to Christ, the maps in our brains will lead to acts that follow Christ and are good.  1 Peter 1:13-16 from the Message translation reads this way: “So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, ‘I am holy; you be holy.'”

Maybe you have it all figured out, but I don’t! I’m still working on spiritual dialysis and mapping my mind to right actions, and I don’t think this research project will ever be finished until the Lord takes me to heaven one day!

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

(Image of the brain from Wikipedia.)

 

Learning to Accept~This is Where I Leave You

(-By guest author, Jane Anderson)

It’s been a while now, but I still remember the effect. My breath caught as I heard the title of a new movie showing in theaters. This Is Where I Leave You.

How often has my mind wandered the void of an empty room, sensed the hollow feeling trailing a wave, felt the finality of a closed door? Have you ever spent time with someone you love, seizing every moment before their journey takes them one direction while yours takes another?  You knew the words were coming but couldn’t bear to hear them, “This is where I leave you.”

If you’re breathing, you know the hopeless feeling of saying goodbye, or maybe you avoid the goodbye, choosing instead the softer, “See ya later.” I recently talked to a friend whose youngest child went off to college leaving her with nobody to drop off or pick up at school, no sporting events claiming every weekday evening and a pretty lonely dinner table. There will be holidays and long weekends, but this season has brought new colors to the landscape – not the colors she is ready for.

Four years ago when my grandson joined the Marines we said goodbye to him as he left for 13 weeks of Basic Training. He insisted on no tears and we bravely complied … up until he said, “Well, this is where I leave you.” There are too many events in our life where the only option demands a deep breath and courageous goodbye. Our lives occur in such a blur that looking back we see short vignettes of what used to be. We preserve snatches of remembrances as a salve to soothe our aching hearts in moments when we feel regrettable loss. Life happens when we aren’t looking and we call it memory. We would be wise to honor our present moments and continually ask ourselves, “How do I want to remember this moment?”  Sometimes it isn’t goodbye that rocks our world, but it’s our habits, lifestyle, and what we are accustomed to. Change is inevitable, isn’t it? Just when we feel comfortable, when we seem to be on the right track, at the time we’re most confident and we’ve achieved consistency in our routines – something changes! We can dread change. We can even be afraid of change because we know how it feels. Routine is comfortable, it means stability.  God gives us some insight into how futile it is to dwell on fear of change. One observation is shared in Lamentations 3:19, “Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wandering makes me miserable.” You know? Life is filled with ups and downs, good and bad, gain and loss. Yes, there is also the dreaded goodbyes. But we choose our attitudes. We can be miserable or we can choose to believe what God said in 1 Samuel 12:22, “The Lord has chosen you to be his own people. He will always take care of you so that everyone will know how great he is.”   We all know someone who has been through change after change in their life yet their faith has not faltered. We admire people who have suffered through fire and emerge with their joy intact. Faced with changes and an uncertain future, what separates the joyful from the joyless? Maybe it starts with believing that change is neither good nor bad, it’s only different. Then deepen your faith and believe that God keeps his promises. Psalm 91:4 says, “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Life is a contact sport and sometimes we really get beat up. Sometimes tightly gripping what we had in the past only creates defeat in our present and trouble in our future. We need to let go – to relinquish what was. We need to say, “This is where I leave you.” Believe the words of Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

New perspectives don’t magically materialize, nor do problems evaporate. There will always be changes we disagree with, challenges we can’t wish away.  Our tender hearts will be broken by the dreaded goodbye; we will lose parts of us we know we can’t live without, but in these times we must trust in the God that is bigger than all our terrifying problems and wider than the hollow left vacant by changes we didn’t want.  I’ve heard that the Bible commands 365 times to “Fear not.” That’s a command, not a suggestion. We know from 2 Timothy 1:7 that “God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” God didn’t give us a fear of failing, or fear of change, or fear of loss. Be courageous. Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost. Capitalize on what you can do, not on what you cannot.

 So this is where I leave you.

2 Corinthians 13:11, “Good-by, my friends. Do better and pay attention to what I have said. Try to get along and live peacefully with each other. Now I pray that God, who gives love and peace, will be with you” (Contemporary English Version).

(Amen, and thank you, Jane!)

Rise Up, My Love (253): Ever Wondered What Mandrakes Are?

Song of Solomon 7:13 “The mandrakes give a smell.” What in the world are mandrakes? They are only mentioned six times in Scripture: once in this verse and five times in Genesis 30:14-16, where Rachel bargains with her sister Leah, exchanging the privilege of sleeping with their husband Jacob for the mandrakes that Leah’s son Reuben found in the field. Why all the fuss about mandrakes, and what are they?

For a starter, it’s inconceivable to me that a woman would exchange a night of physical intimacy with her husband for anything! I believe God intended marital expression to be sacred and beyond price, as intimated in chapter 8: “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned.” How would you feel if your spouse “hired” you out for a bunch of whatevers?

That preposterous and degrading deal aside (an insight into the petty selfishness of our human nature, since we’ve all fallen prey to the temptation to exchange our souls for some trite pleasure from time to time…), let’s go back to the use of the term “mandrake” in Solomon’s song. The word translated “mandrake” is the Hebrew duda’im. It is consistently translated as “love apple” in the The Interlinear Bible and as something which induces love in Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew and English Lexicon (1).

In the final analysis, no one knows for sure what these “love apples” were, but the top two choices for “preferred guess” are either what we commonly call “may apples” today, or the Mandragora. May apples are common throughout temperate regions. In fact, we have colonies of them in our woods. In the spring each plant sprouts into a leafy one-foot umbrella with a single white blossom sheltered underneath, which becomes a yellowish, edible fruit about the size of a nutmeg in late May or June. The flowers have a very mild but pleasing scent, although the children and I have never found it perceptible from the path…only by studied trial. Also, may apples are edible but not especially flavorful, certainly nothing exotic or gourmet like the morel mushrooms that also sprout up in our woods about that time! It’s inconceivable to me that Rachel would have found anything in May apples compellingly attractive enough to tempt her to sell her husband’s affection!

On the other hand, the genus Mandragora has six species still common to the Mediterranean region which were used in antiquity as addictive aphrodisiacs. The Mandragora is a poisonous, perennial member of the potato family (Solanceae) (2).  It has tuberous roots that look almost like clusters of large grapes, and according to the World Book Encyclopedia(3) , these roots were often used as “narcotics, anesthetics, and in so-called love potions.” It is said that these mandrakes had a “very distinct and agreeable odor” and that “among the Arabs it was called both ‘the servant of love’ and the ruffah eshaitain or ‘Satan’s apples’ (4).”

It is conceivable to me that such a potent and powerfully addictive plant could arouse the passionate demands demonstrated in Rachel. In the Song of Solomon, there is no hint of evil or inordinate passion. The verse only mentions, “The mandrakes give a smell,” and perhaps the proper interpretive amplification of this comment might be, “It is the time for sharing love. Can’t you tell? Even the air is filled with the scent of love!” This is a good thing, and love should be everywhere about us. That is the bright and positive side of a good relationship.

On the dark side, perhaps this verse should cause us to reflect for a minute on our desires. Is there anything in our life that drives us…that controls our behavior…or is threatening to do so? Is there anything so powerful in our lives that we would choose to pursue it over pursuing time with our Lord and our spouse? Any person, any pass time, any passion? I find myself from time to time feeling the heavy hand of temptation luring me toward some lust. It can be something as simple but almost universal as the temptation to overeat. It can be the subtle pleasure of spending money on myself for something I want but don’t need. It can be the idle enjoyment of a wasted hour when there was much work to be done. It can be the deadly draw toward fascination with any man who is not my husband. The world, my flesh, and the devil conspire to surround me with temptations and lusts that are as powerfully addictive and attractive as the ancient mandrakes.

I wonder, are we being tempted by any mandrakes in our lives today? Don’t be driven to trade your spouse’s affection for a handful of “mandrakes,” whatever they are. What attractive scent is arousing passion in you? Food? Money? Leisure? Sex? Don’t trade your soul or your spouse’s love for a pot of poisonous (but narcotic) pottage! If there is good, find it, and let it arouse right desires. Eating is good; just don’t overeat. Money is good; just don’t overindulge. Leisure is good; just use it to restore rather than debilitate. Sex is good; just make sure that it’s with your mate! When the scent of mandrakes in your life is arousing you, learn to say, “Rise up, my love, and come away with me! Let me give you my love, and all the good things I’ve prepared for you!” Live for your Lord, and if you’re married, live joyfully with your spouse. (1) Brown, Francis, D.D., D. Litt. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1997, 188 (cf. pg. 188,“love-producing…as exciting sexual desire”).
(2) The Encyclopedia Americana.  Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Inc., 1995, 227.
(3) The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book—Childcraft International, Inc., 1980, 103.
(4) Paige Patterson, Song of Solomon (Chicago:  Moody, 1986), 111.
(Photos from Wikipedia)

Rise Up, My Love (252): Add Some Dazzle to Your Calendar

Song of Solomon 7:12, “There will I give thee my loves.” Let’s take a few minutes to think about one of the best things a wife can do for her husband in a very practical way to show her love for him. It’s the concept of planning “mini honeymoons,” and it’s been one of the most transforming discoveries of my marriage…drawn from the inspiring example of Solomon’s wife. So, what’s a mini honeymoon, and how does it work?

A mini honeymoon is a time set apart for the wife to whisk her husband away from his normal responsibilities so she can focus on loving him. It can be as short as a twenty-four hour period or as long as a long weekend, depending on what will maximize your husband’s pleasure without causing him undo stress over time or financial concerns. The first and most important aspect of the mini honeymoon is the wife’s attitude. She needs to be committed to doing this not for her own pleasure, but for her husband’s, as her gift to him, thinking of what will best meet his needs and delight his heart.

It is a time apart for the husband to “taste and see” that his wife is good…for them to reconnect and bond…for the husband to enjoy his wife—body, soul, and spirit—and to receive love from her. “There will I give thee my loves.” So, there’s nothing in it for the wives? Oh, yes, there certainly is, although I hope that’s not our motive or focus. As wives, we will be richly rewarded over time by the revitalization of our marriage. I have found (and believe it will also be true for you) a new energy and loyalty in my spouse when I consciously take steps to “give him her [my] loves.”   And, the wife can usually begin by picking the special place for the honeymoon retreat, because the good news is that (at least this is true in my marriage, so hopefully it will be true in yours as well) a husband will go happily most anywhere to spend the night with the woman he loves. (You may have to surprise him or talk him into it the first time, but he’ll probably be asking, “When can we do this again??” before you return if it turns out well, because everyone loves being loved!)

So, to start with, pick any lovely place (relatively close to home) where the scenery is refreshing and the dinner will be romantic…some place that will make you both feel relaxed and open…some place where there’s nothing to make your husband think about other people or work-related pressures, and some place that makes you breathe in deeply and sigh with delight. Have you got such a place in mind? If so, start saving up to pay for it. If not, start asking around for suggestions.

My husband doesn’t usually like us to have to drive more than an hour or two; yours may not care, but try to be sensitive to the amount of time transportation will take. You need to be far enough away from home so that you feel “away,” but close enough so that the travel doesn’t rob you of too much time or make the driver tense. Once you’ve picked your place, find a free time in your husband’s schedule. I have often had to consult with a boss or secretary on this one, but I’ve been amazed at how willing people usually are to help out if given enough lead time.

For surprise getaways, I’ve found coworkers more than happy to help, even taking delight in making the schedule look especially difficult for the time when your dear husband is really going to be “sprung” from duty. (That is never my idea…but often theirs!) Once you have the place and the time, start preparing for the occasion. Notice how Solomon’s wife invited him to be a “fruit inspector.”

This will require a big commitment from you, because your husband will be checking out your fruitfulness! Are you bearing the fruits of love in your life? Are your thoughts in order concerning your husband? If he should “taste and see” the thoughts in your mind, will they be like the refreshing bursts of sweetness found in a pomegranate? How about the discipline of getting back into physical shape (preaching to myself on this one particularly!)? If you want him to be crazy about you the way he was when you were first married…how about trying to look something like you did back then? (I didn’t say we can really look like we did twenty or forty years ago…but we can at least try to look pretty by eating wisely, exercising properly, and dressing neatly.)

Is this too scary? Does it sound too hard? Impossible? If money is the biggest issue, find a friend who will watch your kids for a night and just creatively dress up your house. You could make funny little signs with crayons on sheets of white paper. That doesn’t cost much. Remember, it’s not about money; it’s about loving your mate! Or, perhaps you are saying to yourself, “I haven’t got a chance! I’ve gotten fat, and I feel ugly. All my thoughts are unhappy thoughts and I don’t even feel like I love my husband. In fact, why should I want to do anything for him? He’s a jerk.”

Well, if you’re reading this devotional commentary, you must have—at the very least—either some deep love for the Lord or your husband. If love for your husband is lacking, always remember that the burning core of our lives and motivation is our passion for the Lord. Start by doing what you do for the Lord’s sake. He instructs us to love others with a pure and fervent heart (I Peter 1:22)…and that includes loving our husband! This is a way of loving our husband, even if he seems totally unlovable.

Take the burden on your own shoulders of learning how to love. Do everything as if he were the most wonderful man in the world…as if he were Christ. What would you do for Jesus? Love your husband in that way. Prepare for your honeymoon with that much prayerful ingenuity. Take a few props…some pleasant-smelling lotion for a good massage, some bubbles for the bath tub, an appealing new nightgown (okay, so maybe new lounge pants and tee shirt if you’re a Millennial)…whatever you think would make him feel especially loved and desired.

Make a very conscious attempt to “dazzle” and “fascinate” your mate! (By the way, the husband can do all these same things for his wife; remember, at the beginning of the Song, it was the husband doing all the wooing. Wives will forever love being wooed!) Well, maybe you’re an old hand at mini vacations, but if not, I hope I’ve offered enough suggestions to get your mind turning. Let your own creativity and what you know of your husband’s tastes spark your imagination as you prayerfully plan a mini-honeymoon to live out this verse: “There will I give thee my loves.”

What’s the Relationship Between Forgiveness and Repentance?

Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach was written as a tool to help victimized people work through the pain of their injury, specifically as they confront the issue of whether or not to forgive their offender, and if so—when, and on what basis. If you’ve sustained an injury in the past that is still causing emotional trauma for you today, or if you have an old injury that has never healed but you’ve dealt with by consciously refusing to ever think about it again, then this book might be helpful.

That being said, Dr. Maier’s book reads like a doctoral dissertation, so it’s primarily an academic exercise in trying to understand the nature of forgiveness and the interplay between forgiveness and justice…aimed more at the head than the heart and clearly written to provide insight for Christian clergy and health-care professionals as they minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of victims.

Maier begins by refining the definition of “forgiveness,” pointing out that “the overarching meaning of forgiveness is manifesting and sharing redemptive grace.” However, he feels that the basic concept of forgiveness as “letting go of the need for vengeance and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment,” or “giving up one’s right to hurt back” may be too simplistic, because many people have trouble actually forgiving by that definition.

After exploring the definition, boundaries, and contours of forgiveness, Maier argues that our pattern for forgiveness should be modeled after God’s manner of forgiving us, which includes: “A readiness to forgive, an other-centerd focus, a foundation in the gospel, and a requirement of repentance.”

Although I believe that Maier’s observations on how God forgives us are sound, I do not believe the Bible teaches that we are to forgive others using the way in which God forgives us as a model. In fact, I don’t think it’s even a possibility! Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Do you sense the difference? Jesus teaches us to forgive on the basis of our having been forgiven, but this is not true of God. God has never sinned. God has no need of being forgiven. God does not appeal to any higher authority, because He is the highest authority in the universe! God does not offer forgiveness based on his willingness to forgive those who’ve offended him, although this is exactly the model he sets up for us when Jesus teaches us to pray.

God, as the divine judge, is required to demand justice. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God is incomprehensibly merciful and ready to forgive. God has an other-centered focus in forgiveness because He is perfect in love and needs no healing or help for himself. God is only able to offer forgiveness and remain just based on Christ’s death as the complete payment for our sin: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). And finally (Maier’s fourth point), God does require repentance for salvation: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

God, as divine judge, forgives us based on our repentance, but he does not tell us that we are divine judges who must base our forgiveness on repentance. Rather, the Bible teaches, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). This places the weight of forgiveness squarely on our shoulders and gives no indication that we cannot—or  even need not—forgive if our offender has not repented.

Instead, he urges us to remember that He is the judge, and he will hold each man accountable for his sin: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth” (Romans 14:4). Paraphrased, I believe this verse means, “Who are you (me…any of us) to judge someone else, because each person is ultimately God’s servant, not ours. God is omniscient. He knows all the facts. He alone can judge with perfect insight and wisdom.

Does that mean that we should forget about justice? No. We have every right to seek for justice, love justice, and applaud justice. We are required by God “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). However, we are not to take justice into our own hands (unless we are the appropriate, responsible authority, such as in our homes and work places). God and government are ordained as the conduits for prescribing punishment for unjust behavior, and when we are mistreated, we can fight for justice (as portrayed by Esther), but we’re not supposed to take personal revenge on others: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Like Abraham, we need to trust, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).

In my experience, offenders have very little insight into what they’ve done wrong, and if they do repent, it usually seems shallow and inadequate. If that hasn’t been your experience, you’re very blessed! However, I’m acutely aware that this is without a doubt also true of my repentance. I have very little insight into how sinful my attitudes and conduct often are, and when I realize that I’ve been wrong, I’m sure I don’t fully realize the negative impact I’ve had on others.

Therefore, it’s easy for me to feel compassion for others when they offend me, and I often find consolation in verses like: “The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy” (Proverbs 14:10).

Well, the book has many helpful ideas and definitely made me search the scriptures to refine my own thinking, but in the final analysis, I believe God does require us to forgive: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses) Mark 11:25-26. In fact, I believe God calls us to a life of forgiving: “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).

Although reconciliation definitely requires repentance on the part of the offender: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15), I truly believe that forgiveness is based on, “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8), and God is extremely hard on those who are unwilling to forgive: “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:34-35).

If you find that you have no desire to forgive someone in your life who has injured you, I beg you to pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the grace to forgive and heal your soul, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). An unwillingness to forgive will keep us from experiencing the freedom that comes from releasing all our pain and sorrows to God, who alone is able to redeem, restore, and reconcile our hearts and our relationships. We don’t have to wait for our offenders to repent! If we’re believers, we can forgive based on the fact that Christ has forgiven us. Let’s leave divine justice in his capable hands. This will free us to heal, and who knows? The day may even come when we can be like the good shepherd in Luke 15, who went out seeking for a lost sheep!