In February 1953, when I was 17, the class I was attending at Ashland, Kentucky Senior High School, was suddenly interrupted. The teacher called me out and said I had a phone call waiting for me in the principal’s office. It was my uncle, who said, ‘RT, your mother has had a stroke; she’s been taken to the hospital. Your dad is on the way to take you there, so go outside and wait for him.’
Moments later I got into the car with my dad. My mother was paralysed on one side of her body. We waited day and night for her to improve. All our friends and loved ones were praying for her. At least five people anointed her with oil to be healed. Some of them said they ‘prayed through’, meaning that God witnessed that my mother would be healed. My dad, the most godly man I ever knew, woke me up one morning with joy in his heart; God had just shown him that my mother would be healed.
There was no doubt in my mind that God revealed to me and others that my mother would be healed.
Eight weeks later my high school band (I played the oboe) journeyed by train to Washington DC, where we had been invited to play at the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. My mother insisted that I go. On the morning we arrived – 8th April 1953 – I telephoned my aunt, who lived in Washington, to say I was in town. And she told me my mother had passed away that morning.
It was an event from which I have never fully recovered. Apart from his personal sorrow and the care of my little sister Marilyn – born two years previously – my dad’s chief concern was my own faith. He feared I would lose it through all this. I didn’t. But the death of my mother had an impact on me that shaped my emotions, my thinking and my expectancy from that day to this.
My dad would say in those days, ‘God is too wise to err, too kind to be unmerciful.’ I believed that then, and I believe it today. The ability to forgive God comes down to one thing: understanding the God of the Bible. The key to forgiving God is knowing his ways – and accepting them.
Bad Things Happen...
There is nobody on earth who has not suffered, to some extent; and it is God who created the planet, and God who sustains it. But sin has entered the world, and it is filled to overflowing with suffering, injustice and evil. In addition to larger world situations, we have all been hurt to varying degrees – whether through being personally mistreated, taken advantage of, deceived, having endured suffering through illness, losing a job, losing a loved one prematurely, being falsely accused.
Being a believer does not exempt one from suffering. Becoming a Christian does not remove one from pain. Bad things happen to Christians; good things happen to those who not only are unbelievers, but who also do great evil in this world. God allows this. He could stop it. After all, God by definition is unlimited in power and knowledge. He sees injustices and extreme suffering happening every day, and apparently does nothing. Why?
I honestly do not believe God is guilty of doing anything wrong. He has nothing to answer for. Why then do we need to forgive him?
First, we must not be governed by our limited perception of him – supposing that we are qualified to judge him; secondly, we forgive him not because he is guilty, but because we choose to affirm him as he is revealed in the Bible; and thirdly, we must set him free – letting him totally off the hook – until the day arrives when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Anointing. I invited an old friend – a man highly esteemed in the theological world – to write the foreword, but he turned me down. I was quite devastated. But he did no wrong at all by refusing to commend my book. He was being true to himself. I had to forgive him. It would be inappropriate for me to criticise him for his decision. He had his reasons; he was not guilty of anything but being himself. This illustration of how I had to forgive my old friend does not begin to compare to the way God remains true to himself – but must be forgiven when we are disappointed or feel betrayed.
After 57 years of Christian ministry, I have observed and experienced countless enigmas; I have often prayed with the most beautiful and worthy people who remain unmarried (against their wish), and have seen countless others marry (and wish they hadn’t). It’s not fair. Why does God appear to bless certain flamboyant ministries who uphold questionable teaching, but seem not to bless others who have sought to be sound, self-effacing and honest? This, and others like it, are questions I expect to have answered in heaven.
Your feelings matter to God very much indeed. Jesus has never forgotten what it was like when he was on this earth, being tempted at all points as we are, but without sin. For this reason he is to this very day ‘touched with the feeling’ of our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15, KJV). He doesn’t scold us or make us feel substandard because we have a particular weakness.
If you have been disillusioned that the Creator God – who controls all events – allowed you to suffer as you have, I don’t blame you. God could have stopped what happened but didn’t. You are therefore very, very hurt and possibly very, very angry. But you need to let God totally off the hook for allowing what he did.
How do you know if you are blaming God? When you realise you are feeling just the way Mary and Martha did (see John 11:1-44). They were very hurt at Jesus, who could have kept Lazarus from dying, but showed up four days after the funeral. They blamed Jesus for their brother’s death. But Jesus did not moralise them; he wept with them, feeling their hurt. Jesus still does that with us.
Why Forgive Him?
Why do we need to let God off the hook? First, because of what it will do for you. I can safely promise you an inner freedom and release you never dreamed possible. We must forgive those on the earth who have hurt us, and we must forgive God in heaven who lets hurtful things happen. In much the same way as we experience peace when we totally forgive those who have hurt us, so too when we come to the place where we totally forgive God.
This is what happens when you let others off the hook, regardless of how evil they were, or how hurt you continue to be.
When we don’t forgive God, this will almost certainly have a negative affect on our relationships with people. Very likely, we will have a problem forgiving them for their wrongs. Bitterness will be the consequence of unforgiveness. Totally forgiving God means setting him free, and affirming him – even though he let some horrible things happen to you. If you do this, your life will be changed, and you will never be the same again.
Secondly, forgive God because of what it will do for him. It will please him no end that you are able to let him off the hook – totally. He only wants what is best for you. He knows better than anyone what it will do for you if you do this. However, forgiving God does not mean relief for him, as if he would say, ‘Oh I am so glad they forgave me; I feel bad for what I did, and now I am set free.’ But if you are able to forgive him at this stage, you will please him. This is because God will rejoice in the freedom you find. When you forgive him – the sooner the better – he rejoices in what it will mean for you, including an absence of the bitterness that has been so draining on your whole personality. And once you have done this, you will never look back.
Thirdly, you should totally forgive God because of how you will feel on that final day when God clears his name. God the Father is the most maligned person in the universe he made. What he does and doesn’t do at times makes no sense at all. But when he vindicates himself, he will do it perfectly, before all people who ever lived. Before the angels. Before the devil and all the evil powers.If someone has not forgiven God, their lives are often filled with self-righteousness and a feeling of entitlement – that God owes us an answer for the evil things he allows. Only a fool would claim to solve the eternal philosophical ‘problem of evil’ (why God allows suffering), but part of the explanation is that you and I could demonstrate faith. We will not always have this privilege. God promises to clear his name, but in his own time. In the meantime we make a choice: to vindicate God now and live by faith; or foolishly live a life of self-pity and confusion. God not explaining himself is our opportunity to trust him to be faithful and just in what he does.
How Can I Forgive God?
First, you need to be honest with him and tell him your complaint, as in Psalm 142:2. He likes it when you tell him – and not the world – your hurt.
Secondly, forgive God by making a list of things you are truly thankful for. You will be amazed how long that list becomes! Thirdly, fight self-pity and a feeling of entitlement with all your heart. It gets us nowhere and only fuels bitterness – which is counterproductive both physically and emotionally. Fourthly, choose to believe that God has a purpose in what he has permitted – and thank him for it in advance of finding out what that purpose is. This is the faith that pleases God. You will never be sorry you did this. Finally, be patient and willing to wait for things to become clear to you. Let Habakkuk be your hero. He did not get the immediate answer he wanted, but chose instead to praise the Lord whether or not the fig tree budded and there was food in the fields (Habakkuk 3:17,18).
God is not upset with us for being upset with him. Jesus is touched by our weaknesses; he feels what we feel and has never forgotten what it was like to live on Earth. God did not rebuke Habakkuk for the prophet’s complaints, nor did Jesus embarrass Mary and Martha for blaming him for not healing their brother. God knows our frame and remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). We must also fight against telling others how angry we are with God, although we might tell one other person (such as our vicar or pastor). The first evidence that we have forgiven those who hurt us is not telling anybody ‘what they did’. But you can tell God – he can handle it. Also, read the Bible – choosing to believe that the Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth (John 16:13). Climb down from a feeling of entitlement and humbly ask God to show you the next step forward. He will.
How do we know that we’ve really forgiven God? What are the signs in our life that we’ve done that? There are three things:
- Forgiveness is a conscious choice, an act of the will. We make a conscious choice to forgive or not to forgive. When you make that choice to forgive – totally – you are on your way.
- When you are resolved to trust and praise God without getting your answers – including your prayers answered. One should aim to say with Job, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him’ (Job 13:15, KJV). Job said those words during the greatest trial of his life. And his breakthrough, which finally came, was worth waiting for.
- When you have inner peace without outward evidence that God is there.
It is my sincere prayer that you will be encouraged to totally forgive God for whatever he has allowed to happen in your life that has led to your anger, hurt, frustration or disillusionment. Ask yourself if you are better or worse off by angrily claiming that God has a lot to answer for. In short, you will lead an impoverished life, probably be an unpleasant person, and one devoid of inner peace.
But the good news is, there is a better way to live. By your setting God free, you will be free.
This article is based on RT Kendall’s new book, Totally Forgiving God (Hodder and Stoughton) which is out now.