Everybody around us this summer, I say everybody, but our eyes were open to it in the last year that there's a lot of folks in their 30s that are our age that we're seeing their marriages fall apart.
And it scared us. After 11 years, Brett's marriage had grown stale. He wanted something better for he and his wife. That's when they found our podcast online and began listening almost every day. Focus on the families helped our marriage from the standpoint of opening our hearts to see things from the other's perspective and to make sure that God is centered in our marriage.
I'm Jim Daly. Thanks to the generosity of friends like you, Brett's marriage is getting better. Working together, we can give families hope.
Will you join our marriage building team? Call 800 the letter A and the word family or donate at focusonthefamily.com slash hope and your gift will be doubled. In his book about forgiveness, Dr. Tim Keller writes, We have a profound need to grant and receive forgiveness. Forgiveness gets down to the bottom of things, to the alienation we feel from God and from ourselves because of our wrongdoing. The deepest need of our nature is for Jesus and the doorway is to know forgiveness.
Dr. Keller is back with us today on Focus on the Family as we continue a conversation on this topic and your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly. John, we had a really good visit with Tim Keller about this critical matter of forgiveness. We all need to know how to forgive others because as Christians, we've been forgiven so much. But that doesn't mean it's easy to let go of bad feelings we may have for someone else. It's in our sinful nature to harbor resentment or to want to retaliate.
I mean, we see it in the news every day. Today, Dr. Keller will bring more powerful stories and very practical help for us in forgiving others. So stay with us. Dr. Tim Keller is an author and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. He now works with Redeemer City to City, an organization he co-founded. The new book he's written is called Forgive, Why Should I and How Can I? I hope you'll contact us for your copy.
We've got the link in the show notes. We spoke with Dr. Keller outdoors near his home in New York and we'll pick up the conversation with a couple of great examples of forgiveness. And here now is Jim Daly with Dr. Tim Keller on Focus on the Family. You had another really impactful story right here in New York. We're hearing some of the ambient sounds, sirens and what, you know, this is an active city, isn't it, John?
Very active. But you had a story of a New York gang member, young man who demonstrated incredible forgiveness and describe that story. And where where does what I would decide or believe would be his unbelieving heart.
But he can demonstrate some powerful, godly truths, even if he doesn't have a faith in Christ. Well, you know, there's actually two stories. One of them was a policeman who was trying to break something up and was injured by a kid, you know, an inner city youth. And he was paralyzed the rest of his life. And it's interesting, he tried to talk to the kid in prison, he tried to write him in prison and the guy wouldn't talk to him. And then, weirdly enough, he got out and then died in a motorcycle accident. And then there was another one where the boy, he wasn't hurt by that. He wasn't the police.
He was hurt by other gang members. And he was also paralyzed and he he also forgave. And in both cases, the boy forgave the people who had had basically paralyzed him. The policeman had forgiven the youth who had harmed him. In fact, the policeman, by the way, I know I'm kind of directing your question to something else.
Interesting, the policeman looking back said, I now actually realize that it did look pretty racist for me just to show up at these poor kids' places of where they were playing and where they were living. He wasn't just convicted that he needed to become a Christian and forgive, but even that he actually had been a person who was sort of guilty of injustice. So it's all those, it's never just I've forgiven, but usually there's a humbling that happens and a new way of understanding themselves. So forgiveness is really transformational. It doesn't just reconcile you to other people.
It actually gives you a completely different approach to yourself. The purpose in me asking about those stories is really to set this question up, and that is how do you know when you have not or you have truly forgiven somebody? There can be a bit of fuzziness about that. I'll give you a quick example for me. When I speak about my childhood and my dad, the alcoholic, and they divorced my mom and dad and men who are 60 and 70 years old will be in this line. And they'll come up to me in tears saying, I've never been able to forgive my father.
And it's a hard one for me. What do you say? I mean, you have to let it go. You have to not hold that against them. You've got to forgive them. But there is a lot of that, Tim, in the Christian culture, just these grievances that we really haven't dealt with. So how do we know, A, that they exist, and then B, if we've actually forgiven? Right.
I don't think there's a bright line that you say if you've passed there. I do actually think it's, frankly, relative. I mean, that sounds terrible. Oh, my goodness.
The Presbyterian minister, he's a relativist. No, I don't mean that. I mean this.
Here's what I'll do. Shorthand, here's my pastoral advice to somebody. I will say, and it's in the book, forgiveness is granted before it's felt. Most people say I'm still mad, so I haven't forgiven.
So I say, okay, for a moment, why don't we separate the two? Because some people would say, since I'm still mad, I can't forgive. And I'll say, no, forgiveness is something you can grant before you actually feel it.
That's very important. And I say, well, what does it mean to grant? Okay, forgiveness is a commitment. In principle, the commitment is I am not going to take revenge on this person. I am not going to make this person pay, okay?
In other words, that's the definition of any forgiveness. I mean, in the book, I try to say, if somebody knocks your lamp over, it's $50, and they say, oh, I'm so sorry. You can either say, yes, so that'll be $50, please, or you can say, forget it, which means you forgive them. But then you have to go out and buy the lamp. The $50 doesn't go away.
Right. Or maybe you go in darkness, but the point is somebody pays. And when forgiveness is always, always deciding I'm not going to make the other person pay, I'm going to absorb it. But to really grant forgiveness day in and day out is to make a commitment to do three things, not to keep bringing the matter up to the person, not to keep bringing the matter up to other people to try to kind of run them down, you know, get back at them by hurting their reputation, and not to keep bringing it up over and over again to yourself. So what that means is if I find myself thinking about it too much, I say, no, I'm not going to do that.
It's a commitment to yourself. If I find myself kind of having an opportunity to run the person down to somebody else, I'm not going to do that. And if I have an opportunity to use this against, this especially happens, by the way, in marriage.
Boy, I was thinking that. I know you're going to think about that. In other words, you say, if your spouse says, please forgive me, honey, for that, and you say yes, then you can't bring it up again six months later. You must not bring it up six months later. And here's the thing, if you actually follow through on those commitments, you'll feel the anger diminishing over time. If you don't make those three commitments, the anger, I think, stays a very, very long time. So it's granted before it's felt.
The granting is basically, I'm not going to take revenge, but an actual day in and day out, it means just refusing to go in those directions. And I think now where you actually cross the line, I don't know. But it gets better and better. You know, Tim, I often think, you know, you're one of the leading theologians. You've talked and written so deeply on meaningful biblical topics.
This one is kind of in that category. You know, what makes it so difficult for us to forgive? Is it that contrary to our human nature that it is only God's nature that you find that forgiveness?
It's not in the other guy's capability? I do think the way that Puritans, Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon, A Divine and Supernatural Light, talks about the difference between knowing honey is sweet and actually tasting honey. If I tell you honey is sweet, you'll say, okay, I believe honey is sweet. But if you haven't tasted it, you don't really know it. You know it, but you don't really know it. And once you taste it, then you know it and know it. I mean, experientially you know it and intellectually you know it. And I'd say it's one thing to say I'm a forgiven sinner. I know that I'm a sinner, but absolutely saved by grace. To what degree is that a spiritual reality to your heart?
You know it. But I mean, to what degree is it a spiritual reality? And the more it's a spiritual reality, the more it makes you weep with both joy and humiliation. The easier it is to forgive, it's almost as simple as that. I don't think that forgiveness is hard. It's harder the less God is real to you and it's easier the more he's real to you. Boy, that is a good statement right there.
That's powerful. And I think that also in interviewing a lot of women on the theme of marriage and parenting, the one thing that I've noticed, and you know this, John, they have an incredible capacity to look at themselves first. I think we as men, we kind of have the ego that says that's the other guy's fault. But in that context, the question of how to forgive yourself, I'm not the good mom. I'm not the perfect wife. I'm not a good husband. Where does that forgiveness for self come in?
Yeah, where does that come? If somebody's asking me that, I'm not going to, I'm going to work with them. I'm not sure that I think it's the best way of talking about it. Now, if you're R.C.
Sproul, what R.C. used to do is he used to say, if somebody said I have, I know God's forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself. And he says, so you have higher standards than God, huh?
It's a little, which I thought was a little bit, I don't know. I'm not sure that's the best bedside manner. Somebody's really struggling, but he's right. No, at the core, what you're saying is you're... You're really saying I have higher standards than God.
And people, well, wait a minute. No, I can't. I don't have a... Here's what's going on, I think. I am not going to say this right out of the box. I'm not even sure it's true.
With a particular person, I have to spend some time. Generally speaking, there's another God going on here. God's forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself. Okay, if your real God is your career, and you did something really stupid, and you're probably never going to get your career back on track, and your self-image is not so much based on I'm a child of God. It's based on I'm a successful... I'm an achiever.
Whatever, right. And now I haven't achieved, and I can't forgive myself. What you've really got here is an idol. And see, false gods can't forgive. See, what I always like to say to people is the reason why it'd be better to serve Jesus rather than your career or anything else is Jesus, if you get him, he actually satisfies you.
You know, the C.S. Lewis thing is you get to the top of your career, or you become as beautiful as you want to be, or you get everything you want, and you say... It's never enough.
It's never enough. Jesus is the only God that, if you get him, will satisfy you, and if you fail him, will forgive you. Your career will never forgive you for your sins. Your career will punish you the rest of your life if that's your God. And so it takes me a while with people. I can't just jump in and say, oh, there must be some idolatry here. In other words, I would never go in that way fast.
And you might even... Actually, if you know the person well and they're not in too much trouble, you might do the RC... It's almost like a joke saying, so you have higher standards than God? And no, I guess not. I mean, sometimes that actually helps. But in most cases, it's usually something that they've given their heart way too much to, and it is punishing them because they've failed that false God, and that's where a lot of that comes from.
It's really insightful. I mean, it's a test for idolatry. I mean, that is really powerful.
Yes. Inordinate... Actually, any inordinate emotion that you can't get rid of. So inordinate bitterness actually can be... or somebody else can mean that this is an idol. Inordinate fear, I'm going to lose it. Inordinate guilt, oh, I failed.
And you just... Inordinate meaning it just doesn't seem to be resolvable. Right. Very often there's some kind of idolatry at work.
That's something. Let me go back for a moment where you have that conflict with another person, and your forgiveness is dependent upon that person's response. Ah.
Can that be okay or is that unhealthy if... back to the groveling, but there may be some more subtle things like that, that it's only going to work if you demonstrate a certain action. Yeah. Then I'll forgive you.
Yeah, I'm really glad you got there. You asked that question because that's an important part of the book here. There's two verses that look like they're contradictions. Mark 11, 25 says, Jesus says, If you're standing and praying and you realize you've got anything against anyone, forgive them. And it doesn't seem to have any conditions, just you have to forgive them. Luke 17 is where it says, if a person repents, you should forgive them. Even if they do it over and over, you forgive them. And so it looks like one is saying you don't have to forgive till they repent. The other one looks like it says you have to forgive whether they repent or not. And my dear departed friend, David Palleson, I don't know if you knew who he was, but he is a counselor who died recently.
Actually, I think he died of pancreatic cancer, but anyway. He said there's an internal forgiveness that you do immediately. That's Mark 11, 25, where you make those commitments we were talking about before, not to keep bringing it up to yourself and others, where you say I'm not going to pay back and you forgive.
But then you do need to go. For the person's sake, for God's sake, for others' sake, and say, you did something here that I don't think you should have done. Now, if you go to them having forgiven, they still may get their back up and just not want to talk to you. If you go to them kind of unforgiving and kind of vengeful, saying, do you know what you did to me?
They will definitely get their back up and not listen to you. But if you go to them forgiving and gracious and all that, they might actually start to say, oh, I didn't realize that, I'm so sorry. And they change and you reconcile, great.
But Romans 12, 18 says, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with all. And what that means is you take whatever you get. If the person does not respond well or doesn't want to talk about it or even responds very poorly in a way that's really kind of half wrong, I think what you say is, I got whatever I can get, and now I'm still going to be forgiving and I'm going to try to be as open to the person as I possibly can. In that respect, I'm thinking of circumstances I've been involved in where you're extending an olive branch and it gets bitten off, so you do it again, and maybe a third time. Is there a time that you can say, okay, I gave it my best shot and it's just not happening, and you stop extending the olive branch? Yeah, I think that's a judgment call. As long as you say that the door still opens. But it may have to come from the other direction.
Yeah, that's right. In other words, I don't know how often. The Matthew 18 thing where you go to the person and if they don't listen to you, you take somebody and if they don't listen to you, tell it to the church, most people do not really think that Jesus is saying you get three tries.
It certainly looks like a process, and surely in different situations you would take longer and do it more often. It's never loving to make it easy for someone to sin against you. It's not loving to that person. And I have seen some people say, I'm just trying to put out the olive branch, but basically they're just getting clobbered every single time. And I said, it's not helping the perpetrator by making it so easy for the perpetrator to despise you and yell at you. I don't know that that's a good idea.
That's an interesting perspective. You're emboldening them to continue the behavior that hurts other people. Let me ask you this. One of the hardest things for people to do is to confront someone lovingly. I think, again, is there a difference between confronting a non-believer and someone within the community of Christ?
The scenario makes all the difference, and I'm just thinking about, do you go about it differently? Because on the one hand, I can remember a Christian leader saying to me, who's going to hold them accountable to God's righteousness? And that would be the response to loving your neighbor, perhaps without any boundaries. So how do you engage, I guess, that accountability between the world and the church, the fellow believer? Certainly I do think that if you have another professing believer who you think has wronged you, I think the Matthew 18 stuff is that you are both accountable to God, you're both accountable to the Scripture. You might be in the same church, maybe not. But I do think the reconciliation attempt can go on longer.
You have more resources. You probably should not give up on it, your brothers or sisters in Christ. I do think somebody outside, there's a limit to what you can appeal to when you're talking to them. With a Christian, you've got the Word of God, and you've got so many other, you've got better arguments for why you shouldn't have done that.
And so I guess I would just say that reconciliation, you shouldn't give up as soon, you should spend more time with it, you've got more resources for a Christian. I would say, so in some ways it's easier than with a non-Christian, because with a non-Christian you don't have as many resources, you don't have as good arguments. But I would say, here's the problem with the Christian who's wronged you versus the non-Christian. The non-Christian, you say, well, you know, I don't know whether they know any better. I mean, you know the place where Treebeard in Lord of the Rings says, a wizard should know better? And he says, wait a minute, you've done all this to the trees, and wait a minute, you're a wizard, you're not just somebody else, you're not just somebody else. You're a wizard, you should know better. And I do think that Christians very often find it very difficult to forgive other Christians for that very reason. You say, come on.
So it's easier and harder, so they're just different. You know, one of the arguments I've heard, back when I worked in the business world, this was really interesting. I knew a number of secular business people, and they would say to me, you know, most of the Christian business people I've worked with, they wronged me, they cost me money, they didn't pay me back or something like that, so that's why I don't pursue God. And I start smiling at them, and I can remember doing this several times, and that irritated them, and they'd look at me and I'd say, it's kind of foolish to keep eternal life from you because somebody didn't live it well. So using the argument that somebody didn't live their Christian faith properly in your eyes is no argument not to pursue a relationship with God.
No. You know, what I always try to, this may not be the best bedside manner, but I said, ah. When somebody says, well, this happened, that happened, that's why I find Christianity, I said, so that convinced you that Jesus wasn't raised from the dead. Right, exactly. I said, now, wait a minute, as a non-sequitur, okay, so this ostensibly Christian businessman cheated you, so you said, ah, that just proves that Jesus wasn't raised from the dead. I said, you really ought to go look at the evidence for the Christian faith instead of just say, you know, that guy was a hypocrite. Right.
So much wiser. I kind of understand it. I mean, there's no doubt.
We do believe that if you're an attractive person, you attract people to Christ, but sometimes I think people are not very logical when they just say, oh, look at that person. They say he's a Christian. That shows there's nothing to it. Well, you know, I mean, they're quack doctors. It doesn't mean medicine is a bogus thing. Dr. Keller, somebody has been listening along and they might have been influenced by something you've said, but they just can't get to that point of forgiving somebody who has really wounded them. They're still stuck.
Yeah. What do you say to them? Well, get a conversation partner. I'm not saying, it doesn't have to be a necessarily professional counselor. Get a conversation partner who you think, first of all, maybe has had to forgive. Find somebody that you know seems to have forgiven something that hurt them.
Find a conversation partner who's a mature Christian and open up and I think you probably ought to be talking with somebody about it. I really do. Now, I'm hoping the book might be of help.
Sure. And even though Jim Daly is quite an, you know, he really can interrogate you. I want you to know, however, he didn't get me to say everything that's in the book. All right, so there's a lot in the book that we didn't cover here. What kind of a prayer can that person really zero in on as they talk to God about this? You know, I would say, Lord, I would read, by the way, the parable of the unmerciful servant and then I'd say, Lord, just speak to me through this. Help me see something that might make it possible for me to forgive my fellow servant.
That's it. Tim, the last question here, because it's such a good illustration. In the book, you mentioned a story about an Australian medical missionary, which was very powerful, so we don't want to miss that one.
In India. And there's other stories, but let's hit that one right at the end because, again, it makes such an impact. Yeah, it was an Australian medical missionary family that was quite a number of years ago that was in India working with lepers and a lot of very, very poor people didn't have good medical treatment. Something that still happens today, I'm afraid, was an anti-Christian mob found the husband and I think two sons, I believe. I think there were two sons and a daughter and the two sons were with the father in a car and they surrounded the car and killed them.
Surrounded the car and killed them. And the mother and her daughter, after they discovered this, said we're going to stay here and we're going to continue the work and eventually they formed a hospital. She stayed her entire life and her daughter grew up there and she just said, this is not going to stop us from loving these people.
This is not going to stop us. And, of course, today they are venerated by, by the way, by the Hindu government, which today is actually still pretty hostile to Christians. And yet they got, I forget what the name of them is, there's some highest order of merit that was given to her for staying there and getting all this health care for the poor of India.
It is pretty remarkable. And when she was being covered, it was big news, of course, at the time, and she says, well, we're going to forgive and we're going to stay. And forgiveness is an act of self-denial, but we live in a culture that continually says self-assertion, self-assertion. Don't let anybody make you feel guilty. Don't let anybody walk all over you.
Don't let anybody keep you from what you want. In a culture of self-assertion, we will become more and more incapable of forgiveness, and Christians will more and more be a counterculture in which forgiveness is still possible. And I think Christians, therefore, can be salt and light in this country if we're still able to forgive, but not if we start to use all the same belligerent sort of language that everybody else is using. Kind of ending where we started when I said that we're, in the Christian community, we're trying to use carnal tools to battle carnal people. You did say that. I did. How wise of you. And been expecting a spiritual result. No, you're right.
You've got to use spiritual tools to get a spiritual result. Totally right. Tim, it's so good to be with you. Thank you. I mean, when you say thank you for your time, that can often be a throwaway line, but given what's happening in your life and where God has you right now, thank you for your time. Well, thank you for actually coming all the way.
Just yards from where I live in order to have a live interview. I was amazed. I say, if you're going to do that, okay. Well, that is kind.
I can come out. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Well, what a privilege to visit with Dr. Tim Keller, who so graciously spoke with us on this very important topic of forgiveness. And his great book about this is called Forgive, Why Should I and How Can I? I think every Christian, John, should have a go-to resource like this that they can use in helping to heal relationships that are strained. Dr. Keller has compiled biblical wisdom on the principles and practices of forgiveness and how to reconcile with someone and receiving God's forgiveness in the process. Ask for this book, and when you send a donation of any amount, we'll send you a copy as our way of saying thank you. Donate today as you can and get your copy of this book by Dr. Keller.
Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family, 800-232-6459, where you'll find all the details in the show notes. 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 once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. Oh, hey, Mike.
Got here as soon as I could. What's going on, man? Hey, I just wanted to give you an update on my marriage. Is it good news? Yeah, our marriage is going great right now. I couldn't be happier. Dude, that's awesome.
Yeah, it's like a solid five out of ten. Having a marriage that's just okay isn't where couples really want to live. Give yourself and your spouse an all-inclusive weekend where you'll slow your pace and focus on each other. Get more details at focusonthefamily.com slash getaway. Let's focusonthefamily.com slash getaway.
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