Forgive Doesn’t Mean “Forget It”
Lutheran minister and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is famous for contrasting “cheap grace” with “costly grace.” In reference to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross he writes, “The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.”
Real grace demands an awareness of the harm we have inflicted on others as a result of our sin, and a willingness to come clean before God. Cheap grace is “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…” (Bonhoeffer).
As a multitude of sexual abuse victims shared their testimonies in the presence of Olympic physician Dr. Larry Nassar, their painful scars of betrayal and brokenness were exposed for all the world to see. Dr. Nassar will spend the rest of his life in prison and his victims will spend the rest of their lives in therapy.
While the abuse cases that led to Dr. Nassar’s conviction were horrible, the cases that never made it to the courtroom were just as horrible, as were the events that occurred years ago that were never addressed. You may be aware other investigations are now under way to determine “who knew what when”, since it appears many crimes could have been prevented if people in positions of authority had acted.
This raises an important issue that is often misunderstood in the church. The church is a place of grace where we teach forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. None of us want to be like the self-righteous teachers who were prepared to stone a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). We want to celebrate at the party of the prodigal instead of sulking outside with the elder son (Luke 15:11-32).
But forgiveness has never meant “forget it”. Sin mattes, and the people who are hurt by the evil intentions of others have a right to establish boundaries in their lives for their own protection. They also deserve leaders who stop predatory behavior in its tracks.
Does this mean it is permissible for Christians to refuse to forgive if they have been wounded deeply? No. We should always strive to forgive. However, we should also have the wisdom to recognize patterns of sin and not be so naïve to believe these patterns will be broken overnight. This is why the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to remove a man from their fellowship in response to his deviant behavior with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). The ultimate goal in this wasn’t to destroy the man, but rather to bring him to deep repentance so he could return with a spirit of brokenness and humility.
I believe two things leave the world perplexed: when Christians hide behind the word “grace” and allow people to continue to destroy others, and when we preach against sin in the “world” and tolerate it inside the church.
Realize, I believe the church should be known for grace. I want people in our world to know, no matter who they are or what they have done, they can find forgiveness in the Lord Jesus. However, the church is not intended to be a place where people have the freedom to do anything they want while we look the other way and let God work things out. According to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 5), the solution involves action on our part.
If you listen to the testimonies of the gymnasts whose world was destroyed by Dr. Nassar you will hear this cry for accountability.
Why didn’t somebody stop him?
Because forgiveness was mistaken for “forget it”. Because grace was cheap. Because it was easier to believe God would take care of things and the people He had put in places of authority were not responsible.
I have listened to some of the testimonies of Nassar’s victims and I have heard some incredible perspectives on faith, forgiveness and accountability.
They get it.
It is unfortunate others did not.