07 November 2009

When is enough, enough? or Can you avoid someone that sin might cease?

A brief yet not so simple question for you brothers. If the relationship a person has with another is constantly leading to sinful thoughts, words and deeds, (Not sexual in this example but rather anger, despair and the like) can a person say, "I forgive you and I desire not to have any further relationship with you"? What if this is a relationship between family members? What if it is a relationship between congregation members?

In light of this week's Gospel text, Matthew 18:21-35, would forgiving and then ending a relationship fall into not having truly forgiven from the heart? Bottom line, can we divorce ourselves from relationships (not our spouses) that constantly lead us into sin or where we are constantly sinned against and also fall into regular sinning?

Not certain how to answer this, even though I counsel that correspondance may be more preferable to face to face in these situations. Certainly if one has nothing nice to say one should remain silent and allow for the suffering that comes with human relations and is rarely avoided.


William Weedon said...

Our Lord is applying the standard we wish our heavenly Father to use with us to shape our relationships with others. Would we want our heavenly Father to "forgive" us but to end our relationship?

William Weedon said...

P.S. I should add, I think this parable is of a piece with the stuff in Luke 6 where He takes the golden rule one better: do unto others as you would have your heavenly Father do unto you.

Pr. H. R. said...

Continuing a family analogy....it often happens that siblings learn to love one another only once they live a couple of states apart.

Your situation, Fr. Foy, I think will call for a lot of practical wisdom more than theological syllogism. When stuck with such I'll often run through Proverbs again. Amazing what stands out to the pastoral eye...


Pastor Foy said...

Outstanding thoughts, in particular the thought of our Heavenly Father forgiving us and then ending the relationship because we do it again. This is all helpful and certainly worth the prayerful consideration. Thanks for the brotherly input.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

When dealing with sinful human beings, we do need to make allowances for weakness -- however, we must make clear that these weaknesses are indeed truly weaknesses, and not pretexts for self-righteousness.

There is a difference between "I do not know if I can stand if I remain with this person" and "I cannot stand this person."

Myrtle said...

Bottom line, can we divorce ourselves from relationships (not our spouses) that constantly lead us into sin or where we are constantly sinned against and also fall into regular sinning?

I admit that I was surprised to see this question for I have talked with my pastor about how often family in Lutheran sermons and writings is portrayed more often as the ideal than as anything else, i.e., parents who love their children and care for them diligently--something I find strange since Lutherans also have a refreshing honesty when it comes to sin, recognizing that we are poor, miserable sinners, mere beggars before a merciful God.

I am sure to be reading more than Pastor Foy is asking...but I am discouraged by the answers. For I want an answer, one based on Scripture or doctrine, to that part of his question I repeated again above. Or...to put it bluntly...What do you do in cases of abuse?

"You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also." [Matthew 5:38-40 NASB]

Does forgiveness really mean continuing a relationship with someone who will only hurt you again...the answer Pastor Weedon seems to offer?

I read Matthew and see no option to say I wish to "divorce" myself from those of my blood who believe they have the right, by blood, to hurt me.

Am I really to sit down to dinner with my rapist or even the one who allowed it to happen in the name of protecting the family name? Do I really have to go visit the one who beats me? Do I have to continue to reach out to the one whose words are sharper than any knife, cruelly skewering my heart? For I do not even desire the long distance relationship Pastor H.R. seems to suggest. Not even that is without harm.

In teaching about the fourth commandment, Luther writes, "For it is a far higher thing to honor someone than to love someone, because honor includes not only love, but also modesty, humility, and submission to a majesty hidden in them." (LC, Part I, 106)

He later writes, "They should remember that however lowly, poor, frailty, and strange their parents may be, nevertheless, they are the father and the mother given to them by god. Parents are not to be deprived of their honor because of their conduct or their failings." (LC, Part I, 108)

Seventy times seven. Do not resist and evil person. Turn the other cheek. Not because of their conduct or failings.

I see no majesty in the rapist and the brutal attacker. I see none in the one who remained silent. I struggle with how I am to honor and love them. Why can I not say I forgive you--I will not harbor anger or bitterness against you--but I do not want anything to do with you?

Psychology would tell me it is healthy to flee from them. However, it seems as if Christian spirituality seems to tell me the opposite. So, does that mean I am an unrepentant sinner because I long for that "divorce" and have recently chosen to attempt such a path?

I dare ask because I know that I am not alone in this dilemma...

Pastor Foy said...

Very well put Myrtle. I did not say it so well myself. I too await the input and response of my learned and wise brothers.

Susan said...

In response to Myrtle --
My pastor has addressed this publicly on many occasions. His response is that, yes, this is what God calls us to. He calls us to forgive the rapist. He calls us to honor the dishonorable parent. He calls us to continue to live in love with the philandering spouse. That is what He has done for us.

we cannot.

That's kinda the point. We cannot do what God calls us to do. We cannot forgive as He forgives. We cannot live in mercy with the same generous mercy He has bestowed on us.

And so we flee for refuge to His infinite mercy, seeking and imploring His grace for the sake of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

As Pr Brown said yesterday afternoon, there is a world of difference between "I cannot bear this; I should, but I am weak and cannot; God help me" and "Look what he's done to me; I can't stand him for his evil." I would add that we sinful humans are exceptionally good at deceiving ourselves in these matters; pastoral care is necessary!!

I'd also like to mention that
private confession/absolution,
prayer for the one who has offended us,
and prayer that God would grant us a forgiving heart
work wonders.

And yet, even with that, as Pastor says, sometimes Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together in this life. Our righteousness is found in His obedience, not in our own.

Myrtle said...

What I am asking is if forgiveness means maintaining a relationship. Is a person who finally escapes a lifetime of child abuse supposed to return to her family, knowing it will continue? Is there a difference between, as Sue put it, "I cannot stand you" and "I cannot be around you"?

Or a young person in the same situation...does he need to continue a relationship with a family member who hurts him or those who repeatedly allow it to happen?

What does turning the other cheek, not resisting an evil person really mean when it comes to abusive situations?

I would, however, go one step further on the issue of pastoral care and add blessings, reading scripture (aloud), studying the Book of Concord, and singing hymns to that list.

Susan said...

I will certainly agree that scripture-reading and hymn-singing are blessed things. However, there is something about making frequent use of private confession that is particularly beneficial in these matters.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

There are at least two general situations being considered here. One, which is the way I read Pr Foy's original post, is that the "sinner" isn't really the one holding on to sin. By the description, he is like all of us, truly yet inadvertently sinning against others through thoughtless remarks, inconsiderate habits, and the like. But he is not intending to sin in this way, and is generally not malicious. When we relate to a brother or sister who is like this, we do forgive and we do persist in loving the person. That is, it seems to me, what forgiveness means: reconciliation. Sure, conversation and work are the order of the day, so that the two parties learn how to be more considerate and charitable to each other. But that is part of reconciliation.

The second situation is more like what Myrtle is describing. Is a Christian obligated to forgive an abusive person, especially one who persists in such abusive behavior? Does turning the other cheek require this? And the answer is an emphatic no.

The procedure described in Matthew 18 ends with the unrepentant sinner being cast out of the church, not forgiven. Someone who persists in abuse or other grievous sin is deemed to be unrepentant and falls under these circumstances. And the church should do all in its power to defend and protect victims of this abuse by not coddling an unrepentance sinner, and protecting the victims from future interaction. Turning the other cheek is an ethic for the moment--it is, in fact, a way of preaching the gospel; it is not counsel to become codependent.

What of the abuser who does repent and turn away from his sin? Then, to be sure, he is to be forgiven and reconciled with the church. But this does not mean the church should not establish reasonable and cautious practices to help secure him against returning to or persisting in the sin. Former child abusers should not be permitted unsupervised interaction with children. Con artist stories should not be taken at face value. Much of this has to do with love for the sinner; keeping him accountable helps him to resist temptation.

And perhaps, here, one who had been severely sinned against by the sinner may find that he needs to limit his interaction with the sinner. This is where the body bears each others burdens. This is where his expression of forgiveness is carried out by the body of Christ, embracing the repentant sinner, yet also bearing with the one sinned against, being patient and longsuffering in encouraging him to be reconciled. Here is where the reconciliation is, if not imperfect, incomplete, perhaps until the resurrection. Here is where Susan's counsel that we rely on Christ's forgiving power comes to the fore. We should all forgive and forget, just as the sinner should turn away from his addictive sins and never commit them again. But this rarely happens in truly severe situations. And this is where the utter mercy of Christ's forgiveness really becomes apparent: where we have all failed to forgive, he really does forgive all of us, and knit us together in himself.

Myrtle said...

Pastor Grobein,

I think I understand part of what you are saying, but would like to ask more...

What of the lone Christian in a family? How would the body of Christ bear the expression of forgiveness to those who have nothing to do with God, His Son, or His church? And, please be patient with my denseness, does your answer mean that forgiveness must include reconciliation? Is is sin, in those severe situations, to walk away completely, to pursue that "divorce" Pastor Foy alluded to?

I mean, I do not wish the abusive ill, I do not long to punish them in return, but I do not wish to have them a part of my life any longer. I do not wish to keep bearing their abuse. Again, I know psychology would say it is healthy to make such a break. I know it. But is that loving them? Is that honoring them? Is that not really forgiving them?

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what love is, what loving an abusive person would be. I know he did not mean it so, but I have thought a lot about Pastor Stuckwisch's 11th thesis on Liturgy and adiaphora and wondering if there was an answer to my dilemma in it:

Love will be ready and willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is truly free, but love will never sacrifice anything of the Gospel. That is to say, love will readily give up whatever may be given up, but love will tenaciously insist upon that which is necessary.

Should not in any situation I be willing to give up everything, save for the Gospel, in love?

I think about that thesis and wonder if I should walk willingly back into that house or pick up the phone, even knowing he/she would seek to hurt me, because to turn away, to cut them off, would not be loving them. However, even wondering, I am still crying out to God, I have had enough...I do not want this.

To pray Lord, have mercy...would that be have mercy and help me stay or have mercy and help me leave?

And, if it is the former and I cannot speak those words, am I the the one who is, then, the unrepentant sinner?

Fr BFE said...

As a late entry into this discussion, I'll confess in advance that I may not have caught all the details,

but I for one do not believe that forgiveness always means friendship, in spite of the respectable argument of Fr Weeden on the true nature of forgiveness.

On the other side, however, is the admonition of the Apostle to avoid those that cause divisions, and the warning that evil communications corrupt good manners (I Cor. 15).

So as a practical matter, I'm not prepared to say that it is necessary for people to befriend those whose errors is egregious, even though it is necessary to forgive them.

Jesus Himself did not hang around when the Pharisees sought to stone Him.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

Dear Myrtle,

Let me preface my comments by saying that for the specifics of your situation, nothing I say should take the place of personal counsel from your pastor.

Generally speaking, though, the determining factor is the repentance or lack thereof of the sinner. If the sinner is repentant, he is forgiven by the church, by the pastor as the one holding the office, and all Christians should endeavor to forgive him. If the sinner is not repentant, after repeated exhortation, he should not be forgiven, and he should be shunned. So when you ask, "How would the body of Christ bear the expression of forgiveness to those who have nothing to do with God, His Son, or His church?" you are asking about an unrepentant sinner. There is no specific forgiveness granted to this person, either from the pastor, or from those he has sinned against. You are not called to bear with his abuse; on the contrary, you are to denounce his behavior and have nothing to do with him.

Second, you note that love sacrifices everything for the sake of the Gospel. But, again, in the case of an unrepentant sinner, the work that love does for the sake of the Gospel is to preach the Law. Love does not forgive the unrepentant sinner, but pronounces condemnation, so that the sinner will learn to repent.

The more complicated and difficult situations are those when a sinner is actually repentant, but because of addiction and habit, easily falls back into his former sins. Thus there are truly repentant abusers or addicts who nevertheless return to their behavior of abuse or addiction.

In these cases, the church forgives them. The pastor absolves them; the church works to restore them to holy living. Individual Christians strive to treat them in love and reconciliation....

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

Yet so long as we live in this world, even in the church, we will never perfectly practice our forgiveness. Some Christians will be afraid of these recovering abusers and addicts. Some will have little patience, others will judge with a quicker of higher standard. Just as the recovering sinner falters and falls into sin, so his brothers in the church falter in living out their forgiveness.

This is where the work of Christ must especially be preached and brought to bear. Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection accomplish complete forgiveness and reconciliation. Where we continue to strive but fail, Christ always succeeds. He always overcomes sin. He defeats every curse and death. The reconciliation he hammered out on the cross he brings to fulfillment in the kingdom of heaven. He does all this for those who believe in repentance.

And this faith, this repentance, is only that. Repentance and faith are not having reached a new standard of behavior; they are merely to give up any hope in oneself, and to trust in Christ alone. And even this trust is a gift from Christ.

So where we do have difficulty relating to other Christians, Christ is longsuffering. The church, particularly the pastor, stands in the office to assure us of Christ's forgiveness when and where we fall short. The pastor mediates forgiveness to all sinners when others in the church have difficulty expressing it, and he also gently calls and exhorts Christians to grow in their patience and love of others.

Finally, the church should also step in to deal with forgiven abusers or addicts, so that victims do not have to face these issues alone or directly. The church should structure counseling, therapy, regimens of behavior, controls on access to potential future victims, and even, in some case, past victims.

This life is a life of tragedy, sorrow, unspeakable evil and abuse. It is a life of sin. Christ indeed has destroyed sin and death, and in the fulfillment of his kingdom, all of our current pain will be destroyed. Yet, in the meantime, even the church falters. She struggles under the law and the gospel. But it is not up to the church to fulfill law and gospel. Christ does this! The church merely confesses it and believes, and along with confession and faith, forgives, protects, and loves people, in whatever their situation.

William Weedon said...

Perhaps the words of Luther from his House Postil sermon on the text are also important:

Brotherly forgiveness, however, also includes that the brother whom I am to forgive admits his shortcomings. For, any sin that is not admitted, I cannot forgive. If the brother keeps right on doing me wrong and becomes more offensive from one day to the next, I must of course, put up with that, but I should not pronounce absolution for such an offense. Instead, I must put a burden on his conscience by telling him, Brother, by doing thus and so , you have sinned against me; I want you to know you have wronged me. If he disregards my rebuke and laughs it off, I'll have to bear with that; but then I cannot forgive him for it because he refuses to admit it is a sin. But if he honestly admits his fault by saying, Brother, I have sinned against you; please forgive me, then I must reply, With all my heart, dear brother, I forgive.

HP III:144

Mike Keith said...

If everytime I went to talk to a man he punched me in the face - I will forgive him, but after a few times I will discontinue my relationship with him. I will forgive him, but his actions have consequences - one of which may be a broken relationship with me. At times, for simple reasons of self protection - even if forgiveness has been extended the relationship may need to change.

Myrtle said...

I wanted to thank everyone for answering my questions. You certainly have provided food for thought even though I have not quite become settled on the matter. Pastor and I have talked about the answers here and will continue to do so. I am truly grateful for your generous gift of time.