In those early years, when I came to know the Lord, he and his family were so against it that they actually advised him to divorce me. Joy spent many lonely years trying to trust God and love her husband well. Thankfully, she found the support and encouragement she needed. I think that God just really used Focus on the Family and your guys' ministry to grow me and prepare me and guide my heart to live out in front of my husband what it means to follow Christ. Thankfully, Joy's husband also became a follower of Jesus. I'm Jim Daly. Your generous support of Focus on the Family on Giving Tuesday will help us transform hurting marriages like Joy's. And right now, we have a matching opportunity, so anything you give will be doubled.
Please donate at FocusOnTheFamily.com slash Tuesday. If you think God's forgiven you but you can't forgive other people, I'm not sure you have asked for God's forgiveness. I'm not sure you repented because if you repent, you know you're a sinner. And if you can't forgive, then you can say, Oh, God's forgiven me.
I don't know that he has. That's Dr. Tim Keller with some serious food for thought on the issue of forgiving others, which is central to the Christian life. We'll unpack a lot more about forgiveness today on Focus on the Family.
And your host as Focus president and author, Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller. John, forgiving someone who has wronged us is probably one of the hardest things for us to do. It's certainly near the top of the list, if not at the top. But the reality is when we refuse to forgive, it causes resentment and bitterness to continue to fester. And it has a negative impact on us and spills into other areas of our lives. Dr. Tim Keller has done a thorough study of this topic and has written a great book that outlines the necessity of forgiveness. The problems we have with forgiving in our culture today are abundant and how to practice forgiveness as Christians. You will not want to miss this great discussion. And Dr. Keller is a prolific author and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. He also co-founded a ministry called Redeemer City to City. And the book that really forms the basis of this conversation is titled Forgive, Why Should I and How Can I? It's an incredible resource and you'll want to get that from us.
And we've got the link in the program notes. Now, this was a rare opportunity to sit with Dr. Keller near his home in New York City. And the conversation was outdoors. We're so grateful that he allowed us to visit with him as he continues to undergo cancer treatments. And you'll hear more about that in a moment.
You'll also hear sounds of the city on the river and in the sky during the interview. Here now, Jim Daly with Dr. Tim Keller. Well, Dr. Keller, welcome back to Focus on the Family. I'm glad to be back. It's good to have you here. Well, it's nice to be able to be here. I'm not sure a year ago I would have thought I could have kept an appointment like this. So I'm really delighted to be here.
Let's start there because so many people, when I mentioned I was going to come out here on Roosevelt Island in New York and have a time to chat with you. The first question is, how is he doing? So over two years ago, diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.
May of 2020. Right. So how are you doing? Well, I had two years of chemotherapy in which the chemotherapy kept the cancer at bay. And everyone said that all by itself.
That was remarkably good. That was already putting the top 5 percent of responders, I guess. So we were very grateful to God for that. Then when it started to break out, which it does, cancer starts to grow, I went into an immunotherapy trial. It sounds terrible when you say a trial, an experiment, but it's a National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, has worked on 2,000 patients, has been trying to find and working on a way of getting your immune system able to fight the cancer rather than using chemotherapy.
And they've done it many times. They have successes and failures, and I was very happy to get into it. And so far, it's working even though it's not, the jury's still out on whether it's a, you know, remission for pancreatic cancer is extraordinarily rare. And if I actually got remission through this trial, I was told you'd probably be an article in some medical journal. Nevertheless, if it beats it back for a longer time, it gives me more time with my wife, my children, my grandchildren. And so right now, it's working.
So I don't know how long, but here I am and able to do a lot of things. You know, Tim, let me start there. You've written this great book, Forgive.
Boy, our culture needs that message, and our Christian culture needs that message. But let me make it personal, if I may, for a moment, because at Focus, many people will write us. They've received a diagnosis. There seems to be two responses. One is, okay, Lord, what do you want me to do in this situation? The other is anger and a lack of understanding from that person about what they're going through, kind of bitter toward God.
How do you decide every morning when you wake up where your emotions are going to be with all that? It's more understandable, and I would be very patient with somebody, very patient with somebody, who is in their 40s or 50s, haven't seen their grandchildren or their children grow up. It's much more understandable for them to say, God, what in the world are you doing?
And this just doesn't seem fair. Now, I did, forgive me for saying this, I did write a book on this, on suffering, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, and I think you have to process that. You have, there's a lot of, you have to be, first of all, you need to be patient with yourself, and other people need to be patient with you, because honestly, from what I understand, theologically, God does not want this world to be this way, that he didn't create us to die to start with. And so all of the ways in which, in some ways, suffering is not God's will, but in other ways, it's part of his plan between now and when Jesus comes back. You know, it's interesting, that's kind of philosophical, and it works on somebody, you know, a college kid who's saying, why does God allow evil and suffering? It doesn't work very well on somebody who just found out I've got cancer and I might die in a year. And I've already got a little bit of survivor's guilt, I've outlived a 39-year-old woman with four children, who had pancreatic cancer, stage four with me, and she's gone.
And I think it's, you need to be very patient with yourself and with other people, there are answers. You do ultimately have to say, you're not really going to get much out of not trusting God. It's going to be hard to trust him and say, you know best. But it's going to be even harder not to.
And so that's the one approach. The other approach is, to be honest with you, Psalm 70, excuse me, Psalm 90 says, if we live three score in ten years or by strength four score, in other words, you get past 70, I think you're not supposed to complain. I feel like, and Kathy and I have talked a lot about that. We've talked about the fact that it's really important for us to, even though we don't feel old enough to die, the reality is God's given us 70 years, plenty of other people not. I think you need to say, hey, you know, you've got to go sometime. God knows when the right time is. Teach us to number our days that we get a heart for wisdom. It's wise to know your time is up. And in my case, what Kathy and I realized is that we're very grateful for knowing I might die anytime because it's enormously been helpful for sanctification and prayer.
Wow, I can imagine. But it's also been helpful on focus. So the day after my diagnosis, I sat down, was praying, and the two words that came to me, and I'm a Presbyterian, not a Pentecostal, but they still came to me. One was sanctification, that you're not holy enough. You know that, and I'm going to be working on you. And the second was focus, that you're not focused enough. There's things that you really ought to be doing. Instead, you're just doing whatever everybody else wants you to do to please them because you're an oldest child and you want to please everybody.
And you need to just say, no, I can't do that. I've got two or three things I need to work on. That concerns me because I see you as one of the most focused people I've ever met. So if you're not focused, I'm in real trouble.
Yeah, people say you must have great focus to pop out the books. Not just books, but really thoughtful writing. I mean, really thoughtful. Well, that's very kind of you.
It's actually true. All right, well, you know what? That's very kind of you to say, but not just the books. There's just quite a few other things that I should be doing.
And some younger leaders that I should be talking to. Yeah, that's good. You know Ray Bakke. You know Ray Bakke? Ray called me about two... He was in the hospice and he said, I'm going to die. I just was calling old friends. We had a wonderful call. He called about two months before he died.
And we just remembered... We were a little concerned about the fact that the generation of people who have been telling Christians care about cities are kind of dying off. But we talked a lot about various younger leaders that he was very hopeful for. And actually it helped me because I know I'm dying too at some point, but not as quickly. And some of the things he said in that conversation made me say, well, you know, I got a couple of years probably left of pretty decent health and I ought to be doing some of the... I should be talking to some of these folks. I should be encouraging them and maybe pushing them a little bit.
That's really good. There we are, sanctification focus. Let's move to forgive. And again, what a tremendous concept right from the heart of God.
Let me make a statement and have you respond to it. Somebody said to me the other day, one of the mistakes we are making in the church, it's always an alert when you hear somebody mention that, is that we tend to use carnal tools against a carnal world and expect a spiritual outcome. In other words, we're not engaging the fruit of the spirit, which forgiveness would be part of. So we try to fight the spiritual battle within our human capacity using carnal tools, fleshly tools, anger, whatever it might be, unforgiveness, and then we expect some kind of a spiritual outcome in that battle with somebody who doesn't know God. Speak to that concept of the fading of forgiveness, which you mention in the book, and how in this culture today with less God orientation, understanding of God, there is a fading of forgiveness. Yeah, let's stay there.
I hope you will stay here because it's actually, there's more than one thing to say about this. Let's just talk about the fact that we all know, including Christians, everybody's more combative, everybody's less forgiving, everybody's less congenial, everybody's less, and everybody is saying, maybe it's because of the emphasis on power and justice that even Christians have taken on, that power and justice is more important than love and forgiveness, that if you compromise, if you say nice things about those people who are really the villains and the trouble, that it's not pleasing to God and it's hurting our culture, but it's not just on the right. I live here, and there is a left progressivism that's every bit as bitter and unforgiving, and I would say I don't know what the percentages are, but both the left and the right, especially the more strong left and right, are very unforgiving in both their cases, very unforgiving, and they are very loud. In other words, they're the ones who are on Twitter, they're the ones who are in the media, but the trouble is that they are kind of, they disagree on everything except that one, and that is, you don't forgive. So that is a cultural move. It feels like, you know, from a spiritual construct, I've often felt it feels like something's been unsealed, to use biblical language. It's like this discontent. Something's been released. Something's been released that is causing a great deal of discontent, frustration, unforgiveness. I put it toward the idea that there's less of God in the culture.
I think so. There's less cohesion in the culture about biblical truth. We stopped teaching the Bible. I guess the point being, when you, as the founding fathers said, you know, this democracy, this republic is built for a moral people, and it won't work with any other, and then you start thinking about the fact that if we're not treating each other well with basic truth, it's going to fall apart potentially.
Yeah, so there's a lot of work to do. Let me ask you in the book, you talk about three distortions of forgiveness, non-conditional, transactional, and then no forgiveness. Let's go ahead and jump into those three and maybe give us a definition of those.
Well, the first one is more the therapeutic one, the no condition. In other words, what it says is the purpose of forgiveness is just to help you get past your anger. Now, this is partly true. I mean, there's no doubt that if Jesus says, I mean, the book of Hebrews says, be careful about a root of bitterness, lest it spring up and harm a people. Paul says, don't let the sun go down in your anger.
Don't give the devil that kind of foothold. So what they're both saying is that if you don't forgive, it hurts you. It opens you to other things. It can, we all know, by the way, bitterness can actually destroy your health. And it's also true that it can just destroy relationships. So it's fair to say, one, the reason you ought to forgive is not good for you. But the therapeutic approach basically says you've got to get free of your anger and has no concern at all for the ruined relationship. As a matter of fact, it kind of despises the person who wronged you. It's almost like saying, don't let him, you know, if it's a him, don't let him, you know, he's not worth it. I mean, I've read a lot of the more secular therapeutic books on why forgiveness is important.
But the books are all about how can you get free and happy, not about what's best for the person who wronged you, what's best for society, what's best for community. Should we be confronting him? Should we be reconciling with him?
No, it's all internal. So it's partly right, but it's actually, I don't think it's going to work. It's selfish, and it also rules out, it doesn't have any kind of vertical relationship with God either. It's just like, I'm just going to get past this because I'm strong. So that's the first kind of forgiveness. It's interesting because I think so much of this life, we're selfish creatures, I believe, and I think even in this regard, the fact that we would look through the lens of forgiveness, say, okay, where's the benefit for me, reinforces that selfishness.
What's in it for me. And not what is best for the other person, which is more of a godly forgiveness. Or God or community. Exactly, Jim, you just said, the Christian understanding of forgiveness is a concern for human community, both inside the church and outside. You can't really have marriage without forgiveness. You can't have, I think, friendship without forgiveness. You can't even have multi-ethnic relationships without forgiveness.
So the idea of it being individually just concerned about how I'm psychologically, that's wrong. The second kind of, I'd say, second mistake about forgiveness is the kind that actually focuses on this, that says it's highly conditional. Like, I don't have to forgive at all because this person comes and grovels before me.
Interestingly, Martha Nussbaum at University of Chicago, who's not a believer of any kind, she's very critical. She thinks that's the Christian idea of forgiveness. And she goes to Luke 17 where it says, if somebody repents, you have to forgive him. And if he repents 70 times seven, you have to forgive him 70 times seven. And she says, basically, forgiveness isn't what it looks like. It's really a way of punishing people, making them grovel under the image of being so gracious and forgiving. But actually, I'm not going to forgive you unless you come and you lick my boots. And so she sees it as very, very punitive and harsh. And actually, it may be. I mean, in other words, that's also a mistake.
It's not the full dimensions of biblical forgiveness. Novelist Carrie Fisher, you referenced this. I want to make sure people hear this.
It's fairly well known, but not everybody will have heard this, the idea of poison. Describe the comment that she made and you put in the book. Yeah, she basically says, and by the way, when I was looking this up, people have said that she ripped this off from other people.
And I have no idea. But all I know is basically the idea is that bitterness, staying bitter at somebody, is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. That's what I mean by saying the therapeutic aspect is true. I mean, I remember years ago with one girl, 15 years old, had a really very difficult father. She was so mad at him. And at one point I said, you realize if you don't forgive him, he wins.
She said, why? Because you're going to be controlled the rest of your life by him. In fact, you'll do things just because you know that would bother your father, or you won't do things just because you know he would have wanted that. And I said, he'll end up controlling you.
And that was my beginning, but then I had to go beyond that and say, the reason ultimately, and maybe we should get there here, the reason Christians forgive is because they're forgiven by God. And as soon as you bring that vertical thing in, it keeps you from being totally therapeutic or totally making the other person grovel. Think of that, what's feeding that in you, that you want that person to grovel. That doesn't sound healthy.
No. See, if you have the vertical, that forgiveness is something that I've experienced from God, undeserved but full, then it builds me up a little bit. It says, hey, God loves me. So people who are trying to hurt you, they don't hurt you as much, frankly, because they hurt my reputation, but God loves me. So you don't feel like they've robbed me of everything. But it also humbles you, and you look at a person who's sinned against you and say, well, I've sinned against God, and he's forgiven me.
So that vertical makes all the difference. Another example certainly cuts close to Colorado Springs because it involved the U.S. gymnastics team and the U.S. Olympic Center is there in Colorado Springs. So we heard about this news over and over again, but Dr. Nasser and his despicable behavior with those girls speak to the first female gymnast that actually stepped forward and how she saw forgiveness work in that real difficult situation. Yeah, Rachel Den Hollander.
Interestingly about Rachel, who I don't know personally, but you know, having gotten through the book, I make use of a lot of what she has written. She's actually, interestingly enough, she's very conservative theologically. So she and her husband wrote a paper on why the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, the idea that Jesus Christ on the cross received the wrath of God and thereby took all of our punishment so that we could be forgiven and we could receive his righteousness. She had a paper on that about that is actually a wonderful resource for doing justice and helping victims of abuse because what she said was, and I totally agree with her, is the cross was not more about justice than mercy or more about mercy than justice.
At the very same moment he died, he was totally satisfying justice and opening the door for infinite mercy for us to be forgiven. So she would say, and the way I tried to summarize this was, that you should never pit forgiveness and justice against each other. You should never say, well, I could either forgive or do justice. I think the right way to say is if you don't forgive first, you won't actually be pursuing justice, you'll be pursuing vengeance.
And that almost always goes astray. It doesn't usually get the justice, it usually just creates more retaliation and more bitterness on your part. There's absolutely no reason why you can't forgive completely from the heart and really have perfectly good will toward the perpetrator. And yet now I'm going out to try to get that person exposed and accountable to the law.
Why? For his sake, so he doesn't keep doing it. For other victims' sake, for God's sake. In other words, instead of for my sake, I'm going to make that sucker suffer the way he made me suffer.
No, that's gone. Well, and she was really bold too, even in talking with him. Yeah, she said, I hope you find forgiveness. Because it's more important for God to forgive you than for me to forgive you. Basically she said, I've forgiven you. I'm seeking justice, but not out of vengeance. But I hope that you will finally repent so that you find God's forgiveness. It's incredibly balanced and very unusual, I think.
I think her approach is unusual. It was overwhelmingly forgiving and in some ways kind toward him in terms of understanding his sin. Another one is where Jesus was talking about the unforgiving servant. And you mentioned that in the book too. And again, we can read it and then we don't apply it to our own lives.
But what's the unforgiving servant's heart? By the way, I didn't write this book with Kathy, but Kathy's always involved. That's an honest man. Yeah, I've written three or four books that we really did write together. What Kathy says is the other books that don't have her name on it just means that she puts her oar in, but then she says, this is your book, I don't have to do the copy editing.
You feel responsible. What she said is you've got to start with the parable of the unmerciful servant. In fact, she said she felt that over the years in our ministry that that was probably the key story. Tell that story for the listeners. Yeah, so she asked me to start with it and I did.
In fact, she insisted I start with it. First of all, it talks about a king who has a servant who owes the king 10,000 talents. It's a debt.
Every commentator says this is clearly Jesus' way of saying an infinite debt because it's crazy. A talent was like a year's wages at most. It's like 10,000 years of wages. Probably maybe not even the Roman emperor was worth 10,000 talents.
It's difficult to know historically, but basically it's a crazy, crazy, crazy amount. And he says, pay me. And the servant says, please forgive my debt, and the king does it.
Okay, great. So then the first servant goes on his way and he meets a second servant, a fellow servant, who owes the first servant just a little amount of money. And so the first servant says, pay me. The second servant says, oh, please forgive my debt. And the first servant says, no, into debtor's prison with you. And when the king hears about it, he brings the first servant in and he asks him a question, and this is the whole story and it's very powerful.
Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you? Ta-da, there it is. I think that's kaboom.
Yeah, it is kaboom. In fact, you know, the only part of the Lord's Prayer that ever gets repeated, you know, when Jesus gives the Lord's Prayer, it always repeats at the very end. And I want you to know that my Father's forgiveness of you and your forgiveness of others are linked.
I mean, he says it different ways, but Jesus is basically saying those two things are linked. If you think God's forgiven you but you can't forgive other people, I'm not sure you have asked for God's forgiveness. I'm not sure you've repented, because if you repent, you know you're a sinner. And if you can't forgive, then you can say, oh, God's forgiven me.
I don't know that he has. So that just goes right through you. Shouldn't you have mercy on your fellow servant as I have mercy on you?
And also the difference between this infinite debt that we owe God and the smaller debt. That's the heart of the whole thing. It is, and so Kathy said, just, you know, cut right to the chase.
Go right to it. Basically say that, and then the book unpacks it. The book Dr. Tim Keller is referring to there is called Forgive, Why Should I and How Can I.
And this conversation was recorded outdoors in New York City with Focus on the Family president, Jim Daly. Jim, that's just a portion of our time with Dr. Keller on the topic of forgiveness, and there is so much more to come. Yeah, John, and in part two, we'll talk about how you can know you've truly forgiven someone, and we'll look at the biblical model of forgiveness and give practical tips on how to confront someone lovingly.
That's the art, right? I so appreciate Dr. Keller's wisdom and insights on one of the most important concepts we need to grasp as Christians. Our counselors hear from many listeners who are struggling in relationships, and so often the need for forgiveness is at the heart of the matter.
So don't miss our conversation next time as we continue to unpack this vital topic. And in the meantime, to follow up on what you've heard today, please ask for Dr. Keller's tremendous book, Forgive, Why Should I and How Can I, when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Focus on the Family. Call today, 800, the letter A in the word family, 800-232-6459, or donate and request your copy of that book.
We've got the link in the show notes. And John, we mentioned our counseling team here at Focus. That's just one of the areas where we are ministering to people who are stressed and who have needs that we can help with. When you give to Focus on the Family, God will use your support to strengthen so many people who are looking to us for answers. So please give families hope with a gift today, and again, we'll send you Dr. Keller's book as our way of saying thank you. And once more, our number 800, the letter A in the word family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we continue the conversation with Dr. Tim Keller and once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. Faith building activities, parental controls, and a safe online community, the Adventures in Odyssey Club could be your best adventure yet. Learn more and start your free trial at adventuresinodyssey.com slash radio.
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