All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)



Adoption is a Beautiful Choice — AND so is IVF

It’s no secret that my husband and I have been walking through the process of building our family together with IVF. I’ve been fairly open about this on social media and on my blog here. In doing IVF I’ve been part of a large community of women (and men) who join support groups to walk through this very formidable process together and help each other out with information and validation.

One of the things that comes up over, and over, and over again — both for me as an individual and with others in my support groups, is what can only be termed a “microaggression” from people who seem to look down on people who turn to medical science for help with getting pregnant. It’s the statement, said sometimes gently, and other times harshly, “Why don’t you just adopt?”

From religious people in particular, I think this is based in a few misconceptions. The pro-life movement holds up adoption as a virtue, and it surely is. But many people I think get this misconception that there are literally thousands if not millions of babies just waiting for someone to step up and adopt them, and failure to adopt these ethereal babies results in rampant abortion. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth.

The reality is that there are thousands of couples desperately trying to adopt a baby, and it is a very, very difficult road. For every baby that comes up for adoption, there are dozens of couples vying to be the chosen ones who get to take that baby home. Many couples will never fit the bill – preference will go to families that are well-off, with parents who are under a certain age, and have a certain level of education. The process is often heartbreaking (I have known many would-be adopted parents who are given babies to take home, only to have the birth mother change her mind at the last moment) and expensive (thousands and ten-thousands of dollars are used up on each attempt.)

Of course, one could adopt from the foster care system, although even there, there exists a lot of competition for babies and small children, and I’ve heard too many stories of well-meaning would-be adoptive parents praying and hoping that parental rights get terminated of some woman who they hope does NOT get off drugs in time or show up in court in time to keep her family together. I personally don’t want to be that person, as I came from a family where my mom had a very real risk of losing me due to her irresponsibility, and no matter how messed up my mom was, I’m very glad no one ever took me away from her. I’m a real bleeding heart for family reunification (except in the extremist of cases) and I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that fence.

But here’s the salient reality: Infertile couples (and singles looking to have children) have no more responsibility to take care of the world’s unwanted children than anyone else. Being infertile while yet desiring to reproduce, does not suddenly bestow a mandate upon a person that unwanted children are one’s assignment.

The fact is that all competent adults of the world share an equal responsibility towards unwanted children — both fertile couples, and infertile couples, both singles who want children, and singles who don’t want children. Every adult in our society has a responsibility to ask themselves what role they ought to play in helping the unwanted children of the world. Shirking off this responsibility the moment someone shares that they are doing IVF, to inform them subtly that THEY ought to adopt unwanted children simply because they are trying to get pregnant with medical help, is just a form of scape-goating of one’s own responsibility to the children of the world.

People have a natural desire to reproduce themselves. For some, this means biological reproduction. It is a privilege to be able to reproduce with ease, and for the privileged to look at those who have medical issues and inform them that they are judged for wanting the same privilege, is nothing short of a microagression towards a weaker party.

Adoption IS a beautiful choice, that every adult should consider if and how it might play a role in their lives. But this choice is just that — a choice. And as long as couples can freely reproduce naturally without being put down for having biological kids instead of adopting, no one should be judging those who reach out for medical assistance, either. Adoption ultimately is not the responsibility of the infertile; it is the responsibility in one way or another, of all.

Revisiting 25 Views on Hell

If there is one blog post out in the blogosphere that I have shared more often or brought up in conversation more often both off and online, it has been Chuck McKnight’s classic post, “25 Views on Hell? 2 Questions to Reframe the Debate.” (Classic to me, anyway.) Yet now, 3 years later, I’d like to suggest a revision.

Chuck (otherwise known as “The Hippie Heretic”) aptly noted that most of the viewpoints out there about hell can be placed in a grid making up 25 views, based on asking two main questions: What is the duration of hell, and what is the purpose of hell. The answers to the two questions get laid out on the two axis of a graph, like so, with the purpose going across the top, and the duration up and down on the side:

The inside cells with the weird letters are all the possible interactions of all the answers to the two questions about one’s notion of Biblical hell, placed into this grid.

It’s too much to explain, and if I did, I’d be plagarizing, because Chuck explains it in huge detail over on his post, which in case you missed the link above, I’ll repost again HERE. If you’ve never read his post, I highly recommend you go give it a read and then come back to finish reading my post. I’ll wait. 🙂


Ok, so, wasn’t that revelatory and deep and chew-worthy? Maybe you can see now why I share that post so often. (HEY, you, go and READ IT!) But as an avid fan of the post, I’ve road tested it in many a real life discussion and after getting to chew on it for quite a few years, I’ve realized it needs an update. So, Chuck — I’m adding to your conversation, if I may 🙂

It has occurred to me that this grid needs another question added, a third dimension. This is because I have found that in many conversations about hell, there are a few assumptions being made — usually, the assumption is that we are talking about EVANGELICAL hell in some form or another. And the assumption about Evangelical hell is that it applies to everyone, who ever lived, or ever will live, no matter where they live, no matter their situation, everyone goes to this hell unless they…know Jesus.

So I realized we need a third row, a third question in the discussion, and that is: “Who goes there?”

Does Ghandi go there, because he never believed (as far as we know) in Jesus? Of course many would say he does not go to hell, but this would be outside the scope of the 25 Views of Hell chart (lucky him.) Or, one might envision that he does, but gets out quickly the moment he realizes Jesus the Way, in one of Chuck’s “consequential yet healing escapable process” scenarios. Or one might imagine he goes to hell, and is annihilated (sorry Ghandi) in a “retributive inescapable destruction” scenario.

What I have found is that many people almost don’t care as much about what kind of hell we are talking about — as much as they care who goes there. Sending Ghandi to Hell divides the no-holds-barred evangelicals (and some other groups) from most others.

So the question of “What kind of Hell” are we talking about really needs to include a discussion of who Hell is for. Is it just for demonic spirits, and perhaps humans never go there at all? (This is not a widely held theory because it doesn’t seem to go along with most Biblical statements about Hell, but some folks might hold that.)

Another consideration is that all the statements Jesus made about any sort of Hell were to a mostly Jewish crowd, and maybe we are dealing with a uniquely Jewish hell? After all, even Jews themselves did not believe that their 613 laws applied to anyone other than Jews, and that God would not be holding non-Jews to that standard nor judging anyone for failing to uphold Jewish law. Perhaps there is one punishment for disobedient Jews, and another one for the rest of humanity? Many people have noticed that Jesus harsh words were not directed at just anybody, but specifically to the Pharisees. Perhaps the people who might go to hell were specifically religious elite among Jews.

Perhaps we have extrapolated unique punishments promised to that generation to all people to come, and the Hell we think we know is really a Hell meant specifically for disobedient first century Jews, not Jews of all time, and not the entire population of humanity for all time. I could see some version of preterism postulating this, as preterism makes 70AD a firm cut-off for Biblical prophesy, and centers it all on the Jewish world.

This would also mean for instance that concerns about the injustice of murdered innocent Jews such as Anne Frank going to hell, who did not believe in Jesus because of their time and culture could be assuaged because of perhaps the Biblical hell was meant specifically for those who had the chance to hear from Jesus or those who saw Him personally.

Perhaps none of this is true (after all, it borders on sounding pretty darn anti-semitic) and perhaps Hell does exist for everyone, Jew and Gentile, but again, only in the first century, before the Preterist 70AD cutoff, and then now we are in a new era where things somehow work differently.

That brings us more up to date with most versions of Christianity, which believe that Hell, whatever the duration or purpose, would apply to all humanity that is disobedient to God and fails to believe in Jesus. But, does it apply to those who never had a chance to really hear the Gospel? What about the Aborigines in Australia before Europeans arrived, were they going to hell (at least, one of Chuck’s 25 versions of Hell) or were they not?

Perhaps our chart needs to have a version of hell that is only for those who have had a chance to hear an adequate telling of the gospel, and still refused Christ.

Of course, perhaps people go to hell whether they believe in Jesus or not, just based on their actions. This is why on my chart I defined categories as “disobedience” to God, because one can view “failing to believe” as gross disobedience, or cling to an Anonymous Christian idea like the Jesuits do, that there are those who do not believe in Jesus by name but still live according to His Spirit without knowing His name. Then again, Cornelius was a righteous man, but salvation still came to Him when Jesus was made known…..oh well, this post is not aimed at figuring these things out, but only stating that more options need to be covered…..and those options center around the question of WHO.

If the table of the variety of possible Hells includes a third dimension for “Who”, then there is room for the unique Jewish scenario of the Rich Man’s hell in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus to be one form of hell (say, CIP – consequential inescapable process, for Jews of the first century who had Moses and the Prophets and refused to listen), while Ghandi could end up in RHED (retributive but healing escapable destruction, specifically for Gentiles who heard the gospel and refused post-first century) and Anne Frank to miss hell entirely. In fact, there could be dozens of different hells for different situations at different points in time.

Or maybe there is only one hell, but that is for you to decide amongst yourselves. With the help of this nicely expanded table, to chew on for the next several years until you update it and send me a link to it. 🙂

— Heather

A Woman Responds to: An Open Letter to John MacArthur (re: Beth Moore)

This excellent blog post by Nijay Gupta has been getting passed around on Facebook and for the most part being received with a lot of popularity. I hope he and others can appreciate my push-back along with my praise, it’s part of the iron-sharpening-iron of writers and thinkers to critique and build on one another’s work. I could be a “good girl” and just swoon with appreciation to Nijay, and to some degree I do, but as an equal with him (as he defends women as being, more or less) I’d love to share my thoughts from the female side of the fence and hope that it is taken as the intellectual and spiritual engagement such conversation is meant to be.

Nijay’s post is good for evangelical culture in that it accomplishes two things:

1) It uses examples from scripture of a narrative involving women that counters the “women should never minister to a man” script
2) It demonstrates that women can be extremely useful in the leading and teaching domain. 

However, I’m not a real big fan of this letter, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it subtly continues the sexism it is trying to confront. In this letter, the arguments of “Paul” come across as if sexism against women would be okay if it weren’t for the fact that women were so competent and useful in ways that men might not expect. It also presents the idea that women should be valued because they were important to a MAN’s ministry. (Excerpt from Gupta: “Women have played such a crucial role in my apostolic mission, I could not operate without their wisdom, partnership and leadership.“)

However, I think this detracts from a greater point: that women should be looked as equal to men whether or not they have proven themselves, that their worth should be honored and potential be valued, rather than determined by whether or not men think they are already proving useful in some domain. 

When men have the attitude that we can make exceptions for women who are particularly competent in an area to be allowed into an area they are normally shut out of, women are not nurtured in their potential, because potential doesn’t count–there are only looked at as valuable once they have somehow proven themselves to men by beating the odds and becoming something. This is why, even in Evangelical churches where women can occasionally minister, often no one goes out of their way to disciple women into being ministers and leaders. Once they already are a leader they are recognized, but they are still not given the same opportunities to be nurtured and recognized and rise up through the ranks as men are, unless somehow they are already there. 

Additionally, this letter asks Evangelical Christians to ignore some verses in the Bible because of other verses, as people are somehow to understand that the apostle Paul doesnt remember saying that he doesn’t allow women to speak or teach, nor does he hold to any inkling of that sentiment, that instead the few very undeveloped mentionings of women in the NT doing something or other, supersedes anything else Paul thought on the matter.

I suppose if that gets us to a place where women are valued as fully equal to men in value and abilities and permissions before God, then maybe it’s just a wrong road to take us to a right place. But deeper questions really ought to be confronted in evangelicalism, instead of just presenting ideas in such a way that whatever Paul said in one place just doesn’t exist, deep theological discussions should be had about the nature of inspiration and the influence of culture and how the body of Christ ought to weigh these things.

Here is Nijay’s letter:

Walking through IVF

I was afraid

I was afraid of doctors
Afraid of showing a stranger my body
Afraid of tests
Afraid of probes
Afraid of shame

I was scared
I was scared of needles
Scared of anesthesia
Scared of surgery
Scared of mistakes
Scared of pain

I was overwhelmed
I was overwhelmed by costs
Overwhelmed by credit checks
Overwhelmed by insurance denials
Overwhelmed by medication prices
Overwhelmed by newfound debt

I was wounded
I was wounded by ignorant comments
Wounded by ignorant questions
Wounded by passive aggressive people
Wounded by those close by who didn’t care
Wounded by those who didn’t approve

I was discouraged
I was discouraged by doctors who didn’t want to try
Discouraged by eggs that didn’t work that well
Discouraged by statistics about my age and weight
Discouraged by embryos that looked great then weren’t
Discouraged by transfers that didn’t go as hoped

I was confused
I was confused by recommendations of supplements
Confused by various recommended medication protocols
Confused by ideas about LH and birth control
Confused by studies about PGS testing and 3 and 5 day transfers
Confused by Keto, vegetarianism, avocados, and fresh fruit.

And yet I am undaunted
Undaunted by being afraid
Undaunted by my fears
Undaunted even while overwhelmed
Undaunted by these wounds
Undaunted in the midst of being discouraged
Undaunted by confusing information

I hold a dream deep within my soul
A dream I will not let go
A child I pray God will give me
The baby I will one day know.

Premarital Sex and Purity Culture

One of the things that we are REALLY good at doing in our culture, unfortunately, is being polarized on one side or another of an issue without much nuance.   As Josh Harris, author of 90’s bestseller, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” is in the news for renouncing both his book and his faith, it’s easy to slam “purity culture” and all it stands for.

I would like to slam “purity culture” too, in a lot of ways.   But I want to do it with nuance, not with a broad brush.   I recently got married at age 42, and while I do think purity culture had a very negative influence on my life in a variety of ways, I am not at all unhappy that I went to my wedding as a, yes, 42-year-old virgin.

I wish I had been younger — getting married, that is.  I’ve written elsewhere about the damage done by purity culture and an apathetic church culture on extending, or at least not helping, with the plight of singles getting older without marriage (for those who desire marriage) here and here.

But one thing I actually WORRY about in the current climate of a no-holds-barred bashing of purity culture is that singles are losing the ground upon which prospective mates will respect a desire to remain celibate until marriage.   While this applies to all singles broadly, women more specifically often get pressured by men to have sex before marriage, and the more that progressive christians specifically start to label saving sex for marriage as a detrimental outcome of “purity culture”, the more sex becomes EXPECTED without any commitment from the party expecting it.  (Or demanded, as in, “I understand that’s your conviction, but I need to move on to someone who will have sex with me before we get married.” ) This is a situation where what gets promoted as “sex-positive” actually demotes it into something which can be demanded, or else, singles lose even more opportunities to find people to date them.

That said, here are a few things I do believe purity culture gets wrong about sex:

Bad teaching #1. If you’ve had sex before marriage, you’re ruining your ability to have a healthy marriage.

This is a false teaching of the purity movement.   How do I know it’s not true?   Because even in the purity movement, no one has any issue or concerns with widows or widowers remarrying.   If sex before a marriage permanently destroyed one’s ability to have a healthy marital sex life or healthy marital bond with anyone from that point forward, widows and widowers should be writing books about how they overcame the memories of their wonderful sexual histories with their prior deceased spouses to go on to have a good relationship with their present spouse.   I know of no such books.

Now I’m sure that people do have a huge transition to go through in going from their life with one spouse to another spouse after the first one dies, I’m not discounting that there must be all sorts of emotional and human issues that go on with that, from adjusting to a new person’s eating habits to how they roll the toothpaste to yes, even to having sex with a new love.   But while adjustments to new seasons and new circumstances are to be expected, no one expects that a widow or widower is going to have too much “sexual baggage” to be able to enjoy intercourse with their new spouse.

In fact, adulterers and adulteresses don’t seem to have much trouble bonding with a new person despite having sex with their legitimate spouses first before being unfaithful.   I’d hate to use this as an example, but it does make a point: humans seem to be actually very flexible with being able to go from one partner to the next.   This isn’t ideal, for a whole lot of reasons, nor do I encourage it: but I’m just saying, I think the purity movement gets this one completely wrong.

What the REAL result of this teaching in fact ends up being is that thousands of Christians who slipped up and had sex with someone before being married, end up getting a complex over it where once they finally find themselves in a fulfilling marital relationship, they yet believe that they somehow always carry part of the person or persons they had sex with before marriage with them into their marital bed.   This is somewhat a uniquely Christian problem, in my experience — reports from nonbelievers I know who view having serial sexual partners before marriage as part of normal dating life often do not develop a hang-up on feeling unable to shake feelings or memories of previous sexual partners during love-making with their spouses.   Sadly, this is a sometimes self-fulfilling prophecy unfortunately where believing something is going to have a certain effect on you, can actually cause that effect.

The exception to this of course is if someone had a great experience with someone sexually and later goes on to marry someone who isn’t communicating well in bed and isn’t fulfilling someone’s sexual fantasies/needs/desires, but that is a slightly different problem, which is covered below.

Bad teaching #2: If you save sex for marriage, you’ll have a fantastic sex life once you are married.

If you save sex for marriage, you are almost guaranteed to have a totally lousy sex life when you first start having sex.   Why?  Sex is a learned skill, and virgins by definition have had virtually no chance to learn it.

Will your sex life eventually be turned into something awesome with, er, practice?  That is entirely up to the couple — how well they love each other, how well they communicate with each other, how well they identify any issues that might get in the way (and this extends even to medical issues for which medical help might be warranted.).    Saving sex for marriage doesn’t mean that two people will be kind to each other, or communicate well with each other, or be patient with each other, or experimental with each other, or any of the whole host of other things that make for both good relationships, and good sexual chemistry and sexual troubleshooting.

When it comes to sex, no one can give anyone any guarantees – whether two people refrain from sex before marriage or not.   But, sex is something that is meant, I believe, to be *developed* between two people, so having sex ahead of time to figure out if one is “compatible” I personally think is also a bad strategy.   But that’s just me.  I think, perhaps erroneously, that one is marrying another person’s entire personality and character, and those things carry over to what one can expect in the bedroom.

I think in both these wrong teachings of the purity movement, the error is in trying to EXPLAIN why saving sex for marriage makes good emotional sense and will result in a good relationship.   But sexual abstinence does not need to be justified; it is enough to value one’s deepest physical intimacy and one’s body as something to be shared with another person only when the other person shows themselves worthy of such a sharing, by honoring the giver with a lifelong commitment before God and others, which is then also reciprocated.  And even if that were too much of a justification, even if there were no reason whatsoever that waiting until marriage for sex made sense, one who believes that God desires the intimate sharing of sex to be only unleashed inside of a marriage covenant should not need to justify their belief as anything other than to simply to obey God.

So a word to those who bash the purity movement: I hear you, and in many ways I agree with you.   But please be careful not to run roughshod over those who either because of spiritual conviction or personal desire, wish to be celibate until marriage.  I am that person, and I am very happy with my decision.






The Most Common Christian Infertility Cause

I suffered from infertility for a long time.  It was an infertility that the church most easily ignores; an infertility that comes with very little sympathy from others and yet is one of the most common forms of infertility suffered by women in body of Christ in the West.   My infertility had nothing to do with anything wrong with my womb or my body or anything medical; it was the infertility of being a woman who was being a “good girl” and obeying the Christian edict to wait to get married to have sexual intercourse, and yet, who was unable to find a suitable Christian husband.

For years and years, I would be in churches or get togethers and see couples share that they were struggling to conceive a child; and they would be invited to come forward and have hands laid on them and get prayer while the church shared in their grief and struggle; while I and many other women who were single past their prime were invited to do nothing but go home and cry on our pillows at night, alone.    Married infertility is seen and recognized, but singles facing impending lifelong infertility are considered unworthy of corporate support.

I and my fellow single sisters have had difficult decisions to make.   A friend of mine recently asked her parents to help her financially with the very expensive process of freezing eggs; her Christian parents told her they wouldn’t help her because, “If God wanted you to have children, He would have brought you a spouse already.”   Not only did this comment make my friend angry at God as to why He supposedly had assigned her this unique grief, misplacing the problem off of a messed up dating culture and the unwillingness of the body of Christ to help singles find matches in the same way other groups (such as Orthodox Jews) take very seriously the need to preserve their legacy by helping singles find spouses, but by blaming people’s deepest griefs on Divine Providence, we alienate people from God.

During my singlehood journey, I struggled with the idea of getting sperm donation and having artificial insemination.  Single parenthood seemed too scary to me, I didn’t have a support network where I could even count on having a babysitter, I wanted to be able to breast-feed a child and wouldn’t be able to take off work to do so in a country that offers little to no maternal leave, and I couldn’t shake the stigma that I knew evangelicals would have towards me for bringing a “fatherless child” into the world.   Yet I thought often about how the God of the Old Testament seemed to want to make sure that a woman who was left single and childless because her husband had died still had a chance at becoming a mother through the whole kinsmen-redeemer thing.  It seemed that God had more concern over people being left without children than my evangelical subculture would allow for.

If I shared all this with others, I had to suffer through person after person telling me that “You don’t have to get married and have children to be a complete woman.”   They seemed to believe that I had bought into some cultural lie that feminism would deliver me from.  The problem was, I was already a feminist — I knew that I didn’t have to have children to fulfill some “womanhood” edict.   But that wasn’t why I wanted children — it had nothing whatsoever to do with being a “woman” as much as the existential human desire to pass on what and who one is to survive into future generations through reproduction.    I wanted a child maybe on some level because God spoke into all humanity the words, “Be fruitful and multiply,” because it just was something intrinsic to the deepest parts of my soul with a strength of divine edict,  and while I have no problem with people who feel this isn’t for them, to the depths of my heart I knew this was something I couldn’t live without doing.   Rachel’s cry, “Give me children lest I die”, was my unbidden heart cry, and no platitudes about being complete whether or not I have children could satisfy that yearning.

The painful thing too that most singles in my shoes have dealt with is that most of the people who give us platitudes and share comments with us that ultimately are basically micro-aggressions towards our grief about singlehood and its associated infertility, are usually people who themselves are married and who have their own flesh and blood children as well.  These are also the people holding up adoption as the highest ideal, most often people who have never adopted children press on singles and even childless couples that they ought to adopt, even criticizing us for trying to have children by other means because, “there are so many children out there that nobody wants.”  I don’t know why people with natural children think there is a moral obligation for those struggling with infertility to find and adopt the world’s unwanted children, while those who have children easily and without trouble often seem to feel excused from having any need to do so, but this is probably the greatest microagression that singles and infertile couples face from other believers on a regular basis.

Adoption is a beautiful choice, but it is only one of many choices that people ought to respect and admire.  Those holding up adoption often don’t understand how difficult it is to adopt (one middle class couple in my church has been trying to adopt for years and years, and are consistently overlooked by birth parents choosing wealthier or younger parents, or have children placed with them for adoption only to have birth parents change their mind before the adoption is finalized.  The experience has been nothing short of traumatic.).

Adoption is expensive, difficult, and in my husband’s case (that’s right, I’m married now, and I’ll discuss that and the next step of our journey with singlehood infertility in my next posting) he has already adopted a child only to have experienced corruption in the adoption industry that resulted in him raising a severely special-needs child that he loves dearly and would never trade for any other child, but is emblematic of the type of issues that even adoptive parents face.

And, to be honest, for single people even adoption is stigmatized still in the church.   My friend Julia Duin has a blog site dedicated to promoting adoption among singles, because even that can be frowned upon by Christians.

At any rate, for years and years I asked my friends and church to help me find a husband.  I was on every dating site I could afford.   I went places, met people, and shared my story.   Christians seem to despise people who seem “desperate” to meet a spouse.   I was told over and over, well into my thirties, that “Sarah had a baby in her 90s so don’t worry,” as if Sarah’s story trumps all birth statistics and that I could count on God to make my fertile years an exception to the norm.   One pastor, I was close to, in a weird twist on the whole “Jesus is your boyfriend” stuff, told me to “embrace Jesus as your son.”  I was kicked out of a Facebook group for house churches for starting a thread in the group asking who in the group was single and looking for spouses — and told that in no way, shape or form was this group about something as lowly as “finding a mate.”   I’ve seen leaders that I respect, chewing apart “Christian Mingle” advertisements as if the desire of single people to get married and have the family and kids that they happily enjoyed themselves was something to be despised when pitched to singles.

In short, single hood is something the church doesn’t want to deal with, considers unseemly to address, and despises those who complain about it.   There is no compassion, no answers, and if you say too much about your desires or grief on the subject you will even be rudely shown the door — by those who are on their third child and talk about how family means the world to them.










Changing the Definition of Forgiveness

Christians generally recognize an idea that says they are commanded by God to forgive everyone who wrongs them, without any exceptions.   I believe this creates a lot of theological gymnastics on ground level, where people end up with three choices of how to walk this out in difficult situations.

Let’s say Jenny’s husband Matt has brutally beaten her, and lied to everyone making Jenny look like the bad one, and Jenny had to get a restraining order and ultimately divorced him. This is unfortunately not as rare of a situation one might hope it to be…and thousands of other similarly horrendous situations (or even worse situations) which could be used as an example.   Jenny now has a restraining order against her now ex-husband, for good reason, as he has often threatened her safety.   But Jenny reads in her Bible that Jesus said if you don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive you.

There are actually three ways this could play out:

1) Take Jesus at face value of how He is usually interpreted as demanding forgiveness at all times, regardless of any extenuating circumstance, and completely forgive, no questions ask.   (In this case, Jenny and her husband immediately make up and get back together.)

2) Pretend to take Jesus at face value, by changing the definition of forgiveness, and forgive only by using an altered, safer version of forgiveness which is completely inward, but has no practical effect on restoration of relationship with the person committing the crime, thus making one believe they have forgiven when actually they really haven’t.  (In this case, Jenny says she has forgiven Matt but keeps her restraining order against him.)

3) Just simply refuse to forgive.

Christians may often be annoyed at the suggestion that they are doing option #2, or offended that anyone would say it is fake forgiveness, but be really horrified that anyone would suggest #3.   I would propose however that option #3, “refusing to forgive”, is ACTUALLY the most honest, and also the most Biblically coherent option in many situations, even if most Christians squirm at the suggestion.

So let’s talk about what forgiveness is, and isn’t.

Just as James could say, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I’ll show you my faith BY my deeds,” forgiveness is one of those things we can also talk about as a merely inward, abstract thing (like faith) or something that has outward, immediate, solid ramifications.

The model of what forgiveness is or isn’t should be God.  Whenever in the Bible someone was forgiven by God, they were immediately brought into a place of restored, or potentially restored, relationship with Him.   We don’t ever see an example of God saying, “I forgive you, but we’re not going to have a relationship anymore.”

Forgiveness is restorative — it is the dropping of all walls in one’s heart in a way that is actually made visible and practical for the other person.  Forgiveness is not about the person DOING the forgiving, it is about the person who is BEING forgiven.   It is a gift to the person who is given a chance to be in a relationship they don’t deserve to be in, because they have formerly done damage to the other person — and yet, the debt is canceled, the offense is forgotten, and the way is clear again for the relationship to be restored.

In our very individualistic, self-focused society, we have instead concocted a version of forgiveness that is not about extending an opportunity of restoration to another person, but is a matter of restoring oneself after being wounded.   Over and over people will talk about how forgiveness is about letting go of inner turmoil (bitterness, obsessive rehashing of wrongs, etc) so that they themselves can move on to inner healing.  While letting go of bitterness is a really great thing to do for oneself, this in and of itself does not constitute Biblical forgiveness.   It IS indeed a great step towards inner healing, but it is a mistake I believe to call it forgiveness.   Forgiveness is not just about what goes on in one person, but it extends to the other person as well.   To tell another person, “I forgive you, but stay away from me” is to malign what true forgiveness is and to misrepresent the forgiveness that God showed us in Christ.

It is non-sensical and illogical to say, “I cancel your debt (forgiveness) but if you ever show up here again I’ll have you arrested (because of what you’ve done to me you still can’t be around me.)  We’re speaking out two sides of our mouth to say “I release what you’ve done wrong to me, but you still can’t have a relationship with me because of what you’ve done to me.”  When God forgave us our sins, he forgot what they were.   He didn’t say, “I forgive you but you can’t be with me in my Kingdom ever again.”

It might make us feel better about ourselves to say we’ve forgiven but won’t restore a relationship, and in some religious way make us feel religiously righteous and make us believe we’ve obeyed the command to “forgive”, but it falls short of what true forgiveness is.   Unfortunately, entire “inner healing” scripts in the christian community continue to reinforce that this version of forgiveness is true forgiveness.   (Jewish definitions of forgiveness would not agree, however — as Jewish understanding are much more holistic.)

So what, then?  So does this mean that Jenny needs to go back to her abusive husband?

No, because there is option #3…Jenny can wisely choose to simply not forgive her ex-husband, while if it helps her heal, also doing the work of letting go of bitterness (which is a side issue and not really related to the subject of whether or not she has forgiven him.)   This is actually Biblical.  But it is important to call it what it truly is and to keep our definitions coherent.

It is always dangerous to make an entire doctrine out of one verse, removed from all context of other verses on the same subject in the Bible.   While Jesus did say that if you don’t forgive others, your Father in Heaven will not forgive you, this is not the only time Jesus spoke on the matter.   It’s also not the only thing that the Bible demonstrates overall on the matter.

For instance, there is the example of 70×7 — where Jesus told Peter that if his brother ASKS for his forgiveness 490 times, he should give it to him.  Notice that Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Your brother shouldn’t even have to ask forgiveness, Peter, you should forgive Him before he even asks.”   No, Jesus made it clear that the “asking” was part of the key to forgiving the brother.

Should Jenny forgive her abusive, manipulative, ex-husband simply because he asks?   Caution should be taken here.   Part of the Christian inclination towards forgiveness is that no one should ever take the stance that no matter what, someone’s sins are so great that under no circumstance whatsoever would I ever be willing to forgive them.  There should always be a willingness that somehow there is some way this person might one day be forgiven, if they have truly repented and changed.

law-40007_640However, Jesus also said we are to be wise as serpents, and I believe it is important to let that “serpent-wisdom” fit the crime that has been committed.  Letting the wisdom fit the crime might not sound Biblical but there is an idea all over scripture of using “true weights and measurements.”  We see this in the book of Genesis in how Joseph walked through the situation of forgiving his brothers, who had sold him into slavery with murder in their hearts towards him.  He weighed them according to the measure of their wrong, and put them through a test that was appropriate to their crime (the cup placed in their sacks having them arrested) and waited until the Holy Spirit revealed that they were indeed truly repentant (when they gave him the reaction he was looking for.)   Joseph wasn’t in a rush to judge them either way, he took his time, made them jump through his hoops (which is the right of the party being asked to forgive) and only when he was fully satisfied that their hearts were changed, did he forgive them.

Jenny, likewise, might require Matt to do some sort of treatment program.   She might say something like, “You hurt me and broke my trust very badly, and if you ever want a chance to be back in a relationship with me again, you need to make restitution by taking steps to show me you understand the gravity of what you have done, the fact that you need serious help, and that you are laying down your pride and doing X, Y and Z programs for the next 3 years, twice, to show me you are doing everything you need to do to make good on all the harm you have caused. And then, and only then, will we talk about possibly trying to restore this marriage.” 

When someone truly apologizes, they are saying they own what they have done wrong. Part of apologizing when one’s crimes have been particularly damaging is owning one’s responsibility for one’s actions truthfully.   Matt’s apology in this case may need to be a whole lot of steps demonstrating he is bearing the weight of his own wrong.  In a huge number of cases, people who have committed huge abusive sins against others will not be willing to truly own their responsibilities and thus make true (not fluffy, merely manipulative) apologies.

So what about the person who is not ready to own their wrongs?  Jesus makes allowance to NOT always forgive:

When He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” John 20:22-23 Berean Study Bible

He did not give us authority as the church to “retain” sins for no reason, as if this power was never to be used (because after all, if we are to forgive everyone, all the time, what’s the point of this authority?)  But we are given this power to be used with discernment of men’s hearts.  It also makes no sense to apply the verse, “If you don’t forgive, your Father won’t forgive you” to every situation, otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense that Jesus gave the authority to the church to NOT forgive sins.

Yes, we should always be WILLING to forgive others — I hope my words are never used as an excuse to be hard-hearted people who refuse to restore relationships no matter how contrite and how much restitution the other party is willing to give.   And yes, it doesn’t do us any good to walk around with bitterness in our souls, and we should always pray for our enemies partially as a discipline in order to keep ourselves free from bitterness, but also because we truly want to see God help our enemies, despite whatever things we still hold to their account!  But forgiveness is not a mere release from our own inner turmoil as it if it is just a self-help therapy; forgiveness has teeth on it and is the power to extend true restoration, forgiveness turns enemies into friends.

We need to start being honest about what step in the process we are on, with no condemnation and all the freedom given to us in Christ to exercise our own discernment in these matters, owning it for what it is.  It is part of wisdom, and getting real, that we keep our definitions coherent.

For further reading, please see this excellent article HERE about forgiveness as well.

Also, for a commentary on the therapeutic culture that says healing requires someone to let go of bitterness, read here.



The Western Narrative and our Persecution Complex (reblogged)

David Schell wrote this positively brilliant post that I just had to reblog — here’s an excerpt:

The Western Narrative

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in feeling like the lone righteous person, or small group of people, standing strong and brave against a powerful evil. That narrative is basically the Western Meta-narrative. Consider:

  • Ulysses in The Odyssey.
  • Martin Luther’s “Here I stand and can do no other.”
  • Galileo refusing to recant.
  • The American War for Independence where a scrappy group of colonists fight off the most powerful empire on earth.
  • Star Wars Episode IV, with Luke Skywalker and a scrappy band of rebels fighting off an evil empire.
  • Braveheart.

Look at Jesus Christ himself, the stone that the builders rejected. I Timothy 3:12says all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution, and look at Elijah. Finally, look at the biggest archetype of ’em all: a little shepherd boy standing strong with just a sling and five smooth stones against a giant clad in armor with a heavy sword: David and Goliath.

These stories are our stories. They allow us to transform our wounded sense of exclusion and isolation into a sort of vindication and righteousness, into something we can draw strength and hope from. They’re a Psalm: God how many are my foes, but I trust that you will conquer them. The persecuted few may even be defeated, as in the story of the Alamo, but if they are, they will be vindicated even after their death.

But what happens when everybody wants to claim David and Goliath for themselves?

Read more over at



How Evolution Works

The Book of Works

I have been asked many times to explain how so called “macro-evolution” works. There are of course many excellent books and articles online and off that cover this, but I thought it might be a good idea to have a blog post that explains it quickly and simply that I can refer to when asked. The following is adapted from a book manuscript (which might get published some day).

To see how macroevolution (the origin of new species) works, we can use a hypothetical animal, maybe one in the cat family. Let’s call it a lipard. And let’s say that there is a population of these large cat-like carnivores living on a large plain with plenty of prey animals. The lipards have gotten better and better at hunting thanks to several improvements (microevolution) in  vision, muscle strength, digestion of meat, and other traits. And all of these positive changes eventually…

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