“We can’t tolerate this anymore”

If you were watching Sunday night football this past Sunday you were taken from the game to President Obama speaking at a prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That is the only way I happened to see it. I am sure, though, that other channels too showed the speech, and the full text of the address is available on washingtonpost.com (as well as many other sites I am sure). If you pay much attention to politics in America than you were probably as surprised as my wife and I were to hear how frequently and apparently-sincerely the President quoted Scripture and referred to God and even Jesus. Indeed right off the bat, immediately after the obligatory nod to the governor, the families, the first responders and guests, Mr. Obama quoted 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. In their entirety. He did not provide the reference, but he did say, “Scripture tells us” before reciting them.

Shortly thereafter Mr. Obama said, “Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.” After outlining the brave actions of teachers and students alike, naming the teachers who lost their lives and even sharing what the simultaneously touching and funny account of one student offering to lead the way out because he knows karate, and commending the town for their the President said, “This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.”

Mr. Obama was wise to draw from Scripture during such a time of intense grief and inexplicable tragedy. After all, when confronted with the reality of man’s inhumanity to man, where else is there to go for comfort? Relativism offers nothing even remotely comforting. Saying, “that’s just part of life” is not a good way to win friends and influence people. The truth is that when tragedies like the one in Newtown take place humans everywhere shift their attention to God. Some look to Him in anger, some with genuine perplexity, and many with sorrow that is seeking consolation. There is a part of every human that knows that God is there, and that only is He is big enough to wrap His arms around these situations and provide, if not easy-to-understand answers, at least a refuge and a safe place.

Unfortunately Mr. Obama strayed some as his comments continued. He said, “We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.” I agree; absolutely. Immediately thereafter, though, he said, “We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.” I agree as well that there are many times when it is difficult to discern God’s plans, individually and corporately. It is difficult even for those who diligently seek Him. But in the middle of this conversation Mr. Obama used these as examples of what we humans strive for: “wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort.” Sadly, he is not off the mark. Is it any wonder, though, that we have trouble discerning God’s plan when we spend our time focused on making more money, accumulating more toys and/or building a following for ourselves?

It is then that Mr. Obama misses the target completely, though. After citing Scripture and making reference to God’s plans, the President said, “There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other.” At least he did not go so far as to say that there is nothing that we can be sure of. But if the love of a parent for a child is the only thing that we can be sure of, we are in trouble. What hope can we have in that? After all, I doubt a day goes by that we cannot find a story of a parent committing horrible offenses against a child. I do not doubt for one moment that the parents of the children who died in Newtown loved their children and will miss them terribly. I cannot imagine the pain they are experiencing. I cannot, though, find comfort in the statement that the only thing we can be sure of is a parent’s love.

Taken as a whole, I thought that the President’s comments were heartfelt and appropriate. For most of the speech he spoke as a father far more than he did as a politician. And I do not want to use Newtown as an instrument for any agenda. But the President’s remarks serve only to reinforce the fact that Mike Huckabee was right; we cannot expect to teach morality and accountability and responsibility without God any more than we can hope to comfort those who grieve without God. Why is the latter okay but the former is a violation of religious freedom?

Mr. Obama wants to put an end to these tragedies. “We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

He is right. It will not happen though until we realize, collectively, that we will have to continually comfort grieving hearts if we never try to reach the hearts of those who would commit horrific acts…and attempts to do that without God will continue to be futile. Bringing God and His morality back into the discussion…that is the change we need.

“It’s because of the way the media reports it.”

If you read the blogosphere (besides this blog, which you obviously do read…and I appreciate that you do!), have a Facebook account, or read news items that you see on your browser home page when you come online then you have probably seen or at least heard of the statement that was allegedly made by acting legend Morgan Freeman. I say “allegedly” because I have seen a variety of accounts online, some confirming that he did make the statement, others saying he did not, that someone else did and attributed them to him. I have not been able to find anything definitive either way. Many people consider Snopes.com to be the expert on such questions, and that site says that the statement did not come from Freeman. But, regardless of who made the statement, I think it has plenty of truth in it and it is worthy of consideration and discussion… Here is the statement, in response to why the Connecticut school shooting and other similar tragedies happen:

You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here’s why. It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single victim of Columbine?

Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.

CNN’s article says that if the body count “holds up”, this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer’s face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet. Because they don’t sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.

You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem.

Now as I said, I don’t know who actually made this statement, but it does contain a lot of truth, I think. The media absolutely does sensationalize these events. I have seen some articles now that have focused on some of the victims, but that certainly is not the focus of most of the coverage. And I understand that the media has a responsibility to report the news. But there are many different ways one can report the news. Yes, the media needs to let us know that the tragedy occurred, and yes there are insights that can be gained from some investigative reporting. But the statement above accurately points out that the media pays far too much attention to the perpetrators of such incidents, and the amount of coverage that they receive absolutely could play into the motivation of someone to commit such acts of violence. If they do end up killing themselves or getting killed, they go out “famous.” If they live through it, the media will pay attention to them that much longer. (Think about it…not too much time goes by without the perpetrator of the Fort Hood shooting making the news). It cannot be coincidental that there have been more of these kinds of tragedies in the thirteen years since Columbine than there were in decades before Columbine. I do not have any scientific data on how many tragedies like that there were before Columbine, but there were few if any, I am confident of that. And as I discussed in yesterday’s post, the problem cannot be attributed to guns; after all, guns have been around for centuries.

I am not going to say that the media is responsible solely. Neither are the increasingly realistic and increasingly violent video games that are so popular, nor the movies that glorify violence. But all of these things are contributing factors, and the power of their contribution is strengthened by the decline of the marriage-based two- parent family, the denial of absolute truth, and the ever-increasing attempt to keep morality out of the public sphere. See the comments made by Mike Huckabee that I quoted in yesterday’s post on that note. As I’ve said before…it comes back to the law of the harvest, and we will continue to reap what we sow.

“This is a heart issue”

Yesterday’s shooting in an elementary school in Colorado is a tragedy, and there is absolutely no other word for it. I have addressed here before the question of why God would allow such things to happen (see my September 27 post, “Why Does God Allow Tragedy and Suffering?”) but that question is on many lips and in many minds again now. I do not, at the moment, have anything new to add to the answers I provided on that question three months ago. I do, however, want to chime in on the answers given in response to that very question by Mike Huckabee on FOX News on Friday evening. His comments have already generated a fire storm of online commentary, mostly against. But I think what Mr. Huckabee said has considerable merit.

First, what exactly did he say? When asked about the shooting, and why God would allow such a thing, Huckabee said, “When we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools, should we be so surprised that schools have become a place for carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, responsibility, accountability?”

Elliot Friar, on Policymic.com, took Huckabee to task for these comments (he did the same in response to comments Huckabee made after the shooting in the Colorado theater last summer). Friar writes, “What makes you so sure that your God is the answer to all evils? Over and over you say that people kill people, guns don’t. Well, we supply the people that kill people with guns that do, in fact, kill people. Between 2006 and 2010, a staggering 47,856 people were killed by firearms in the U.S. More than any other way of killing. Guns do kill, and they kill a lot. … How dare you blame their deaths on the absence of religion in our schools and in their lives. Even God himself, any God, could not prevent the easy purchase of multiple assault rifles to murder elementary school students.”

Well Mr. Friar, first of all, God Himself could prevent the easy purchase of guns if He wanted to. That gets into the questions I addressed in September, so I won’t elaborate on that here. But you’re also missing Huckabee’s point. He is not denying that the bullets and the guns do the actual killing. He is denying that it is the guns themselves that are the problem. If somehow the United States eliminated all privately owned guns with the snap of a finger, the thoughts and desires that lead people to kills dozens of innocent people, whether adults or children, in a theater or a school, would not also disappear. There was another tragedy in a school yesterday too; a man in China stabbed 22 children. Should China ban knives, Mr. Friar?

Mr. Huckabee’s point is that when we make everything relative, when we refuse to teach children that there are such things as absolutes, when we make excuses for wrongs rather than holding wrongdoers accountable…that is how we “set the stage” for these kinds of tragedies. No one thinks about the possible consequences of taking ideas to their extremes. Instead, we think about lovely it would be to eliminate the rules and let everyone do whatever they want. After all, why should any one person, group of people, or even God, have the right to tell me or anyone else what I can and cannot do? That sounds dandy in theory. But in reality, when boundaries are eliminated and right and wrong cease to exist, chaos results. Anarchy is an incredibly frightening thing. If there are no rules, no absolutes, how can we say that the perpetrator in Connecticut was wrong? He was, of course, but I can only say that because I believe in right and wrong. Interestingly, everyone seems to believe in right and wrong moments after a tragedy. But then it’s too late…the damage has been done.

Prior to make the statements cited above, Mr. Huckabee said, “Ultimately, you can take away every gun in America and somebody will use a gun. When somebody has an intent to do incredible damage, they’re going to find a way to do it.
People will want to pass new laws…. This is a heart issue — laws don’t change this kind of thing.” At the conclusion of his remarks Huckabee said of God, “Maybe we oughta let him in on the front and we wouldn’t have to call him when it’s all said and done on the back end.”

That’s the irony, I’m afraid. As Huckabee suggested, America has been engaged in a systematic effort to remove God from the public square for decades; all efforts at insisting on and teaching morality are met with cries of Puritanism or extreme right wing religious zealotry. Why, then, when our culture wants nothing to do with God, seldom even bothering to acknowledge His existence, is the first instinct to look at Him and ask why He would let this happen? God is a God of love…but we cannot ignore Him all the time and then blame Him when things don’t work out. The law of the harvest still exists…we will reap what we sow.

Most Desirable

The online men’s magazine AskMen.com recently announced their list of Top 99 Most Desirable Women of 2012. In announcing the list, the site asks and then answers the question, “What does it really mean to be a desirable woman?” Their answer? “Is it solely about a pretty face or a career accomplishment? Is it about having perfect proportions or about being ‘wife material’? You answered these questions by voting in our annual Top 99. And judging from your responses and those of our staff, one thing is clear: Desirability isn’t any one of these things, but all of them. You chose women who represent the complete package of beauty, brains, ambition and charm. And we think you chose wisely.”

So, according to the 2 million-plus votes submitted to the site, which has a motto of “Become a Better Man” and features such important content areas as “The Guy’s Guide to Romance,” “From the Bar to the Bedroom,” and “The Style Bible,” who are these most desirable of all women?

Some of them I have never heard of, though that does not really surprise me since my interaction with so-called popular culture is not as extensive as many of the readers of AskMen, I am sure (and that doesn’t trouble me in the least!). In checking it out, I worked my way up the list. So number 99, for instance, is Bérénice Marlohe. Apparently I am not to be troubled by not knowing her, though, as the site’s description says, “While your average Joe probably doesn’t know all that much about this French beauty, he will before long.” Reading further, I learn that Ms. Marlohe was the latest in the long line of Bond girls in this year’s James Bond film, Skyfall. So, given the attention and popularity that has been granted so many Bond girls of the past, and the obvious focus the film series places on sex appeal, perhaps I should be encouraged that this newest member of that growing-but-exclusive club is the final entry on the list. Could that mean that the majority of the respondents to this survey truly did look beyond the physical in casting their votes? I would soon see…

Right away I was encouraged, because Kim Kardashian checked in at number 98. When someone as ubiquitous in the celebrity-worshipping culture as she is was next-to-last on the list, there really might be hope, I thought.

Unfortunately, the list does not continue to encourage me. Checking in at number 92 is Paulina Gretzky, daughter of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky. I had never heard of her, either, but the description posted with her entry says that she has proven to be “a prolific poster of provocative pictures on both Twitter and Instagram,” and after mentioning that her father has complained about her photos, the site says “we sure won’t,” before ending her entry with this statement: “This year, she’ll continue to be one of the best arguments for social media, Daddy’s dignity be damned.” Not only is such a statement disrespectful to the opinion of a father (who has every right to “complain”), it clearly emphasizes an appreciation for this young woman’s willingness to show off her body. The site’s description states that Ms. Gretzky gained her following by being “crazy hot and proud of it.” While we are still in the nineties, my hope that the poll would support women famous and “desirable” for more than showing skin is dwindling at this point…

By the time I reached number 85 and read the description for Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (whom I had also never heard of) I was afraid to go on. A Russian, this young lady, according to the short description, is an inmate in a Russian prison, was part of punk band with a name I will not even include here, and “participated in a public orgy” to protest the election of Dmitry Medvedev in 2008. If this is even close to desirable we are in real trouble.

Deciding it had to get better, I decided to venture on. Remember, I am less than one-fifth of my way through the list at this point.

I found more of the same. Cassie, the entry at number 77, is apparently known as a recording artist, model, dancer and actress, and for a “love affair with P. Diddy” and “jawdropping topless photos.” Sherlyn Chopra, number 63, “became the first Indian model to ever appear nude on the cover of Playboy magazine” in 2012. If these are most notable accomplishments the magazine could produce when giving a brief bio of these women how could they seriously suggest that this is a list of women that “represent the complete package of beauty, brains, ambition and charm”? The emphasis is overwhelmingly on “beauty,” though I feel I must set that apart in quotation marks since the true emphasis seems to be on women willing to show off their bodies, not necessarily on “beauty.”

That kind of focus seems to be the trend of the majority of the list, and certainly seems to be the focus of the editors of AskMen. Even those women on the list who are famous for reasons not involving taking off their clothes or splashing revealing pictures all over cyberspace are almost always depicted in the most revealing or suggestive photo the site could likely find. There were two notable exceptions, and at least the site had the decency to avoid overly suggestive photos or comments in those instances (which will be revealed below) but one need not “AskMen” to figure out where the attention was focused.

There were a couple of encouraging things about the list. First, the list includes women from a variety of fields… Plenty are actresses. Some are athletes (tennis player Ana Ivanovic is number 96; Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn is 73; Olympic javelin thrower Leryn Franco is 64; Antonija Misura, 53, is a basketball player; Lolo Jones, 41, is an Olympic hurtler; Hope Solo, 30, is an Olympic soccer player; and Michelle Jenneke, number 10, is a hurtler). Some are models (Kate Moss is 95; Bar Paly is 87; Liu Wen is 82; Joan Smalls is 78; Doutzen Kroes is 55) or musicians/singers (Iggy Azalea, 81; Carly Rae Jepsen, 75; Solange Knowles is 50; Beyoncé is 32; Katy Perry is 21; and British pop star Cheryl Cole is 16). One, Marcela Valladolid (number 60) is a chef and another one, Marissa Mayer, is the CEO of Yahoo!. Ronda Rousey (43) is a mixed martial artist and Olympian, and Sara Carbonera (37) is a sports reporter. First Lady Michelle Obama is number 33, and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is number 25. These last two are the list-makers that the site was decent enough not to turn into sex objects, though they did deem it necessary to mention the topless photos that appeared during the year of the Duchess.

There are as well a variety of nationalities on the list (see Marlohe and Marion Cotillard [39] both French; Ivanovic [Serbian]; Amrita Acharia [94, Nepalese]; Rocsi [91, Honduran]; Paly and Bar Refaeli [62] are both Israeli, and actress Natalie Portman [48] is a dual Israeli-American citizen; Imogen Poots [86], Keira Knightley [52], Rosie Huntington-Whitely [31], and Emma Watson [29] are all British, as is Middleton, of course, and Cheryl Cole [16] and Emilia Clarke [15]; Liu Wen [Chinese]; Azalea, Jenneke, and Miranda Kerr [6] are Australian; Tracy Spiridakos [79] and Cobie Smulders [64] are both Canadian; Smalls [Puerto Rican]; Bipasha Basu [67] and Chopra [63] are both Indian; Morena Baccarin [66], Alessandra Ambrosio [40], and Adriana Lima [27] are Brazilian; Leryn Franco [Paraguayan]; Kroes and Freja Beha Erichsen [28] are both Dutch; Misura [Croatian]; Sofia Vergara [12, Colombian]; Candice Swanepoel [11, South African]; and number 2, Mila Kunis, was born in Ukraine).

It was nice to see an age range, too–Jenneke is only 19, several entries are barely out of their teens, with Selena Gomez (56) the second-youngest by my reckoning at 20, while Mayer and Christina Hendricks [14] are 37, Heidi Klum (61) is “pushing 40,” Vergara is 40, Tina Fey, (80) and Rachel Weisz (72) are both 42, and Lucy Liu (69) is 44. The First Lady is 48 years old.

The emphasis AskMen has is revealed in many of the comments provided in the descriptions of the 99 women. The description for Antonija Misura, for example, says, “Antonija Misura is a women’s basketball player you absolutely have to see. Just to clarify, you don’t actually need to see her play (she only averaged 3.3 points per game for Croatia in the 2012 London Olympics); rather, you just need to see her because she’s one of the hottest women to ever play the sport.” Their focus for Jenneke? “Dressed in the smallest two-piece tracksuit available, Jenneke bounced and danced, swaying her hips and swinging her hair like a total coquette. She finished first, winning a gold medal for her race but also for the sexiest warmup of all time.” That was their description of her performance at the World Junior Championships…and a young woman who is only 19 years old!

The number 84 entry “made waves when she revealed her bisexuality” and number 49 is “openly bisexual.” I cannot help but wonder how in the world these things would make one “desirable.”

So, after all that, who was number one? Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who starred in The Hunger Games.

So what is point in exploring all of that? There are a few points, actually. One is at least potentially positive, and that is that the list clearly reveals how small current technology has made the world. I cannot help but think that if such a list had been generated twenty years ago there is no way there would have been women from nearly twenty countries included. However, I said “potentially positive” because if we are using this incredible technology just to objectify women from around the world, that is a problem.

Two, I have to ask whether or not it is even possible to “vote on” women in a poll like this without objectifying them. After all, of the two million-some votes that were cast, how many of those voting, if any, actually know any of these women? Can I or anyone else determine the desirability of someone I do not know by any other than the most superficial of means?

Third, shouldn’t there be something troubling about considering someone else’s wife as desirable? Many of the women in the poll are married. I cannot imagine many men would appreciate having their buddies come up and say, “Hey man, we think your wife is really desirable!” I suspect there would be a very serious conversation that followed such a comment, if not a fist fight. When I was in middle school I had a youth pastor who was also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. One evening he and his wife were entering a fast food restaurant and some men in a truck in the drive through line whistled at her. He politely but in no uncertain terms told them to knock it off. Somehow their expression of her desirability did not strike him as complimentary or appropriate. (And the men in the truck were not willing to heed his warning, so they got out of the truck and started a fight. Given his background, my youth pastor dispatched them quickly).

Fourth, I was struck by the fact that there are either a lot of men who have warped concepts of “desirable” or else are more than willing to “enjoy” behavior from women not their wives or daughters that they would never condone or tolerate from them.

Having said all that, I have to point out that the Scripture also describes a desirable woman. Interestingly, the description in Proverbs has no similarity to the one on AskMen.com. The woman in Proverbs 31 is industrious, wise, physically fit, generous, a sharp and fashionable dresser, pleasant to be around… The same proverb addresses charm and beauty; the first is deceitful and the second is vain.

In the government class I teach we have been discussing recently the diminishing influence of biblical values in public life today. It would seem that AskMen has provided ample evidence of the diminishing influence of biblical values in social life, too. Unfortunately, many of the women on the list expresses appreciation for their inclusion. If only they could see that such activities serve only to diminish their professional accomplishments. There is nothing at all wrong with women being athletes, actresses, singers, models, business professionals or almost anything else. And there is nothing wrong with a woman who is any of those things also being physically attractive–or even with men noticing that she is physically attractive. But when her physical attractiveness becomes the sole focus of those around her, she is diminished. When we allow ourselves to not only let that be the sole focus, but to celebrate that we have done so, we are diminished.

Evidence Not Necessary

Perhaps you saw the newscast or read about it online… Underwater explorer Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic, among other underwater finds, says he may have found evidence for Noah’s Ark and the biblical account of the flood. In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Ballard discussed his efforts in Turkey to find the ark, or at least evidence of the flood. Said Ballard, “We went in there to look for the flood. Not just a slow moving, advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood that then stayed… The land that went under stayed under.”

Finding the ark has been akin to the Holy Grail for many explorers for a long time, but no one has ever been able to find the ship, or any evidence of it. In the 1990s two geologists did find credible evidence that a flood had occurred in the Middle East about 7,500 years ago.

According to MSN.com, “Robert Ballard says he now supports a theory floated by two Columbia University scientists, which holds that the Black Sea was once a freshwater lake overrun thousands of years ago ‘by an enormous wall of water from the rising Mediterranean Sea.’ Ballard found evidence of that inundation 400 feet below the surface of the modern-day Black Sea — an ancient shoreline. He now believes the ‘great flood’ may have taken place in 5,000 B.C.E.”

UK’s The Telegraph spins the story a bit, citing Ballard’s findings (which do not, to this point anyway, suggest a global flood, I should mention) before concluding with this statement: “As the theory goes, the story was then passed down over the years, with the story of Noah eventually forming.”

Therein lies the point I would like to make… If science does eventually find conclusive evidence that a flood occurred or finds evidence of the ark, that would be, for lack of a better word, neat, but will it really change any minds? Those who believe the Bible believe it in faith, not in scientific evidence, and those who do not believe it are likely to spin any evidence supporting Scripture by giving it some alternative explanation (like The Telegraph suggests).

Scripture makes it clear that the “wise men” of earth are not usually going to be the ones who will believe Scripture. Contrary to what might seem to make sense, these individuals are usually too smart for their own good, and they wind up “claiming to be wise” but in actuality are fools (Romans 1:22).

What is forgiveness?

Janie B. Cheaney’s column in the December 1, 2012 issue of WORLD accomplished something for me that few other journalistic offerings have accomplished in recent memory. Her piece, entitled “Bound by blood: The perils of forgiveness,” has not only provided a catalyst for this blog post, but also resulted in good discussions in the two classes I teach when I shared it with students, prompted a discussion with a colleague (after one of the students shared the discussion with him), and, probably most importantly, was actually thought provoking! So, while I disagree with Cheaney’s conclusion, I thank her for accomplishing what so few seem to be able to.

The backdrop of Cheaney’s editorial is the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other men at the U.S. embassy in Libya on September 11 of this year. The father of Tyrone Woods, a former Navy SEAL who was a security guard at the embassy and was killed in the attack, appeared on Sean Hannity’s television show and extended forgiveness to those responsible for what many have come to see as an intelligence failure. Cheaney quotes Woods as saying, “I don’t know who [the responsible parties] are, but one of these days the truth will come out. I still forgive you, but you need to stand up.” According to Cheaney, Woods cited his Christian faith during the interview and as the reason why he was able to offer forgiveness, as did his daughters, who expressed their forgiveness in the same interview.

Interestingly, Cheaney uses this to address what she believes is a too-casual approach to forgiveness by many in the Christian community. At one point, she writes that those who she calls “vendors of blanket forgiveness” miss two important elements of forgiveness: “the involvement of the offender, and the Person who is ultimately offended.”

Cheaney provides a quick overview of her own look into the Scriptures to see what they have to say about forgiveness, and she concludes that “in no case is forgiveness offered without knowing who the perpetrator is, and Psalm 51:4 makes it clear that in every case the ultimate offended party is God.” She proceeds to ask about forgiving “unknown perpetrators” (like Woods did). The first problem, Cheaney says, is this: “I doubt it’s even possible to forgive someone who has not asked for it…. Forgiveness is not an initiative, but a response. Forgiveness on one side must be balanced by confession and repentance on the other….”

By way of agreement, let me say that I absolutely agree with Cheaney that God is always the One ultimately offended. Every sin is an offense to God. However, I just as absolutely disagree with her conclusion that an unknown person cannot be forgiven and that forgiveness requires someone asking for it before it can be granted. I disagree for several reasons. First, forgiveness is for the benefit of the one forgiving as much or even more than for the benefit of the one being forgiven. Cheaney alludes to this when she writes, “We can agree that to remain bitter and angry over unconfessed wrong isn’t healthy.” And she is right; if I am unwilling to forgive a wrong, I am most likely the one that will suffer. My refusal to forgive will hinder my relationship with the one who wronged me, but it will also hinder my relationship with the Lord and perhaps with others. But Cheaney doesn’t stop there. In fact, her very next sentence reads, “But forgiveness that wasn’t requested isn’t true.”

This statement–which is erroneous, in my opinion–leads to my second point. For all the examples that Cheaney does cite, she never mentions Luke 23:23, which reads, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'” Jesus is hanging on the cross, and nowhere does the Scripture indicate that anyone standing there asked for forgiveness for crucifying Him, but He offers it anyway. In fact, far from seeking forgiveness, the next verse says that “the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him….” Scoffing is a far cry from repentance! Furthermore, Scripture is clear that God provided forgiveness for my sins–and yours–long before I ever asked for it. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Furthermore, in Colossians, Paul writes, in 3:13, “if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” God does not forgive with condition! Now, God’s forgiveness is completed when the sinner accepts it, by accepting the death of Christ on the cross, and in that regard human-to-human forgiveness is also completed when an offending party asks the offended party for forgiveness (and it is granted). But Christ offered the forgiveness long ago…long before I asked for it!

Another problem with Cheaney’s position is that it would prevent anyone from ever forgiving someone who is dead (or, due to impairment, incapable of asking for forgiveness). Suppose a drunk driver hits and kills someone. If the drunk driver also dies, or is put permanently into a coma, can the parents/siblings/spouse/children/friends of the one who was hit never forgive the drunk driver? Or take a different scenario… Suppose I was wronged by someone–recently or years ago, it doesn’t matter–but I have not yet forgiven the offender. Maybe because I accept Christ later, or am convicted of my need to forgive later, but if my desire to forgive does not come unless after the offender has passed away am I then unable to forgive? To take the inverse of Cheaney’s question, can forgiveness be granted if forgiveness is requested but not granted prior to death? There have been many deathbed requests for forgiveness. If someone makes the request but the offended party is not present to hear it, and does not learn of it until the offender has passed, is it too late? Or if the offender is present, but cannot bring him/herself to forgive until after the offender has passed, it it too late?

And why do I need to know the identity of the offender anyway? What does that add to the situation that will benefit me? I cannot think of anything. It will enable me to put a face on the offense, perhaps, but to suggest that I cannot forgive if I do not know the identity of the offender doesn’t seem to make sense. When someone backed into my car and left a big dent in the fender, then drove off without leaving any information, I am precluded from forgiving that person if I understand Cheaney’s argument. I am probably never going to know who did it, but why can I not forgive “whoever dented my car”? The offender will never receive my forgiveness–which is his or her loss–but I will have forgiven, and I will benefit as a result.

I was wronged in high school by someone who should have known better. He was an adult, he was in a leadership position, and he abused a trust and confidence that had been placed in him. He is well aware of what he did, but he never apologized or asked for my forgiveness. I doubt seriously he ever thinks of what he did now. I have not seen him in almost twenty years, and I do not expect our paths will ever again cross. If they do, I doubt he will ask my forgiveness. So I know the offense and I know my offender, but forgiveness has not been requested. According to Cheaney, then, I cannot forgive him.

She writes, “Setting aside revenge and looking to God for vindication are proper Christian responses (I Peter 2:23), but they aren’t the same as forgiveness, and it doesn’t help to confuse one for the other.” I agree that they are not the same, and I agree that I could surrender my claim to revenge without forgiving, but I do not see any biblical support for suggesting that is what I should do.

In her conclusion Cheaney writes that God “forgives on one basis only: the blood of His Son. Only then can He grant forgiveness, and only for those who ask.” I would suggest otherwise. I believe God has already granted the forgiveness. It was granted when Christ bled, died, and rose again. Hebrews 10:10 says, “…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The payment was made, and the forgiveness was given. Only those who ask will receive God’s forgiveness–and those who do not ask will be separated from God for eternity–but offering and receiving are two different things. And it is my position that God offered forgiveness long before we asked, and we are called to offer forgiveness regardless of whether it is asked for. When it is asked for and received the process is complete, but we can only do our part.

Headwork and Handwork

In the November 2012 issue of Tabletalk magazine David Murray has an article entitled “The Beauty of Manual Labor.” I appreciated the article’s reminder that “headwork and handwork” are both valuable and rely on God-given talents. Specifically, I appreciated Murray’s emphasis on the fact that Scripture provides ample evidence for the “beauty and dignity of manual labor.” As someone who is far more gifted in the “headwork” realm, I have a tremendous appreciation for those that are skilled at handwork; I am always impressed when I see how someone can turn what to me looks like a piece of wood, a chunk of metal, or a dilapidated house into a beautiful piece of furniture, a lovely sculpture or a showplace.

Last Saturday the school at which I serve held its annual auction. This is a huge day for several reasons. First of all, it takes weeks and weeks of preparation for something that will be over in one day. Second, it brings hundreds of people to the school. And third, it provides a significant portion of the school’s annual operating revenue.

As I enjoyed the day, though, and reflected on the thoughts in Murray’s article, I was struck by the essential blending of the headwork and handwork skills to make the day a success. There was a lot of headwork that went into organizing and planning and executing the event, entering the items to be sold, entering the sale price and winning bidder number, printing receipts and collecting payment. There was extensive headwork involved in writing the computer program that tracked all of that data. There was a nifty combination of headwork and handwork involved in networking the computers and other technological elements of the event. And there was beautiful handwork evident in many of the items that were sold during the auction, from tasty homemade pies or candies or breads to beautiful paintings to fantastic sculptures, ironwork, handmade furniture and more. It was a wonderful illustration of the importance of both kinds of work in order to produce a finished product.

Everyday we interact with the products of headwork and handwork. If you don’t believe me, stop and think about everything you interact with in a day–everything you are interacting with simply by sitting at a computer reading this blog–and think about each step involved in producing the furniture you are sitting on, the computer or smart phone you are using to read this, the clothes you are wearing, the building or vehicle you are sitting it, the food you have eaten and will eat today, and on and on I could go…. Without both headwork and handwork our world would be in trouble.

Most importantly, let us be reminded of the truth of Murray’s statement: “The aim of handwork and headwork alike is the glory of God.” In response to the rhetorical question of how God can be honored through factory work or kitchen labor, Murray says, “We do my mirroring God through diligence, integrity, honesty, and above all, by aiming at excellence in all that we do.”

In conclusion, Murray presents a valuable reminder for all of us, whether we spend most of our time involved in handwork or headwork: “Work is difficult, excellent work is even more difficult, and doing God-glorifying work is most difficult of all. But if we do our God-given work with God’s help and for God’s glory, we are worshipping Him in, through, and with our work. And that’s beautiful.”