When You Believe in God But Won’t Forgive

Today is Wednesday and so it’s time to discussion the latest chapter from “The Christian Atheist” by Craig Groeschel. As always, my co-facilitator, Jason and I invite you to stay and discuss whether you’ve read the book or not. Today, his site is “home base” and you’ll find much more discussion there. But first, my Dad (knowing my crazy schedule) offered to pinch-hit for me today. So, here he is, my Dad, Neal Salter, discussing forgiveness:

When I first saw the title, The Christian Atheist, I said to myself, “You can’t be a Christian and an atheist at the same time!” A Christian is one who follows Christ as a disciple.  An atheist is a person who denies or does not believe in the existence of a divine or Supreme Being (God). Even after reading the Introduction, I really wasn’t sure where Craig Groeschel was headed, but as I read on and discovered his own struggles with commitment to Christ, I began to believe he just might have something to say worth reading for persons who maybe struggling with following Christ.

In the early chapters, I sensed he wasn’t really speaking to me. I felt he was speaking to many who maybe new Christians; or those who are new to the church; or new to understanding Christian thinking.  As he continued to reveal the characteristics of those he called, “Christian Atheists,” I paid closer attention as he delved deeper into how Christian atheism reveals itself and is lived out in people’s lives.  This was certainly revealed in Chapter Three, “When You Believe in God, but aren’t sure He loves you.”

At this point, I felt a real awakening for all (myself included) who were reading this book as they maybe seeking to discover and understand about a God who really does love unlovable people.  My “AHA!” moment was when he said, “God’s love and forgiveness are bigger than your biggest sin.” (p. 66)  As I underlined this truth, I also said a hearty, “AMEN!”  From my own beginnings to understand where I was with God, I had wrestled with how God could love someone as sorry as me (that’s how I felt back then).  Before accepting Christ, I really was a pathetic mess, and knowing this, I can understand people not being sure God really loves them.  I believe this chapter really helps anyone struggling with this feeling of being unloved—to hear that love is God’s nature.  Whether we realize or understand why, God just does it—He loves you and me.

As we respond to that love, God reveals He wants to have a relationship with us.  Once we get over understanding how and why God loves us and just allow it to happen, we are able to move on. Chapters 4 and 5 reveal the natural progression of that relationship.  In relationships we talk with people and in our relationship we God, we do the same—it’s called prayer.  Whether we acknowledge it or not; we do talk with God. Although sometimes very hesitantly, our private thoughts, personal wishes, doubts and uncertainties in our conscious processes are just as much a part of our praying as the verbal words we seek to form.

Although I partially summarized the first five chapters, my responsibility for today was to focus on chapter 6—When You Believe in God but Won’t Forgive. The story of the author’s battle with this issue helps each of us put it in focus.  Whether you or I have struggled with this issue, we know others who have.  I have to ask myself, how I can say I am a Christian and not forgive.

As I read Groeschel’s experience of how hard it was to forgive someone who has hurt someone he loves, I knew exactly where he was coming from. I recently was very hurt and angry because I learned that someone is mistreating someone I love very much.  I lashed out in anger, but not at the ones who had mistreated her.  Unfortunately, I had lashed out in anger at the very one who was hurt. In my super-macho, male-dominant way, I wanted to get back at everyone who had mistreated this person.  But all my venom could not accomplish one single thing.  After my conversation with this person who had suffered the injustice, I was quickly convicted of my ranting and ravings about all the vile things I wanted to do to the ones who had mistreated her. 

I understand why some people are not ready and willing to forgive.  In a matter of just twenty minutes, I had done more damage to someone already hurt. God quickly reminded me about forgiveness.  Every Sunday, I lead people in praying The Lord’s Prayer.  We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Am I not a hypocrite?  Here I am, not wanting to forgive. Jesus’ very words that follow this prayer say, “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)

I must confess to you I was deeply convicted how I had sinned against God and the person I loved. She was doubly hurt, first by someone else’s actions and then by mine.  After praying and asking God to forgive me of this sin, I also asked the person on whom I had inflicted the pain to forgive me as well. I believe both of them did!

If your pain is so great today because someone has injured you physically, spiritually, mentally or emotionally; I can only share that I am praying for you.  I have just begun my 40th year as a servant of Christ in ministry as a United Methodist pastor.  Over those years I have encountered many, many people who have suffered a myriad of maladies.  As I have ministered to many of them, seeking to help them find relief from their suffering, over and over again, one symptom has stood out above all the rest: unforgiveness.  This chapter has really confirmed my belief that if you and I are going to call ourselves, Christian, we must forgive.  Jesus words from the Cross were, “Father, forgive them…”  I don’t think we can do anything less if we truly are following HIM!

About Sarah Salter


  1. I’m thinking I need to read this book

  2. We want to be the judge, jury , and executioner in our lives. We harbor deep seeded desires to avenge those who wrong us or loved ones. We want to defend ourselves so that we can avoid further “abuse”… but Christ suffered abuse silently as he voiced the words: “Father, forgive them…”

    May we live according to His example. May Christ in us envelope our very being and teach us to forgive just as He forgave us. May we be about His glory and grace instead of our defense. May we take up Paul’s words and “live for Christ” knowing that “for me [us] to die is gain.”

    Thank you so much for helping Sarah out today and sharing this post with us.

  3. I’ve always found that incredibly stirring that Jesus included those words on forgiveness at the end of the Lord’s prayer. It’s that important, and I believe you are speaking profound truth that if we want to call ourselves Christian, we have to forgive. Do the hard work and make the choice.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and writing such a great post. I appreciate it (and I know Sarah does too)!

  4. Dear Sarah’s dad,

    Your post was awesome. The key ingredient in your post was the willingness to admit you had failed. Sarah told me a little more about this post than that which appears on the blog, and she loves you deeply. You are a good man!

    Duane Scott

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