Is it Allowable to Forgive God?
By Mark Sandford
Is it really allowable to "forgive" God? After all, God has done nothing that needs forgiving! We agree that God has done nothing wrong If that's what is implied by "forgiving God," we must never speak of it! However, that is not what we mean. What we do mean is not directly addressed in Scripture, either pro or con. When scripture does not speak directly, the question is whether a course of action is true to the broader principles of scripture, and expresses the nature of Christ.
Before I address that, consider the following story. Imagine you are a Jewish five-year-old; you and your father are trapped behind German lines during World War 2. You would rather stay where you are, where it feels safe. But your father knows that the Germans are coming after you, and he must smuggle you out. In the process, he must frighten you by sneaking you past tanks that nearly run you over and soldiers who will shoot at you if they see you.
In your head you know that your father is not to blame. But a traumatized five-year-old can't let go of conflicted feelings without help, and your father knows this. When he says, "For your own safety, I had to put you through all this," he understands that in your head you want to accept what he says, and that you don't want to blame him. But he also knows that in your heart you can't let go of the pent up hurt and anger you feel. Therefore, he doesn't insist that you shove your feelings aside and just affirm the logical truth with your head. Instead, he listens to you pour out your hurt, then asks, "Will you forgive me?" Even though both you and your father know he's not to blame, your answer is "Yes." And this removes the emotional barrier between the two of you.
This father's actions are in accord with the nature of Christ. He has not encouraged his child to believe he has committed any sin that requires forgiveness. By asking his child to "forgive" him, he merely invites him to let go of bitterness, however unmerited that bitterness might be.
Here's an example closer to home. Your child accidentally smashes a friend's toe, do you not require him to apologize? By doing so, are you requiring him to admit he is to blame? Of course not! You are requiring him to give his friend an opportunity for healing and restoration. At the same time, you explain to his friend that your child did not do this on purpose. Therefore, when he replies, "I forgive you," he is not pardoning a sin your child has not committed. He is simply taking a step toward reconciliation. Would God not exercise similar grace? Surely the standard to which you hold your child is not higher than that to which God holds Himself!
In our work, we have encountered many persons whose journey with God has been far worse than the story of the little Jewish boy. In the midst of Father God's effort to smuggle his children past "enemy lines" and into his character and kingdom, some have had to face painful memories of being beaten or even raped by their own earthly fathers, called names, and degraded in every imaginable way. It is one thing for one's head to believe that God is not to blame for letting this happen. It's another thing to make the heart follow.
For those who do not feel the need to say, "I forgive you, God," I would not suggest it. But there are persons who have been so traumatized and whose wounds are so deep that logical comprehension of God's innocence is not sufficient to heal the heart. If they do not already know in their heads that God is not to blame, we should make sure they know! Then, and only then, should we indulge their need to utter the words, "I forgive you, God."
Thus, they will be drawn closer to a heavenly father who reads what their heart really means, not just the dictionary definition of their words. For such persons, "I forgive you" means: "My head knows that God is not to blame. But my heart cannot feel that reality. So I use words that, though untrue in the literal sense, enable my heart to agree with the truth my head already knows — that God is and always has been innocent of all wrongdoing toward me." One who reads the heart's true meaning understands that such a one is trying his best to resist the temptation to deny this scriptural truth. For him, "forgiving" God is, paradoxically, a way to convince his own heart to accept this truth!
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. . . . We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:18a, 20b, emphasis added).
© Mark Sandford 2018