Building a Straw Man of Bitterness and Forgiveness

I’ve given the topics for this post a lot of consideration.  Chuckles and I have discussed it many times and, given some of the more recent comments and some other e-mails that bring up the age-old themes of “bitterness” and “forgiveness”, we thought it was time to collaborate on this one and get it posted.

A couple words of warning right up front:

First – Those of you who read my (and our) stuff know that I will take a decidedly spiritual view of everything.  My personal faith is a strong element of who I am and that will come through more clearly than most times in this post.  If you don’t believe in a God who is over everything and loves us in the most intense way, feel free to stop now.  I respect what you believe and many of you are considered friends.  You all know I try not to “preach” anyway.

Second – To those of you who are genuinely hurting and struggling with the evil that was done to you, I understand that is very, very real.  I don’t want to do anything to diminish or belittle what you are going through.  You are all in very different places along the “healing continuum” and the process is unique to each of you.  Please don’t read what I’m not writing and think I’m calling you out in some way.  That being said, I will be calling out a few people and I think you’ll see why.

Third – For those who continually take God’s word (spoken, written, and experienced) into micro-sections and regularly out of context … and then use it to beat up on people to whom genuine evil has been done – please keep reading.  I’ve got some things I’d love to discuss based on what I’ve learned from and about God over the past few years.

OK, so much for the preliminary warnings … here we go.

Frankly, I know we’re all tired of hearing the “party line” that people who don’t forgive and/or buck the specific beliefs (a.k.a. rules) of the revered institutions are bitter.  We even get this idea wrapped in the thinnest veil of Scripture possible (never in large passages or with any context, mind you) to prove the point.  We’ve responded in almost every way possible and yet it all comes around again.  Now, while I may shock some of you initially with this thought, there is the tiniest amount of merit to their thoughts on bitterness and forgiveness.  The problem with the way they are framed (and here comes my hook into the title) is that they are building a straw man.  And we all know what happens to a straw man in the end, don’t we?

I have learned over the past 5+ years that, if you are going to actually use the Bible as a basis for anything, you had better read it all the way through and try to understand the framework it represents.  As such, I’m more and more convinced not only of its inherent validity, but that it has to be viewed primarily as one massive story.  And the focus of that story is God’s relentless pursuit of His own creation.  That’s the first point where our friends’ straw man begins to fail (we can call it the legs, if you will).  Their Bible is the Word of God, but it’s viewed very much like a handbook or instruction manual as opposed to a love story.  As such, the “legs” upon which they build their belief system are highly compartmentalized and full of a set of declarative or prohibitive statements as opposed to a narrative provided by an Eternal Father.  Legs like that can’t really hold up their own weight, let alone that of a body above them, can they?

And I could go on with my analogy, but my main point here is that the God, Bible, Jesus, and Christianity of the vast majority who call us unforgiving and bitter are dark shells of what I have come to know.  They are hollow, vindictive, distant, and punitive in nature.  Frankly, it’s no wonder why they are sacred to study the Book as a whole – I would be to if it only existed to tell me another list of ways I’m the most wretched creature on the face of the planet.

No, our anger (not bitterness) at the flaws and sin of a perfectly created world left to choice (because True Love REQUIRES choice) may look bitter and even come out that way at times.  But it mainly gives way to a sadness for the loss of innocence that gets turned and burned by those who think some formula forgiveness leading to everybody thinking things are OK is what God seeks.  Believe me, friends, the God I know is most decidedly NOT OK with the atrocities we’ve seen documented – not to mention the churches, schools, and other places that cover them up to protect their own reputation (God doesn’t need us to protect His).

So now I need to press on to how I believe real forgiveness comes into play.  This gets a little tougher, because here is the point where I’ll also touch on some “among” us who have taken on their “victimhood” as a profession.  And again, for those truly struggling to come to terms with your pain, I’m not talking about you.  You just need somebody to hug you and show God’s love in a way that, perhaps, you’ve never experienced it before.

Only God can forgive fully, completely, and perfectly.  If you strip away everything else, that’s really the core to the Gospel.  God, at His own expense (I often term it “mortgaging Heaven”) offers us forgiveness.  There is no catch or cost to us, it’s just there.  He doesn’t compel us to accept it and love Him, because that isn’t what Love does.  Love allows the object of its love to choose to reject it.  And that’s where Evil comes into play.  I don’t have to expand on that topic, as I know many of you have seen Evil face-to-face.  But God still bases all His actions on love and forgiveness.  Frankly, my tiny brain can’t wrap around it well at all most of the time.  But every so often, the light shines through and I begin to understand.

The recovering victim does need to understand and accept that God forgives.  As one headed toward a deep relationship with God, He also asks us to accept that and, in a much broader sense, embrace that forgiveness.  What He never says is to walk up to Evil and offer some universal absolution and forget that whatever happened did happen.  He asks us to trust Him and, when we can’t do that, He wraps His arms around us and says that’s OK as well.  And He never stops loving and forgiving because that’s what He has chosen to do.  When we do that, we can begin the process of healing and moving beyond (notice I didn’t say “getting over”) what Evil has done to us.  We can know that the God who loves and forgives can redeem anything thrown at Him and make it into something that will lead to Him.  If you need solid Biblical proof for that, check out the way Donald Miller tells the story of Joseph (click here to download the MP3 – it runs about 50 minutes).

Which brings me to those who really don’t (not just can’t yet) embrace the idea of God loving and forgiving and being trustworthy.  No, they have to wear their “victimhood” like some uniform.  You’ve seen them, their story is always the worst – and always the first to be told in a group (or even one-on-one).  Oh, they claim to be supportive and to advocate, but they are after something else.  And while our “friends” like those preachers and other stone casters can at least be explained away as “ignorant and afraid”, the professional victims have an agenda that includes sucking the life out of those who need help the most.

So for those of you who are still struggling, know there are people out here (like Chuckles or me) who will just listen and tell you we’re sorry.  We won’t ask you to “forgive and forget” or to grant some sort of absolution to the one(s) who was the instrument of Evil against you.  We won’t ever tell you to “get over it” or to “stop being so bitter”.  And we won’t schedule you for the next interview or talk show.  No, we want to help you understand that there is One whom you can trust.  And in trusting God, you can begin to heal and leave all those straw men behind.

Wishing you Peace,

C.P. Traveler

5 thoughts on “Building a Straw Man of Bitterness and Forgiveness

  1. I Appreciate your article; it is well thought out and presented. Thanks. After nine plus years of processing.. ( starting at age 55..yes, I’m 64) I have come to understand forgiveness is/may always be a journey that could finish up only on the “other side”.
    I’ve no problem with that. It is OK.
    I’ve been through (as a missionary kid in a fundie mission boarding school for 9 years total of my young life starting at age 6) the boarding school scene..not all 9 years at once, but chopped in 4 year segments. Many of my peers had only 2-3 years, changing them forever as damage was done.
    I should have died way early one.. have often wished I had; not only was the bs experience horrific, but family life was so dysfunctional, an environment of raging, highs and lows.. being placed in other boarding places while the folks went to do GODs work..and since GOD told them to abandon us..why would he be worthy of trust? So essentially we visited “home” while other strangers and places raised us.. until marriage years came along.
    Trust in a God who allows Christian missionaries to do that to their babies.. is not going to develop easily, if ever. This has been one of my issues..TRUST.
    Like I said.. I should have died … why I didn’t seems like a hard joke.
    But recently I’ve come to the place I can say (after uncountable acts of forgiving every one I can think of) that I WANT to move on. And that is strictly for myself.. not imposing this on others..
    Anyway.. like a revolving door,( I’m sure), the memories will swing back and wallop me when I’m not looking.
    Yes.. fundie evangelism preaches forgiveness.. but in scripture it is notable that those who demand it… are OBLIGED (by examples of Zach v. Jesus under the Sycamore tree, and by The Gibeonites betrayal by King Saul’s hands) to offer restitution and restoration as much as it takes.. the idea of paying for what they did or allowed to happen is not happily received. In fact.. as you said the unscriptural teaching of forgive and forget is used as a whip to further punish the one from who they demand is lotsa of You-know what.
    I suppose some might say I am harsh…I don’t think so.. I think this is a basic and untaught principle.. to restore and provide restitution.. and even if is done.. the beggar of forgiveness ought not and should not expect forgiveness….
    At that point.. forgiveness is a true gift from the wounded one..and my experience tells me, as I observe the cries of my peers for justice.. that they will forgive willingly… but not so that the perp can patronize and thus further abuse…but the heart to forgive is willing..
    just not to be harmed again…
    For documentation, I recommend to Google “MK Safety Net”; this is a work in progress for over two decades by individuals who are working still on behalf of and for abused children and victims of the Christian missionary world.

    • Redhen,

      You are a testament to the whole idea that God can take the most Evil thing done to you and redeem it in a much bigger sense. Thanks for your comments. This article took a lot of time to get it to the point where we wanted to publish it.


  2. Dear CP, an excellent, well-written piece from the heart. My journey is somewhat similar to yours in the sense that I did not until the last five years or so begin to really grasp the idea that God loved me and has forgiven me. All my life I believed in Christ by faith, but always thought of the works as being proof that the faith was really real. I failed and continue to fail so much that as I look at my failure to live a holy life as Fundamentalists call it, I can only conclude that in spite of all the times I asked the Lord to save me and thought I was trusting Him . . . apparently salvation still hadn’t “taken” hold for real in spite of all my fervent prayers for it . . . in spite of all my efforts to conjure up that right kind of “saving faith” that really produced real salvation in a persons life. I concluded that I must not be one of the “elect.” That no matter how badly I wanted to be saved, I was “elected” to spend eternity in hell rather than Heaven. Fundamentalism seems to create all sorts of distortions of spiritual truth that false doctrine abounds deep within the fibers of its being.

    I have had to work through so much spiritual damage and error that I was taught, and believed for most of my life. I have just begun to grasp the reality that my salvation depends 100% on Christ, and the personal holiness I need to stand before a holy God depends 100% on Christ . . . ZERO percent depends on me. And Christ shouted on the cross that it all was finished! Even after salvation, all my best works accomplish nothing to achieve holiness before God. THAT was already and ONLY accomplished through Christ. I have been criticized for saying that this teaches that Christians have a license to sin. No it does not give license, it gives assurance that when I fail, Jesus Christ has got me . . . that is not a license to sin. It is license to keep trying to do right in spite of sin and failure.

    I am afraid that many fundamentalists have it backward–the way they teach forgiveness and demand that it be extended to them teaches license to sin. The bitterness trope is an evidence that there is no real conviction for their sin and so little real repentance that it fails to motivate even the weakest of apologies from them.

    • Thanks for the comments. The post was “from my heart” as you noted.

      The Fundamentalists accuse us of “cheap grace” when what I look to is “Free Grace” which came at a dreadful price. There is a HUGE difference and, as you noted, they seem to have it all backward.



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