Don’t Call Me Unforgiving Because I Seek Justice!

Years ago, I had an encounter with a Holocaust survivor that I will never forget. His name was Howard and the two of us worked together in the Men’s Department at what was then called The May Company, located on Wilshire and Fairfax in Los Angeles. Howard was a delightful Jewish man in his 60’s. He spoke with a thick German accent and was as funny as one could be. Having not spent any time to get to know him, I knew nothing about Howard’s background, but I so wanted to witness to him.

The year was 1972. I had just become a follower of Christ and I knew very little about Christianity and Christ himself, for that matter. In fact, at the time, I didn’t even believe in Christ’s divinity—Yes, you can be a Christian without believing in the Trinity, but that’s a different story for another time. In the 70’s, Christians were big on “End-Times” issues. Christ’s second-coming was right around the corner, yet we were taught things were going to get a lot worse before his return. All one had to do was look at the signs of the time and get ready for the end of the world.

Now, back to Howard.

Howard had just rung a transaction when I “dropped the hammer.”

“Howard, you need Christ in your life because He is coming back soon and things are going to get very bad,” I told him very assuredly.

Slowly, Howard closed the cash register while rolling up his left shirtsleeve. He turned around, looked me straight in the eyes, and with anger in his voice, he pointed to a number tattooed on his wrist and said, “You mean it’s going to get worse than this?” He then walked away in silence to assist a customer.

Today I am glad he walked away from me when he did since I was about to talk to him about forgiveness. Here I was, a foolish young Christian man who knew nothing about who Howard was and what horror and injustice this gentle old man had experienced, yet was ready to “teach” a Holocaust survivor a thing or two about forgiveness.

Why is it that so many of us Christians are quick to demand forgiveness from others? For example, right after the Columbine High School shootings, many Christians were literally demanding forgiveness for the animals who brought so much pain and agony upon all those families. The majority of these Christians weren’t remotely involved with the tragedy or even lived in Colorado. Shouldn’t we, at least, give these survivors a bit of time for grieving and venting in anger– a process so necessary for emotional healing–before demanding forgiveness of them?

In the late 90s, I personally had a very hard time with the concept of those Western Christians who walked the path of the Medieval Crusades, asking forgiveness of all the Arab nations on behalf of what was done to them in the name of Christianity. Being a Muslim background believer, I constantly had to ask forgiveness of myself, but, unfortunately, my Muslim side, being honor bound, kept refusing to accept my Christian side’s apology. Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

After I was fired from my Middle East mission coordinator position, I was deeply hurt and angry and needed to vent. Those who are close to me know that it’s through venting and discussing my frustration that I get the poison of bitterness out of my system. However, there were those who were uneasy about the way I was dealing with my pain.

“Brother, you should forgive because the Bible says so!” they would tell me.

And my response to them was always the following:

“Please don’t pull scriptures on me. I know what the Bible says about forgiveness. As a pastor, I taught from those very verses for 25 years. I know I should forgive, but first you must give me time to heal. I can’t fake it. While dying inside, I can’t say the right Christian clichés to keep you happy. I need to vent, and if what I say doesn’t jive with your Christian standards, then stay away from me until I can live up to those standards.”

Today, after two years of being away from that oppressive system I worked under for six years, I’m not as angry. I believe the healing process is taking place and God is working in my life, which brings me to another misconception some Christians have:

“We still feel an edge and anger in your writings. Forgiveness means you forget and let go,” some might say to me. To which I say, “Bull-dung!”

Please consider my favorite Prophet of the Old Testament, Jeremiah, talking to his beloved people, the Jews of Israel:

How can you say, ‘I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals’? See how you behaved in the valley; consider what you have done. You are a swift she-camel running here and there, a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving—in her heat who can restrain her? Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find her. Jeremiah 2:23-24

Here, Jeremiah calls his own people, the very chosen of God, the men and women he would give his life for, a bunch of horny, whorish defiled camels and jackasses because they are following a broken system that is opposed to God’s way. Is there anger, bitterness and resentment in Jeremiah’s voice? Of course there is. I wonder how many of my Christian friends would have accused the YHVH’s prophet of lacking forgiveness. Instead, they are quick to point out that the Jews deserved it.

How about Jesus himself?

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28

Can you sense the anger Jesus is showing toward the Pharisees? I am sure Jesus was not patting these guys on their backs while insulting them. In my Iranian culture, to say, “woe”— vaay in Farsi — to someone is pretty much the equivalent of saying, “You deserve to go to hell”. And that’s exactly what Jesus is saying to those whom, for generations through their teachings and instructions, had kept the Jewish heritage and laws intact.

For all the years I have been a follower of Christ, I have never heard any Christian accusing Jesus of harboring resentment or having an unforgiving attitude toward the Pharisees. In fact, my experience has been totally the opposite. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a pastor preach with glee and an admiration for the way Jesus confronted the religious people of his day, I’d be the one bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac instead of the government. Yet, when I or other believers dare to question some of the Christian leaders of our time, we are accused of not showing Christ-like forgiveness.

Do you ever stop to think that by doing so, we, like Jesus, are seeking justice and truth and our attitudes toward these men have nothing to do with a lack of forgiveness on our side? Is it possible that after 25 years of being a pastor and six years of working within a Christian corporation, I have seen way too much crap to keep my mouth shut? It amazes me how these same Christians demand accountability from any government official — especially if that individual is not a Republican — yet when it comes to keeping their own Christian leaders to the same standards, they refuse to do so less they be accused of lacking forgiveness.

I feel regret for all the years I saw injustice and hypocrisy within the Church and didn’t say anything. I didn’t do it because I was afraid or was trying to whitewash the actions of certain individuals. I simply believed that it was I who was wrong. After all, I am but a converted Iranian pastor from a Muslim background. “Who am I to question the sincerity of my American mentors?” were my thoughts for years.

But today I realize how wrong I was. There is a time and place when we have to demand accountability at the cost of being accused of harboring resentment or unforgiveness in our hearts.

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12 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me Unforgiving Because I Seek Justice!

  1. Shah,Thanks again for the talk we had. Checked your blog out and really enjoyed it. I forwarded it on to my wife to read, especially the current installment on forgiveness. We have discussed this issue a great deal and have pretty come close to the same conclusion as you, specifically that we Christians are very unbalanced in our concept of forgiveness because we don’t understand the justice of God. Listening to Dennis Prager on this subject helped us in this area.Anyway, great blog. I added it to my favorites and will make it regular reading. I think you have a prophetic edge to your writing that is much needed.Praying for you,

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  2. “Woe is <>me<>.”“I lay my hand over my mouth.”(<>Isaiah and Job, respectively<>)Suppose we all have it wrong. What then?I submit, though I admit that I don’t have anything figured out, that if only God can reveal God to us, in what way do we expect our traditions to be of any assistance?

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  3. I totally feel you. It is really unhelpful, and annoying when someone is so quick to say “you need to forgive”.I need to process this, and vent, and get angry, and hey maybe something should be done about this person that I’m mad at. When I’ve tried to forgive someone immediately after they’ve hurt me pretty bad, my anger just pops back up soon after.

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  4. It’s okay to get angry, vent, and process any injustices that may have been perpetrated against you, however, do not sin in the anger. If you speak ill of the leaders that hurt you and what you say about them is venomous, then are you any better than they? You have every right to feel hurt; but ask yourself the question: what was your part in it? Maybe your intentions were good but the execution left much to be desired. Just something to think about. And as forgiveness, well it’s about you releasing yourself from the emotional attachment so that the Lord can get in there and heal those wounds and use you for His kingdom. Reconciliation is completely up to the other person.

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  5. Dear Anonymous1:Thank you for your comments on my blog. I’m assuming that we know each other and you also know the people I’m writing about. Could you please tell me, in this case, what you mean by, “but do not sin in anger”? Was Jesus venomous when he called the Pharisees, his religious leaders who did hurt him every chance they got, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”? Was Jesus any better than the hypocritical Pharisees? By no means do I dare to compare myself with Jesus, however, He IS my example.As for my execution leaving much to be desired, why don’t you stop to think, maybe the leaderships’ execution had much to be desired. After all, I believe, you know the system. By the way, would you had said the same thing to Jesus, “Hey Jesus, what got you killed was not your good intentions, but your execution. After all, those Pharisees were the very God’s anointed otherwise they would not have been in the position of authority that they were.”?I guess, unless I completely stop writing about the injustice that some of the church leaders continue to commit, I must still be in need of healing. In that case, would you say that Martin Luther and I are in the same boat, or it’s ok to question the Catholic church, but not your denomination?

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  6. Good morning, Shah.
    I was just catching up on your blog posts, and as always, I have been touched by your practical and straightforward way of telling it like it is.

    The “working through it” process that you describe here is not only natural, but necessary for healthy emotional, and yes, spiritual growth.

    It always bothers me when people say that to be like Jesus, we need to just forgive and forget…like there is some sort of “forgiveness lightswitch” that we can turn on and off at will. We simply are not designed that way and since God is the one who designed us, I am pretty sure that He does not expect us to behave thusly.

    When we consider the matter of forgiving and forgetting we need to remember that Jesus’ mercy was always tempered with justice.

    Yes, by His divine grace, we can forgive, but this access to His grace does not make us divine. We still have to deal with the pains and injustices of this life with imperfect minds and hearts. I wish it could be otherwise, but alas, as long as we are on this side of Heaven, we are stuck with being emotionally and spiritually flawed humans.

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  7. BK, How well put when you say, “Yes, by His divine grace, we can forgive, but this access to His grace does not make us divine.” I wish we’d all learn this lesson and stop putting so many demands on one another, especially, the young believers.

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  8. man really good read, i have been in a situation where i felt the need to say something and didnt, and felt this built up resentment. i now try hard to jus say what i need to say when i feel God tellin me to say it. but i struggle with feelin bad after. i guess not listening to God is a lil worse then hurting someones feelings

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