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"Forgiveness: It Just Ain't Fair!!"

by Philip Yancey
Jun 27, 2004

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The Jesus I Never Knew
by Philip Yancey
$14.99 Book
The Ancient Language of Eden
by Don Milam
$12.99 Book



It Just Ain't Fair!!"

by Philip Yancey


Once my wife and I were having a rather animated discussion, and she turned to me and said, "You know, I think it is pretty impressive that I forgave you for some of the dastardly things you have done."

I know what you probably want me to talk about. You probably want me to tell you about those dastardly things that I've done, but I am not going to do that tonight. We are not talking about sins; we are talking about forgiveness.


Forgiveness is Hard

As I thought about my wife's comment, I realized that she had come up in the middle of a heated exchange with a rather profound theological insight. Sometimes when you say a word like forgiveness, we think it is nice and sweet, like spraying perfume, but forgiveness isn't like that. It's hard; it's tough. It is one of the hardest things we ever have to do. As I thought about it, I realized that even when you forgive someone it is easy to still hurt, to still feel the sting. In a real sense, forgiveness just ain't fair.

Sigmund Freud said, "One must forgive one's enemies, but not before they have been hanged." That's natural. That's fair. That's how many of us feel. It is kind of a law of nature. It is what works on the National Football League playing field. It is what works in nature. You don't have cats turning around and saying to dogs who are chasing them up a tree, "I forgive you." You don't have dolphins saying to the shark, "We forgive you for eating our playmates." It is a dog-eat-dog world out there, not a dog-forgive-dog world.

If that is the world of nature, and if that is kind of instinctive to us, why is it that our faith and our Bible and God ask us to make forgiveness at the core of what we believe? I've thought about this.

Many of us pray every day, as I did this morning in church, the Lord's Prayer..."Forgive us as we forgive others." It's at the core of our religion, and yet it is not fair. It hurts. It is not easy to do. Why would God want us to do something that is so unlike what our instinct is, that is so unfair? I came up with three reasons that I want to share with you today.

Forgiveness Breaks the Cycles

The first reason is that forgiveness is the only way to break the cycle. You are right. It is not fair. If you want a fair religion, I would suggest that you become a Hindu, because the Hindus have a very clear way of taking care of everything. It is called incarnation. If you have done many things wrong, the Hindu scholars tell us, it may take as many as 6,800,000 incarnations for those things to all work themselves out. You have to realize the punishment in this life is for something you did in a former life.

I have noticed that sometimes marriage is a little bit like Hinduism in that respect. A husband says to a wife, "Why didn't you remind me that it was my mother's birthday?"

The wife says, "Wait a minute. It is your mother. Why am I supposed to remind you?"

The husband says, "Yes, but you are in charge of the calendar."

They go back and forth, back and forth, tit for tat about 6,800,000 times until finally somebody says, "Stop. This can't go on. We have got to break the cycle. I am sorry. Forgive me. I know it's not fair. I know I may be wrong. Forgive me. I'm sorry."

If we don't do that, you get a situation like we are seeing right now on a national scale in Yugoslavia. If you read the words that are coming out of Yugoslavia, one group says, "We don't like the way you treated us in World War II."

That group says, "We don't like the way you treated us in the eighteenth century."

The other group says, "We don't like the way you treated us in the fourteenth century."

It goes on and on and on and on until somebody says, "Stop. I am going to break the cycle." Forgiveness is the way to break that cycle.


Forgiveness in Russia

I saw a tremendous example of forgiveness in operation a little over a year ago when I went to Russia, which was at that time still the Soviet Union. I was privileged to be with a group of Christians, and we went and visited the headquarters of the KGB. The interpreter for that group was a Christian evangelist. He is Russian by birth, but his family had to leave when he was seven years old. They were chased out of the country. His uncle was killed. He had relatives who were put in a concentration camp.

Here was an older man who had his radio programs blocked for years, jammed by KGB jamming devices, who had his visas turned down for years. He couldn't visit Russia. Now he was translating for the number two man in the KGB, who was a ramrod-straight army colonel.

The KGB colonel went ahead and said, "Before there can be perestroika in our country, there has to be a stage of repentance. We have done many things wrong, and we must repent for them."

The interpreter, Alex Leonovich, who is a huge bear of a man, turned to him, broke his interpretation and said, "Colonel, Jesus told us how to respond when someone repents. In the name of Christ, in the name of my family, in the name of my uncle, I forgive you for what your organization did to me."

Then we saw the amazing scene of this big bear of a man, a Russian evangelist, reaching over to a ramrod-straight KGB colonel and embracing him in a huge, Russian bear hug. We could see whispers going on. We didn't know what they said until later when Alex told us. The KGB colonel said, "Alex, only two times in my life have I cried. Once was when my mother died and once was tonight."

That was the power of forgiveness - a way to break the chain that can go on and on and on. It's not fair, but it breaks that chain.

Forgiveness Breaks Strangleholds

There is a second reason why I believe God asks us to forgive, and that is it breaks the stranglehold in you and in me, not just the stranglehold on the relationship, but the stranglehold in us.

I have seen that acted out on stage, as many people have, in the most popular musical in recent times. It is a musical based on a novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserable. In that musical, there is a wonderful story of a convict who was a hardened, mean man and had been in jail for ten years, doing hard labor in chains.

He was finally set free, but he had a convict card. He couldn't get a job; he couldn't even stay in a hotel room. He went to a bishop's house. The bishop let him stay over night. In the middle of the night when everyone went to sleep, the convict got up, stole a silver candlestick, and crept out of the bishop's house and took off through the woods.

He was caught. He was caught by the French policemen. They came in the middle of the night, woke up the bishop and said, "We've got him, this lying, conniving thief. We've got him. This time we are going to put him away for life."

The bishop turned to this man cowering in chains and said, "That's no thief. That's my guest, Jean Valjean, but I gave him two candlesticks, not one. He forgot one." He reached in a drawer and gave him another silver candlestick. The police had to let him go. That experience of forgiveness for something he had done wrong, that unfair act of forgiveness, seeped down inside of Jean Valjean. He kept those candlesticks for the rest of his life as mementos of what the bishop had done.


Admitting Responsibility

I saw another scene of forgiveness acted out on the international stage when East Germany first started coming back together with West Germany. There was a period of time before they joined when they were not a Communist state, but they elected their parliament. Do you know what their first act as parliament was? I'll read it to you. The very first act that East Germany passed was this:

"We, the first freely elected parliamentarians of the German Democratic Republic, on behalf of the citizens of this land, admit responsibility for the humiliation, expulsion and murder of Jewish men, women, and children. We feel sorrow and shame and acknowledge this burden of German history. We ask all the Jews of the world to forgive us."

That was their first act as a nation. For fifty years their leaders had been telling them, "You didn't do that. Those were your West German brothers. We weren't Nazis." We didn't do this evil, but down deep the guilt was still there. It was still a stranglehold on them. When they finally became a country freely elected, the first thing they wanted to do was to break that stranglehold - turn it back over.

We Must Forgive Because He Forgave

There is a third reason that I think God asks us to forgive, and that is because God first forgave us. It is one thing to get into a tit-for-tat war with a wife, husband, a nation. It is another thing to get into one with God because we are going to lose every time. Not one of us deserves forgiveness from God.

When Jesus came to earth, He came and left a wonderful example of forgiveness. What I learned from that example was that forgiveness probably wasn't very easy for God. It was hard for Him. When Jesus was in the garden, he prayed "Lord, if there is any other way..." There was no other way but the hard way.

At the cross some of His last words were, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they do." The Roman soldiers, the mobs yelling, people all down through the chain of history including you and me, "Forgive them for they don't know what they do." I think in some ways the cross is God's way of saying, "It is pretty impressive that I forgive you for some of the dastardly things that you have done."


Giving the Burden to God

I was reading the book of Romans not long along ago, and I will leave you with this verse from Romans 12:19. Paul is giving a number of commands and instructions on living, and at the end he says, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's anger, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says God. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. It is the belief that God can take care of the fairness problems. It is not fair just to pretend that something didn't happen. It did happen. It still hurts. It still stings. Forgiveness is not fair, but forgiveness is a way of taking that burden from us and giving it to God Who is fair. "I will avenge," says the Lord. You forgive. It breaks the cycle of relationships. It breaks the stranglehold on you and on me and it is what God did for us in His Son Jesus on the cross.


by Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey is a free-lance writer whose articles have appeared in 80 different publications, including Reader's Digest, National Wildlife, Saturday Evening Post, and The Christian Century. He writes a monthly column for Christianity Today magazine, where he serves as Editor at Large. Five of Philip's eleven books have won the Gold Medallion Award, including Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and Disappointment with God.



The first Yancey book to reach my hands, back in the late 70's, was entitled, Where is God When It Hurts. It was a source of comfort at a time when I had huge questions about God's goodness. Since those days, I have had to read each new book he has put out to see where he has gotten to on the Highway Home. To read a Yancey book is to 'up close and personal' observe the man's spiritual journey. His open, candid, and personally vulnerable style of writing captured my attention from that very first book. One can appreciate the shifts that have taken place in Yancey's life because they parallel our own. He has never been afraid to face the difficult questions of our faith, while at the same time openly sharing his own struggles and personal trials as a fellow sojourner. This has made Phillip Yancey one of my all-time literary heroes and feels like a long-time friend. - Don Milam, author of The Ancient Language of Eden -


"The Ancient Language of Eden"
Rediscovering the Original Language of Jesus - Love, Grace & Mercy
by Don Milam
$12.99 Book
There is a forgotten Language...waiting to be discovered.

The Ancient Language of Eden takes you on a unique journey back in time to the beginning of all things. You will fly on the wings of grace into the arms of Jesus where you will rediscover your native tongue - the language of grace, mercy, and love. You will also weep as you learn how the code of religion with its clichés, cliques, and corporate structures destroyed the old language. In the end, you will emerge into Eden's bright light, speaking again the sweet words of that ancient language.

In that ancient garden, at the edge of time, you will discover the forgotten language. There in that garden palace you will also experience the passion and power of the early days of life in Eden before the primitive language was corrupted and eventually lost.

Feel free to order online OR by phone (1-8.6.6-881-0477)

"Easily understood, yet profoundly deep, The Ancient Language of Eden is one of the clearest portrayals of God's love relationship with man - the crown of His creation - that I have ever read. If you are in search of food that will satisfy your soul, like that of an evening enjoying a delightful seven course meal with your most intimate friend, then you will devour this feast. Written from a pen of a transparent life, Don Milam breaks the bread of the master and of his own life that will compel you to come running into the arms of our Father's Embrace." - Jim W. Goll, Cofounder of Ministry to the Nations, Author, The Lost Art of Intercession and Wasted on Jesus
"This book weaves together a tapestry of 'scandalous love!' Grace will once again become no less than amazing as you rediscover 'the ancient language of Eden.' Get ready to encounter the God of Love and meet Him between the lines. Get ready to be ruined by His heart!" - Jill Austin
Founder of Master Potter Ministries, Author, Master Potter and Master Potter and the Mountain of Fire


"This is a handbook about spiritual rebirth and revival. Not the theory, but the way into it. From the first page, The Ancient Language of Eden drips with the Presence that salts the soul's thirst for Him and breathlessly waits for the encounter! As you read, the encounter begins. It is filled with bursts of revelation that will astound and overwhelm you, seeding your soul with glimpses of glory that linger for months. Inspired and intelligent, The Ancient Language of Eden is a compass for seekers of every age and tongue. Beautifully done from a heart of experience with a Living God that transcends religion and touches His glory, The Ancient Language of Eden evokes a deep-unto-deep opening to God. Don Milam lets us realize we are the ink that wets the pen of the Greatest Story Teller, and He is inscribing each of us on the pages of His autobiography. In the same spirit of the mystics, the influence of The Ancient Language of Eden is a timely masterpiece set to become a benchmark classic in Christian reflection and disciplines of the spirit that will extend well beyond our day." - Mahesh and Bonnie Chavda, All Nations Church

Feel free to order online OR by phone (1-8.6.6-881-0477)


"The Jesus I Never Knew"
by Philip Yancey
$14.99 Book

The Jesus I Never Knew
"There is no writer that I admire and appreciate more."
- Billy Graham

"There's a GREAT Misunderstanding of the Prophetic Ministry..." -- Steve Shultz

Regarding the book, THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW:

There is a great misunderstanding of the Prophetic Ministry by even those who are prophetic. The Prophetic is about greater and greater revelation of Jesus, if it's anything at all!

Here's how the Apostle Paul talks about the Prophetic...

Eph 1:17-18
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know HIM better.

This book we are introducing to the ELIJAH LIST is perhaps the most prophetic book I've ever read...because it gives some of the greatest revelation of and about Jesus that I personally have ever seen. I am amazed, intrigued, and uplifted by who this God/Man Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God was -- and is!

This book is no "reaction" to THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST movie. It came out before the movie came out. Yet I would say without question that this book, THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW, and the movie, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, have been the two most influential works (other than the Bible itself) that have come into my life -- EVER, to show me a deeper and more profound revelation (which is prophetic) of Who Jesus is to me -- and to mankind.

I PRAY you will get this book, THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW, by Philip Yancey.

It literally changed my picture of who Jesus was. It will change yours too!

Steve Shultz, Publisher
Now 115,000 subscribers!

Feel free to order online OR by phone (1-8.6.6-881-0477)

"When we look hard into God's Word, we always learn something new about Jesus. Thanks, Philip, for pointing the way." - Joni Eareckson Tada, President, Joni and Friends
"This is the best book about Jesus I have ever read, probably the best book about Jesus in the whole century. Yancey gently took away my blinders and blazed the trail through my own doubting fears, pious know-it-all, and critical balderdash until I saw the Savior anew and thought I heard Him ask me, 'Now who do you say that I am?' and I understood the question as I never had before." - Lewis B. Smedes, Senior Professor, Fuller Theological Seminary, Author of Forgive and Forget
"In the more than twenty years I've known Philip Yancey, he has shown a deep and persistent hunger for the truth in Jesus. I would rather read his words on Jesus than almost any other contemporary's, for I know that he speaks from deep learning and deep passion." - Tim Stafford
"Philip Yancey takes the reader with him on his very personal journey to Jesus. In The Jesus I Never Knew, I became convinced that the Jesus I met - in some ways for the first time - has known me all along. This book is destined to become a favorite to recommend to those still seeking Jesus and to pass along to those who've met him, but long to know him more." - Elisa Morgan, President, MOPS International

What happens when a respected Christian journalist decides to put his preconceptions aside and take a long look at the Jesus described in the Gospels? How does the Jesus of the New Testament compare to the "new, rediscovered" Jesus - or even the Jesus we think we know so well? Best-selling author Philip Yancey says, "The Jesus I got to know in writing this book is very different from the Jesus I learned about in Sunday school. In some ways He is more comforting; in some ways more terrifying."

Yancey offers a new and different perspective on the life of Christ and his work - His teachings, His miracles, His death and resurrection - and ultimately, who He was and why he came. Relating the gospel events to the world we live in today, The Jesus I Never Knew gives a moving and refreshing portrait of the central figure of history. With a willingness to tackle difficult questions, Yancey looks at the radical words of this itinerant Jewish carpenter and asks whether we are taking Him seriously enough in our own day and age.

From the manger in Bethlehem to the cross in Jerusalem, Yancey presents a complex character who generates questions as well as answers; a disturbing and exhilarating Jesus who wants to radically transform your life and stretch your faith.

The Jesus I Never Knew uncovers a Jesus who is brilliant, creative, challenging, fearless, compassionate, unpredictable, and ultimately satisfying. This honest book will help you discover a different Jesus from the flannelgraph Sunday school figure, the sweetly smiling Victorian Savior, and all the cultural clichés that have tamed Jesus and kept Him in comfortable religious boxes.

According to Yancey, "No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same. In the end, I found the process of writing this book to be a great act of faith-strengthening. Jesus has rocked my own preconceptions and has made me ask hard questions about why those of us who bear His name don't do a better job of following him."

Feel free to order online OR by phone (1-8.6.6-881-0477)


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