A Good Read: “From Forgiven to Forgiving” by Jay E. Adams

From Forgiven to Forgiving


How comfortable are you when you read? Are you the type of person with a nice spot on the sofa, or are you someone with the ability to turn a page on the treadmill? Whenever an idea comes our way, the internal posture counts for more than the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I’m speaking of that willingness to conduct an interior review, while I read, rather than watching the thoughts go by. As an educator, I’d call it active versus passive reading; but in the coffee spills and calendar jams that constitute my daily life, I frequently find myself in contempt of the familiar. Biblical topics will usually provoke this quicker than any others. It should come as no surprise to you then, that reviewing a book on being forgiven does more to self-illuminate than to market.

I’m on the first page of the first chapter, and Adams is telling me all about the substantial claims that “go about masquerading as forgiveness.” I’m curious, but still primarily suspicious. It’s been years of people telling me to read this or that and often finding that the book says nothing. Then there’s the categorical failing of many authors. You know, whenever so and so releases a new book, it basically repackages what the last one said? Another fifteen dollars to read your last book reworked through metaphors about movies instead of history? Consider my surprise when Adams informs me that this isn’t a book answering the question “what does forgiveness do?” He’s taking a swing at the issues which confuse what forgiveness is, namely: apologies, the old forgive and forget, and the feelings that drive us to approach it in many different ways.

Sometimes “sorry” simply isn’t enough. If you’re into etymology, the word apology comes from the word apologia, or defense. We don’t want to go up to people asking them to accept our defense, do we? The profoundly Christian power of forgiveness, according to Adams, comes from one person confessing guilt and asking to be forgiven. For some, the distinction seems irrelevant, but what saying “I’m sorry” seems to do, is elevate how badly someone feels into a strong enough reason to move past an issue.

What about forgiving and forgetting? There’s a problem with that too. Indeed, even as God promises to remember our sins no more, we understand that an omniscient ruler of the universe can’t actually forget. What He can do, however, is deliberately not use them against us. There’s a reversal that takes place when this happens between two people then. Once a person grants another forgiveness, the forgiven individual is expected to keep the other from using the persistence of memory as a weapon against them. It’s good to understand the expectations placed upon us. But I thought forgiveness was a more private thing?

The process of forgiveness is intended to bring reconciliation to people through the process of confrontation over sin. The whole of Adams’ book is set in the context of Matthew 18. This idea of feeling like we’ve forgiven or moved on has little to do with the spiritual discipline prescribed by scripture. After all, sin’s tendency is to divide, isolate, and as James tells us, eventually produce death. Eventually we’re each called to take a step we’d rather not take. The work of being reconciled to others is messy, but how can we be peacemakers if we don’t? A passive aggressive status quo simply won’t suit in this case.

Adams’ book is a well balanced approach to both types of conversations. There’s a good amount of information on needing to confront other people with their sin and be reconciled. If you’re like me, there’s about the same amount of advice on going to others and asking them to forgive you. Familiarity almost cost me a good read here. It doesn’t matter if you intend to read this one in bed or at the gym, just make sure you approach this slender text with an active mind looking towards self-evaluation.