Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. I picked up the phone and dialed one of the most respected ministers I knew: Gilbert Hellwig, the German American pastor of the storied First Baptist Church, Cleveland’s equivalent of Manhattan’s Riverside. Dr. Hellwig listened to my heartbreak, as all good pastors learn to do, then replied wistfully in that ponderous voice of his, “You know? We Christians claim to be people of resurrection and yet we are so afraid to let some things just die. But if we are who we say we are—that is, people of resurrection–we must be willing to let some things die so that new life can spring up, albeit in a very different way.” Continue reading
My father laid bricks long before he became a Baptist minister. He used to tell the story of how, at the beginning of a building project, the mayor, the city council, business leaders, and the foreman would show up with golden shovels for the ground breaking ceremony. A brass band would show up as well. At the appointed time after the speeches were made, the community leaders would force their shovels into the rocky ground and the band would strike up a merry tune.
“Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:33)
Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness are perhaps the most difficult bit to chew in the New Testament. After calling what he took to be Christianity’s teachings on sexuality its most unpopular, C.S. Lewis repented in a later chapter and wondered if it might be the commandment to forgive instead. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful possibilities afforded by Jesus, and also one of the most abused. And on the face of it, it is possibly incoherent. Can there really be an obligation to forgive? Is that what Jesus said or meant?