Devotional Podcast #15: “How Much Have We Been Forgiven?”

In this episode I talk about the inspiring testimony of Rachael Denhollander, the brave young Christian woman (and attorney) who testified against Larry Nassar, the U.S. gymnastics team doctor who molested over 150 girls. Her words about God’s wrath, judgment, and forgiveness were powerful. What can we learn from them?

Devotional Text: Luke 7:36-50

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, February 19, and this is Devotional Podcast number 15.

You’re listening to my favorite singer, Bob Dylan, and his version of the song, “Stay with Me,” which is found on his 2015 album Shadows in the Night. The album is a collection of songs made famous by, or at least recorded by, Frank Sinatra. And Dylan’s crack five-piece band follows the Sinatra arrangements, with Donnie Herron’s pedal steel emulating the orchestra. And I’ll be darned if this has not become one of my favorite Dylan albums. I really like Dylan the old man—he sings songs suitable for his voice and age.

The song is literally a prayer—the singer is pleading with God not to abandon him, even though he has been unfaithful to God. Listen to the first few stanzas:

Should my heart not be humble
Should my eyes fail to see
Should my feet sometimes stumble
On the way, stay with me
Like the lamb that in springtime
Wanders far from the fold
Through the darkness and the frost
I get lost
I grow cold
I grow cold, I grow weary
And I know I have sinned
And I go, seeking shelter
And I cry in the wind
Though I grope and I blunder
And I’m weak and I’m wrong
Though the road buckles under
Where I walk, walk along
Till I find to my wonder
Every path leads to Thee
All that I can do is pray
Stay with me
Stay with me

I find that deeply moving. And pertinent to today’s discussion…

Last month, I was deeply moved by the words of Rachael Denhollander. She is an attorney, an evangelical Christian, and a former gymnast who, along with over 150 other young women, was sexually molested by Larry Nassar, the team doctor who treated gymnasts on the U.S. Olympic team for 20 years. The judge allowed her and her fellow victims to address Nassar in court.

Here’s an excerpt from what she said:

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen in this courtroom today.

The Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you to be thrown into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak of says there’s a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.

Is Denhollander right? Is forgiveness of an evil man like Nassar possible—if he truly faces up to his sins, repents, and turns to Christ? If so, does that seem fair—or just?

Before you answer, let’s look at Luke chapter 7: Jesus is invited to have dinner in the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While he’s there, we’re told that “a woman of the city, a sinner”—i.e., a prostitute—came and wept at Jesus’ feet, wetting them with her tears and drying them with her hair. She poured expensive perfume on them.

This behavior alarms Simon. He thinks, “If this man were truly a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this is who’s touching him.”

I know we are rarely feel sympathy with Pharisees, but from Simon’s perspective, as he understood the Bible and his Jewish traditions, this woman risked making both him and Jesus spiritually impure. After all, if you’re trying to keep kosher while you eat—as Simon was—you simply can’t let a prostitute touch you. For all we know, Simon sincerely wanted to please God, and avoid sinning, and this woman was making it hard for him to do that—at least as far as he knew. And I get it: sexual sin may not bother God’s people living today nearly as much as it bothered God’s people living in the first century. But that probably says more about us than them.

No, Simon’s estimation of this woman’s character was absolutely correct. Jesus concedes as much in verse 47, when he says, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” Indeed, the short parable Jesus tells Simon in verses 41-42 presupposes that this woman was a very serious sinner:  “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

In the parable, the woman is the one who owes 500 denarii—which amounts to about two-years’ worth of wages. Simon, meanwhile, would owe 50: about two months. It’s not the case that we’re all equally sinful—or that all sins, in God’s eyes, are equally evil or harmful. The Bible doesn’t teach that. All sins will separate us from God eternally, apart from Christ, but it’s not the case that God is indifferent to the kind of sin we commit. The point of the parable is, because of their sins, both of them owe a debt that they’re unable to pay to God. Both of them will only be forgiven because of God’s grace alone.

So let’s get back to Larry Nassar. If Jesus were updating the parable for today, maybe Nassar would owe 5,000 denarii, or 500,000, or 5 million. I don’t know.

But Denhollander is absolutely correct: Is forgiveness possible even for Nassar? The answer has to be yes—and not on account of anything Larry Nassar can do. As Denhollander said, good deeds cannot erase what he’s done. Moreover, apart from repentance and faith in Christ, “God’s wrath and eternal terror” will be poured out on him.

But even now, so long as Nassar lives and breathes, the possibility exists that he can still repent and be saved. Whether he will or not… that’s up to him.

While it’s understandable that many of us feel no sympathy or compassion for the Larry Nassars of the world, the possibility that God can forgive even sinners like them is good news: It means that the blood of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to save the worst of sinners. It means that even the worst sin is no match for cross of Christ. It means, best of all, that there’s hope for us! God can forgive us and save even us!

Isn’t that amazing?

In Colossians 2:14, the apostle Paul says that because of the what Christ accomplished on the cross, God canceled the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Our debt to God is wiped out—which is an amazing gift, if we’re willing to receive it?

What about you? Have you experienced the “soul-crushing weight of guilt” for your sins? If so, has this guilt led you to “experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God”?

Please believe me: That forgiveness is available to you right now!

6 thoughts on “Devotional Podcast #15: “How Much Have We Been Forgiven?””

  1. Very good post! One thing that I wholeheartedly agree with you on is that all sins are not the same. And that Jesus’ parable proves that. Also, God will judge all of us “according to what we have done,” the New Testament says several times. However, by the same token, God will not refuse to fellowship with us for even the worst of such sins IF we repent and turn to Christ. Denhollander has that exactly right!

  2. As was discussed in the recent John Piper piece I sent you, forgiveness is at least as important in the relationship between the “forgiver” and God, as it is regarding the forgiver and the forgiven. God is pleased by the forgiver’s obedience and He showers the forgiver with His love, grace and healing.

    God’s relationship with the offender is a separate transaction, which depends on whether there is a change in that person’s heart and in their relationship with God.

    Jesus commands forgiveness even though our obedience may be one of the hardest things we ever have to do. It has certainly been that way for me.

    1. Grant, this raises an interesting question, which I don’t have a necessarily firm answer on. Are we obliged to forgive if there is no repentance? Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you seven times, and asks forgiveness seven times, you must forgive him.” It is not a question of “earning” forgiveness, but it seems to me that repentance comes into that equation.

      1. Tom, I know I’m behind in posting sermons. I addressed this question in last Sunday’s. My answer is a qualified “yes.” Why? Because if there’s no repentance, then that unrepentant person “at worst” becomes an enemy—and we owe our enemy love, prayers, and acts of good will. Holding a grudge, wishing for our adversary’s downfall, would obviously be prohibited. This would seem to be forgiveness in all but name. There can’t, however, be full reconciliation without repentance—but there can be forgiveness on “our side.” That’s how I see it—along with many commentators I read.

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