WHY IS IT SO HARD TO FORGIVE?
 

I think we find it hard to forgive due to how the pain of being mistreated does not seem to fade over time. We see the person who wronged us or we hear their name or we walk by where they live and we are reminded of what happened with painful vividness.

In fact, time proves itself a terrible healer because of how memory works.

We commonly believe our memories are stored fully formed in a mental filing cabinet or on a mental dvd shelf. However, each time we remember, we actually reform or recreate the memory from scratch using information stored like ingredients across all regions of our brain.

This reconstructive process means our memories are not simply a "playback" of a past event but a fresh emotional experiencing of an event we already know ends badly for us.

No wonder we struggle to forgive when we are held captive by the haunting of our own memory. Each remembering making it harder by fuelling the bitterness we feel and strengthening our desire for compensation or revenge.

The question of memory runs like a constant challenge throughout Lament Forgive, for we cannot hope to be free of past pain without the healing of our memories.

 
ForgivenessSteve Hall
GOD IS LIKE JESUS
 

The New Testament teaches that God is exactly like Jesus.* Yet we can struggle to believe this whenever we open the Old Testament and read about a violent God who is quite unlike his Son.

This dichotomy leaves us with a choice: Do we accept the Old Testament at face-value and develop doctrine where God uses violence to save and punish, or do we conclude a violent God is not an accurate revelation of Jesus' Father and learn how to read Scripture nonviolently?

To choose the second approach is not to disrespect the Old Testament but to acknowledge that our traditional, literalistic reading of Scripture does not provide us with a good enough interpretative framework.

Jesus said in John 14:9 he can "only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also." To me, this means Jesus chose a path of nonviolence that led to his death because he never saw his Father resort to violence.

Jesus—the exact image of the invisible God—is nonviolent because his Father is nonviolent too.

God is like Jesus is therefore my second starting point to developing a nonviolent interpretation of Scripture.

Endnote:

*For example, John 5:19; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3.


 
NonviolenceSteve Hall
GOD IS LOVE
 

God is love. Can we then legitimately swap God for love in that famous passage from Corinthians 13?

God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. He does not dishonour others, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.

When we reflect upon violence, however, we find no love.

Violence is impatient, violence is unkind. It glories in envy, it boasts in fear, it is full of pride. It shames others, it is self-seeking, it is easily angered, it keeps a record of wrongs. Violence delights in evil and rejoices in lies. It always harms, always coerces, always diminishes, always repeats. Violence always fails.

Why then do we still allow Christian doctrine to communicate that God uses violence to save us or to punish sin?

We allow it mainly because of how we read the Old Testament.

God is love is therefore my starting point for rejecting a literalistic reading of Scripture and moving towards a nonviolent interpretation.

 
NonviolenceSteve Hall
THE UNSPOKEN REASON WHY MILLENNIALS ARE LEAVING THE CHURCH
 

I am always curious to read articles telling us why Millennials are leaving the church. I want to see if the authors will go beyond looking at how the church operates and name violent theology as a reason why Millennials are abandoning institutional Christianity. It is rare to find someone so bold.

Millennials are being put off church by leaders teaching how God repeatedly acts violently to achieve his plans. A God who is love, yet who:

  • murders all of mankind in a flood, except for one family.

  • orders ethnic cleansing.

  • commands the killing of women and children.

  • destroys cities and people as his just response to sin.

  • cannot forgive until sin is punished.

  • kills his son Jesus to satisfy his own wrath.

  • sees LGBTQ+ people as an abomination.

  • treats women as subservient to men.

  • sends the majority of humankind to hell.

Such violent theology causes people to leave church even as they want to follow Jesus. This is because Jesus is nonviolent unto death, loves his enemies, forgives freely, embraces the outcast, is radically inclusive, and who came to heal not judge.

The main challenge raised by declining church attendance is our need to learn how to interpret the Bible nonviolently.

 
NonviolenceSteve Hall
IS THE LION OF JUDAH WORTHY OF OUR PRAISE?—PART 2
 

Lion and the Lamb is currently one of the most sung praise songs on both sides of the Atlantic. For half the chorus, God is praised as "the Lion of Judah" and the other half as "the Lamb that was slain."

The song is based upon Revelation 5:5, where John is told, "See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah... has triumphed."

When a Lion and Judah are mentioned together, John would have automatically thought about how lions in Scripture—when linked with tribes or nations or empires or people or divinity (as we saw in Part 1)—are a destructive force.

John turns to look at this Lion and what does he see?

He sees a Lamb.

He doesn't see a god who tears others to pieces in order to triumph—like human empires would—he instead sees a God who allows himself to be torn to pieces to win.

There is no lion, for the Lion of Judah and the Lamb are opposites. Bowing down to one precludes you from bowing down to the other.

In Revelation, only the lamb who was slain is worthy of worship. Do you think our praise should be like that too?

 
NonviolenceSteve Hall
IS THE LION OF JUDAH WORTHY OF OUR PRAISE?—PART 1
 

Lion and the Lamb is the 10th most sung praise song in the US and 11th in the UK according to CCLI. For half the chorus, God is praised as "the Lion of Judah" and the other half as "the Lamb that was slain."

But is this good theology?

Lions appear 118 times in the Bible. Ignoring actual lions, looks-like-a-lion comments, peaceful lion visions, and miscellaneous mentions, we are left with 55 references where someone acts like a lion: empires (14), kings, religious rulers, or other leaders (12), God (12), the wicked (9), and the tribes of Israel (7). And once, Peter even tells us "the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for prey."

In nearly all of these 55 references, the context contains devouring, hunting, or tearing apart. For example, in Hosea 5:14, God says he will be "like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away."

Bible authors predominantly use lions not to show strength like we might imagine but to portray sheer destructive presence.

Is praising God as the Lion of Judah, therefore, praising a militaristic god of destruction?

What do you think?

Read Part 2.

 
NonviolenceSteve Hall
BIRTHING BOOKS
 

When I began writing Lament Forgive, I designed a mock paperback cover for it.

On the front, I put my name in capital letters at the top, an isolated image of a bird underneath, and the title and sub-title at the bottom. The background was a plain light grey. At the time, lamenting wasn't on my horizon, so the title I used was Memories of Broken Wings: Choosing the Way of Forgiveness.

On the back, I wrote some blurb detailing what I wanted the book to be about, and slapped on a mock barcode, my publishing logo and website, and even the FSC logo.

At the same time, I designed three other covers for an idea I'd had for a series of short books on prayer.

I printed them out and folded them into the shape of paperback books. I then placed all four empty covers on a book shelf next to real, published books as a daily reminder of my dream. This was what I was working towards.

Occasionally, I would pick these "books" off the shelf and imagine flicking through their pages, praying them into being.

Tonight, I designed and printed a new cover for my shelf.

 
WritingSteve Hall
DOES FORGIVING THE SAME HURT GET ANY EASIER?
 

I imagine the disloyalty, betrayal, or abuse we suffer as string that wraps around our heart and becomes tied in place each time a person's sin wounds us. My assumption is, if you're asking this question then there's a vast ball of string with many knots around your heart.

Does forgiving this hurt get any easier? 

No. But eventually, yes.

Our forgiveness begins with the outer knots of this vast ball. In my experience, our focus here is typically upon the physical, black and white details of how we were hurt. This is why forgiveness fails to immediately get easier—and why it sometimes gets harder. To untangle the hidden, inner knots, we have to move beyond the specifics to recognise and forgive the long-term impact of another's sin.

The wasted years. The identity damage. The broken dreams. The invasive memories. The fact we're still dealing with it years later.

Many of the consequences to our lives and identity we will not be fully aware of until they are pointed out to us. The more we forgive the person for these, the greater the freedom we win to be our true-selves. And forgiveness gradually becomes easier.

 
ForgivenessSteve Hall
I'M FINDING IT HARD TO FORGIVE—ANY ADVICE?
 

I'm going to tell you something I bet no-one has ever said to you before: It's good you're finding it hard to forgive. 

Forgiveness is hard because you're dealing with a real hurt. If you're finding it easy, then either what you're forgiving is trivial or you're living in denial. Finding it hard means you have a greater awareness of the painful consequences of another's disloyalty, betrayal, or abuse.

My advice is to find a trusted person or persons to share your story with. Talk about what happened, shed tears, express your anger, and complain about the injustice you experienced. This is lamenting. Too often we try to jump straight to forgiveness when what we require first is a witness to our hurt. 

You're never likely to feel "ready" to forgive, so you've just got to start at some point. I recommend thinking about lamenting and forgiving as a cycle. Choose a lamented part of your story—this can be a small thing, not just a big thing—and forgive the person for it. 

Then repeat.

Lament, forgive, lament, forgive. You get the idea.

 
HOW DID LAMENTING BECOME A FOCUS OF FORGIVING?
 

I didn't set out to write a book about lamenting. I mentioned the lament in a small section of one chapter in my first draft and by the time the last draft was completed it had taken over half the book!

I'm still surprised.

I was simply looking for a way to express forgiveness as a journey. My own introduction to forgiving others had happened in a living room surrounded by close friends. Only after I had told my story and wept, did anyone suggest I forgave anyone.

You see, jumping straight to forgiveness rarely works, for how can we forgive fully if we do not connect first with the depth of how we've been hurt?

Every change—unexpected or expected, positive or negative—contains loss and requires an acknowledgment of sorrow and an acceptance of new circumstances. This is grief. But to me, at least, we need something beyond grief in our response to disloyalty, betrayal, or abuse.

Enter the lament. It transforms our grief into a protest against the undeserved, unfair, and unjust nature of how another has mistreated us. The addition of complaint to our mourning and story-telling sets us up well to begin forgiving.

 
ForgivenessSteve Hall