What Forgiveness Isn’t

Forgiveness is not in any way saying something is okay or acceptable, nor is it saying that you deny appropriate justice. It's not even pretending something didn't happen—it totally happened and it definitely sucked.

What forgiveness is, is simply releasing someone from their debt. It's saying that the sin they committed is no longer held over them, for you have freed them from what was owed you.

Forgiveness and peace are not some masochistic way of embracing violence or seeking it out. This is a common misconception of Christian pacifism. People think we're somehow advocating that you should go get beat up by others and be all lovey-dovey and subject yourself to horrible situations without even trying to avoid them. But to quote Derek Flood, "The goal of enemy love is not to subject oneself to violence, but to act to break the cycle of violence" (Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture, p 191).

Jesus never said, "If someone molests you, forgive them and pretend it didn't happen and stick around." Absolutely not! Jesus came to set the captives free, not subject them to a theology of repetitive violence. Pacifism means embracing peace, love, and forgiveness over violence, hatred, and bitterness and it means doing it as many times as a sin is committed against you.

Pacifism and forgiveness still seek justice. The judgment and ruling of courts and judges and juries are completely acceptable—so long as a death sentence is not the answer, for Christians are to be pro-life in all ways, knowing redemption is always possible. Prison is still a possibility. Creative ways of making amends are still a possibility. God is a God of justice just as he is a God of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a way of allowing us to get away with things.

We often misunderstand what justice is as well, because we usually turn it into revenge. For example, I once felt that some injustice had been done to a friend of mine and I wanted to raise awareness so that those who had committed the injustice would have to face themselves. I called my friend looking for their opinion as to how far I should go to find that justice.

“Well, how bad do you want to get back at them?” they asked.

“I’m not trying to get back at anyone!" I laughed. "I’m just trying to find justice.”

“Right," they paused. "So how much justice do you want?”

I laughed again. We use the words so interchangeably and think of them as the same thing, but they're not. Justice is done in love, revenge is done in hatred. Justice is done in righteousness, revenge is done in unrighteousness. Justice is done in peace, revenge is done in violence. Justice is what's right in God's eyes, revenge is what's right in ours. We must be people of justice, not of vengeance, for Christians are to have nothing to do with vengeance (Ro 12:19).

This is an excerpt from my new book, "A Taste of Jesus." Grab the Kindle version for $10 or a physical copy for $20.


Dear Hit-and-Runner

Dear Hit-and-Runner,

Yesterday morning you managed to run a stop sign and crash into my wife’s vehicle, leaving both her and our four-month old stranded on the side of the road. We have witnesses, we have statements, a description of your car, and a piece of your headlight that you left behind at the scene.

Obviously you did us wrong—once by hitting my family, and twice by fleeing the scene. Justice has not been carried out.

But I am here to tell you something bold. Something so bold, even some of my Christian brothers and sisters will be upset with me.

I forgive you.

I forgive you for leaving my family behind at the scene without checking on them and I have chosen to not consider the “what-ifs.” “What if my wife had been injured?” “What if my son had been thrashed around?” The good news is (and I thank God for this) that my family is fine. Sure, my wife felt the after-effects of the event later that night, but altogether she’s doing well. I am not going to hold the what-ifs against you because that’s all they are: “what-ifs.” In this case, contemplating them would only make me  pointlessly angry.

I forgive you for the damage you did to our car. It’s not covered by our insurance and will cost a bit of money to fix—more money than we’re willing to invest in it actually. It is fortunate we have acknowledged the fact that we may need a new car over the next few years and that the idea of buying one was not a complete and total surprise. Though you have forced our hand to do this while we are not in the greatest financial state, I still choose to forgive you.

I’ve been told that if we could find you, we would be able to sue you up to a thousand dollars—but neither my wife or I want to do that. As I try to put myself in your shoes, it seems to me that you must be in a difficult financial state of your own. Since you fled the scene, my guess is you do not have the proper insurance to cover the accident (or that you’re covering yourself for some other reason). Therefore, my family does not wish to make your financial state any more difficult than it currently is, even if we do have the full authority to do so. As I put myself in your shoes, I realize I too have ran stop signs and driven recklessly at times. As I put myself in your shoes, I see myself as having the capacity to be like you. As Henri Nouwen says:

“Compassion grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you. This partnership cuts through all walls that might have kept you separate. Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one. Created from the same dust, subject to the same to the same laws, and destined for the same end. With this compassion you can say, “In the face of the oppressed, I recognize my own face. And in the hands of the oppressor, I recognize my own hand. Their flesh is my flesh. Their blood is my blood. Their pain is my pain. Their smile is my smile. Their ability to torture is in me too. Their capacity to forgive I find also in myself. There is nothing in me that does not belong to them too. Nothing in them that does not belong to me. In my heart I know they’re yearning for love and down to my entrails, I can feel their cruelty. In another’s eyes I see my plea for forgiveness and in a hardened frown I see my refusal. When someone murders, I know that I too could have done that. And when someone gives birth I know that I am capable of that as well. In the depths of my being I meet my fellow humans with whom I share love and have life and death.”

Obviously, what you did was not right, and I hope that you will not do it again should you find yourself in a similar situation. But regardless of what you did, my Savior Jesus calls me to appeal to the backwards politics of the Kingdom of Heaven and extend to you the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you don’t deserve. He points to the cross and reminds me of the bloodshed on my behalf even though I didn’t deserve it—even though I put the nails through those hands. He asks me to turn the other cheek, to offer you my cloak, and to go the extra mile. He draws in the dust that makes up my life and asks me if I am without sin.

I drop my stone.

I forgive you.

And I ask my Savior to do the same.

May you be blessed and come to know (or rediscover) the great love of the cross,

-Jamin Bradley

Last Christmas Standing

I don’t know if you’ve seen Tim Allen’s new show Last Man Standing at all, but so far it has been pretty funny. This past episode was an especially good one on forgiveness. I never really watch it expecting to think, but this one at least engaged my thoughts and had me cracking up at the same time.

There’s one conversation in particular about mid show that had me laughing out loud and wanting to include it in my next message on forgiveness (and imagine this being said somewhat jokingly incase you can’t catch it in the text):

“Dad, I was sort of thinking, you know you make everyone go to church every week and listen to sermons about forgiveness.”


“So… maybe you should just forgive Ryan.”

“(Scoffs) That’s what you take away from church? Forgiveness? Wow. What about the vengeful God? All that Isaiah stuff, huh? Rain toads on people. Rivers into blood, harden the heart of the pharaoh. How come that didn’t sink in? That’s my God.”

“Not mine.”

And so if you wanna crack up and think about forgiveness a little bit, check out the latest episode. You can currently watch it for free on Hulu or buy it on iTunes.

Speaking of Christmas, here’s a little random Christmas gift from my friends and I:

The Spiritual Power of Forgiveness

There are many important subjects to research when it comes to Christian counseling, but I believe that there is one subject in particular that ranks much higher than the majority. This is the subject of forgiveness. This is an attribute that every Christian is supposed to have in their life, and yet few ever operate within its power. But when they do, I believe they will find that this topic is freeing, life giving, and restorative—even if it is an incredibly difficult to do at times.

Forgiveness is one of the things that we as Christians are commanded to do. In the same way that Christ forgave us, we are to forgive those around us, lest we be handed over to our torturers (Mt. 18:23-35) or unforgiven by God Himself (Mt. 6:14). We are to forgive one person over and over again should they transgress against us, even up to seventy times seven if need be (Mt. 18:21-22). It truly is a big deal, and if we do not treat it like one, we will find our lives full of bitterness, depression, and pain.

“But why forgive?” asks the secular world. “Surely there is a better way to deal with those who have wronged you rather than release them from the anger they deserve?” It is an odd concept to most, and it can hardly be understood without Jesus Christ as the focal point. This is partially because there is a literal power within Christian forgiveness. It is the work of the Holy Spirit

This spiritual work has been seen time and time again in a person’s life when they truly forgive. And the power becomes more tangibly seen especially in the charismatic realm. Don Dickerman writes of a girl in who was abused in “all kinds of ways imaginable by everyone in her life… She still had anger, bitterness, and resentment toward all those who abused her throughout her life” (61-3). After this assessment, Dickerman led her through a demonic deliverance, part of the process being “repenting of unforgiveness, anger, bitterness, hatred, resentment, and kindred sins” (63).

It is also not uncommon for the Holy Spirit to release people from sickness and physical infirmities after they have been led through forgiveness. This reminds us of Jesus’ warning to the man He healed at the portico: “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you” (Jn. 5:14). It even reminds us of the disciples’ accusation towards the blind man: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (Jn. 9:2).

But healing can come from forgiveness in other ways as well, especially in the realm of emotion. One study, for example, found “evidence of robust individual differences in the forgiveness-anger relationship… Thus, it is possible that some individuals exhibit a significant relationship between forgiveness and subsequent reductions in anger” (Wilkowski, 836).

I would suggest that one of the reasons there is a difference between forgiveness and anger-reduction in individuals is because some people’s forgiveness may be more genuine or complete than others. Sometimes we can say the words “I forgive you” and not truly mean it; just when like a child says “I’m sorry” when their parents force them to. Sometimes we can truly want to forgive and even say the words out loud, but still hold onto something deep inside that we really haven’t given over. Forgiveness can at times be partial and incomplete, but any release of the bondage of unforgiveness in a person’s life (even if partial) is at least a step in the right direction and brings them closer to freedom.

Another possibility I would suggest for this difference in anger reduction is related to what I said earlier (this may not be the case very often, but I will suggest it nonetheless). I think there is at least a possibility that a person may continue to suffer anger after forgiveness has taken place, due to demonic oppression—especially in those who have suffered extreme situations, such as sexual or physical abuse. Since deliverance from spiritual forces is not widely thought of (or even accepted) by many Christians, I think there is a possibility that counselors may lead someone through all the steps of forgiveness, all the while leaving behind an oppressive and angry spiritual force for a person to suppress rather than be freed of.

I think another reason for the difference in anger reduction is the method in which forgiveness is achieved. I have found in my own life that by confronting the person I am angry with (whether by email or face to face), I am much more able to forgive in full. I have attempted to forgive these same people mentally before I ever confronted them and the difference is astonishing. When all I do is forgive with my mind, I leave a rather large portion of pain within me. It is not that I have not truly forgiven a person, but rather that I have left the situation in a state that screams for attention. I have no physical situation of forgiveness to call upon—just a metaphysical state of mind to think of. But when we at least attempt to mend a situation rather than solve the issue with our mind alone, the burden is lifted with much greater ease.

That is not to say, however, that every situation can be mended. If a transgressor has passed away, then the state of forgiveness will more or less have to be mental. But I think that that in even some of the most extreme situations, at least writing a letter to a transgressor could prove incredibly beneficial to the forgiveness process. It may even move the transgressor into a better life, which is something we should be able to hope for if we have truly forgiven them. That does not mean that we have to trust the person or that we should even ever be around the person again (pending on the extremity of the problem), but I think there’s always room to attempt to make amends.

Another study found that “forgiveness can be effectual in promoting well-being because it is associated with the ability to monitor one’s affective state and self soothe, thereby making it more likely to relate in prosocial ways” (Sandage, 175). This statement shows that the act of forgiveness itself was built to free and restore us. Not only can it reduce our anger, but it can also improve upon our personal life. God is a joyful God who is looking to bring joy to our lives (despite what some may think). For that reason, it only makes sense that He would command us to forgive others because the freedom that the cross represents is found when we do so. It is then that we are able to enter into the joy that the resurrection brings.

When we live in unforgiveness, we build an invisible barrier between God and ourselves that makes it difficult to access joy and its source. Breaking down those walls obviously requires us to forgive, but depending on the situation, it may also take God’s help. So often we tend to think of ourselves as a one-man team and we forget that we have the strength of the Holy Spirit on our side. We are the ones who built the barrier between God and ourselves, but He wants to break it down just as much as we do. Therefore, we must learn to ask for help and allow God to lead us through the process of forgiveness.

So far, we have addressed all of the positives of forgiveness and we have yet to see any of the negatives. And while I would like to address a few problems that tend to show up in forgiveness, I still want it to be clear that it is a necessity in the Christian life. That being said, let’s take a quick look at some of the problems that might arise due to forgiveness.

At times forgiveness can cause a continuation of sin. This is something that every Christian has at least realized in relation to God. He loves us unconditionally and will always forgive us when we do wrong. And while it is totally and completely unacceptable, there are times in many people’s Christian walk, where they may allow themselves to do something sinful knowing that God will forgive them. Now I imagine that most Christians really feel the pain of their sin after having intentionally done so, and so their repentance is real. But should we return with a fake apology, we have not really repented or searched for forgiveness, but have rather, like a dog, returned to our vomit and have even lied down in it. This same struggle we have with God can also be a struggle within forgiving marriages as one journalist discovered:


…forgiveness may increase the likelihood that offenders will offend again by removing unwanted outcomes for those offenders (e.g., criticism, guilt, loneli- ness) that would otherwise discourage them from reoffending. Consistent with this possibility, the current 7-day-diary study revealed that newlywed spouses were more likely to report that their partners had engaged in a negative behavior on days after they had forgiven those partners for a negative behavior than on days after they had not forgiven those partners for a negative behavior. Interpersonal theories and interventions designed to treat and prevent relationship distress may benefit by acknowledging this potential cost of forgiveness (McNulty, 787).


I believe that there are two things we should take away from this study. The first is to realize that the problem here is really within the offender. It is the same way with our relationship with God. The problem is not that God is too forgiving, but rather that we take advantage of His love. We decide to continually live by the flesh rather than by the Spirit and deny ourselves the decency and discipline to live correctly. Forgiveness is not an issue—flesh is. Flesh is not familiar with forgiveness, so when someone extends it to us out of their spirit, it may be abused.

The second thing we can take away from this study is that forgiveness does not always have to be void of consequences or lack conflict. There may, of course, be some situations in which we can move to forgiveness immediately (such as one’s spouse forgetting to the trash out once or twice or seventy times seven times), but there are also issues of greater offense that may not be truly comprehended without conflict. If one’s partner has done something truly offensive, forgiveness still needs to come, but with depth.

There is no reason not to discuss the pain and emotion linked to transgression. This takes us back to what I said earlier about mending a situation with someone from the past. Bringing it up and talking about it helps. It may hurt very much to address the situation (whether the situation is present or past), but it should be addressed and not pushed aside or deemphasized. Or as one article states, “The concept of forgiveness as a response to a transgression is not the same as overlooking or excusing an offense” (Schultz, 104). We may need to use the sharp edge of emotion in our forgiveness, but we who are spiritual should always look to restore anyone caught in trespass in a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1).

As stated earlier, forgiveness is one of the most important subjects we as Christians can address in counseling. Not only does it stand as an important topic by itself, but it is also connected to almost every counseling situation you will be in. If someone is not coming to counseling because they need to forgive someone, it may very well be that they need to forgive themselves for something, which is sometimes just as hard. But it is through the spiritual power of forgiveness that we are able to offer freedom, life, and restoration, which are all reasons for Jesus’ death. When we deny each other these liberties, we deny each other (and ourselves), Christ.


Dickerman, D. (2009). When pigs move in . Lake Mary, Fla.: Charisma House.

McNulty, J. K. (2010). Forgiveness Increases the Likelihood of Subsequent Partner Transgressions in Marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(6), 787-790.

New American Standard Bible

Sandage, S. J., & Jankowski, P. J. (2010). Forgiveness, Spiritual Instability,Mental Health Symptoms, and Well-Being: Mediator Effects of Differentiation of Self. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2(3), 168-180.

Schultz, J. M., Tallman, B. A., & Altmaier, E. M. (2010). Pathways to Posttraumatic Growth: The Contributions of Forgiveness and Importance of Religion and Spirituality. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2(2), 104-114.

Wilkowski, B. M., Robinson, M. D., & Troop-Gordon, W. (2010). How Does Cognitive Control Reduce Anger and Aggression? The Role of Conflict Monitoring and Forgiveness Processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(5), 830-840.

Jodi: GF Extraordinaire

Have you seen the girl with hair like this?

I have. I saw her yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that. And on skype the day before that. In fact I’ve seen her a lot over the past almost-3-years.

Her name is Jodi and she happens to be my girlfriend (and she is an amazing one at that!). She’s sweet, kind, beautiful, has awesome hair and style that you only wish you had. She likes talking, reading, eating Jet’s pizza, designing things, cutting hair, and being altogether awesome. In fact, here’s a few shirts that she has made:

But there’s another awesome attribute that she has that I just don’t get: she is forgiving.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever dated me (you haven’t), but I’m pretty stupid. In fact, when I was born my parents almost decided to name me Fernando the Stupid.

That’s not true. My parents love me. But I was apparently a fat baby so maybe they would have called me Fernando the Fatness.

But seriously though—I do a lot of stupid things. And it’s in these situations that when I look to Jodi, the last thing I expect from her is love. But over the years, she hasn’t given up on me. Instead, she’s shown me part of the Gospel in a way that few have ever done: she has shown me unconditional love. And she has done so to a degree that no one else has.

She’s stuck with me through my stupidity, day in and day out and has forgiven me time and time again. On top of that she has loved me the same every day. She has given me something physical to identify God with.

I have even taken advantage of her forgiveness like I have God’s, and she’s loved me nonetheless.

She is a person one could only dream about. I know, I’m being a cheesy, but love gets that way sometimes.

Jodi, I love you. And I just want to say thanks for showing me God in a way that you may have never noticed. On top of that, you’ve shown Him to me in a way that every person wants to know Him as. Which brings me to you dear reader:

I know you’ve walked into church week in and week out and have left time and time again feeling like slime. You haven’t been able to sift past your own unrighteousness to find the unconditional love of God whom loves you as you are. It is that love that will inspire you out of the muck. It is that love that will perfect you. It is that love that will carry you. Sure, that love may come with conviction at times to help you out, but conviction itself stems from love.

It’s unconditional. It never changes. His grace is new every morning. It is everything you’ve ever wanted and it’s the only thing He’s ever going to give you. So live in that. Because that is reality.

Love is Not a Bullhorn Pt. 2

A few days ago I made a post called Love is Not a Bullhorn which was about a story I read in the news. The basic gist was this:

  • A church has been protesting at a strip club and now the strip club is protesting at the church.

My critique was on how this church was acting. The basic gist of what I said was this:

There is a very delicate balance to what you preach. It’s not all law. It’s not all sin. There is the incredibly important aspect of forgiveness that one man died for. You also might recall that He died silently and not with a bullhorn.

The post I made was short, but was also, I feel, important. You can read it here. Anyways, I bring this back up because the story has come back into the news. Now typically, when we hear of a story about a church, it’s a bad thing. The media obviously focuses on the crap that happens in the world because that sells money. But somehow this story has come back into the news and now there’s hope that this church could fix the situation. Here’s what YAHOO said on the matter.

They [the strip club owner and the pastor of the church] say they’ll negotiate for the first time Wednesday.The decision came after two women from ministries that evangelize to adult-entertainment industry workers spoke during Sunday’s sermon at the church in Warsaw, 60 miles northeast of Columbus.

San Diego resident Sheri Brown and Grand Rapids, Mich., resident Anny Donewald say the congregation should just love the strippers and “let the Holy Spirit draw them out.”

The Columbus Dispatch newspaper says women who attended the church service apologized to strippers who had traveled from nearby Newcastle to protest outside.

This is good news! Not only did this church allow people outside of their congregation to come in and critique them, but they also listened! That is much, much harder to do than you might think. It’s obvious to me that the Spirit was at work in those who apologized.

To the rest of Christians, let’s keep this church in prayer. They are, after all, as much a part of the body as the rest of us. God is already mending some wounds and this meeting between the pastor and strip club owner could be an epic moment of healing. Not just between the church and the strip club, but between the church and every person who read the original article.

Ohio Strip Club Owner, Pastor to Meet over Feud – Yahoo! News.” The Top News Headlines on Current Events from Yahoo! News – Yahoo! News. Web. 16 Aug. 2010. <http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100815/ap_on_fe_st/us_odd_strippers_protest_church&gt;.

Love is Not a Bullhorn

Let’s get something straight here church: you were called to love people and give them God’s life, NOT to speak hell and death over them. Sadly, it’s always our mistakes that make the news:

The owner of an Ohio strip club and some of his dancers have been protesting at a church that has done the same to them for four years…They [the church] come armed with bullhorns, signs and video cameras for posting customers’ license plate numbers online.

There is a very delicate balance to what you preach. It’s not all law. It’s not all sin. There is the incredibly important aspect of forgiveness that one man died for. You also might recall that He died silently and not with a bullhorn.

Jesus never even needed a bullhorn anyways. Why? Because He showed people love so perfectly that crowds would not leave Him alone! They had to have more of Him! They hung on His every word.

Jodi read me an amazing story out of Orson Scott Card’s, “Speaker for the Dead” just the other day. I think it applies well to this situation:

A Great Rabbi stands, teaching in the marketplace. It happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife’s adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death.

There is a familiar version of this story, but a friend of mine – a Speaker for the Dead – has told me of two other Rabbis that faced the same situation. Those are the ones I’m going to tell you.

The Rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears and waits with the stones heavy in their hands. ‘Is there any man here,’ he says to them, ‘who has not desired another man’s wife, another woman’s husband?’

They murmur and say, ‘We all know the desire, but Rabbi none of us has acted on it.’

The Rabbi says, ‘Then kneel down and give thanks that God has made you strong.’ He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, ‘Tell the Lord Magistrate who saved his mistress, then he’ll know I am his loyal servant.’

So the woman lives because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.

Another Rabbi. Another city. He goes to her and stops the mob as in the other story and says, ‘Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.’

The people are abashed, and they forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. ‘Someday,’ they think, ‘I may be like this woman. And I’ll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her as I wish to be treated.’

As they opened their hands and let their stones fall to the ground, the Rabbi picks up one of the fallen stones, lifts it high over the woman’s head and throws it straight down with all his might it crushes her skull and dashes her brain among the cobblestones. ‘Nor am I without sins,’ he says to the people, ‘but if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead – and our city with it.’

So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.

The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis and when they veer too far they die. Only one Rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation.

So of course, we killed him.

Works Cited:

Bullhorn Guy. Perf. Rob Bell. NOOMA. DVD.

Card, Orson Scott. Speaker for the Dead. New York, NY: TOR, 1986. Print.”

Dancers from Ohio Strip Club Protest at Church – Yahoo! News.” The Top News Headlines on Current Events from Yahoo! News – Yahoo! News. Web. 10 Aug. 2010. <http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100810/ap_on_fe_st/us_odd_strippers_protest_church&gt;.