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Unpacking Forgiveness

You do not need to live long in this world before you will accumulate a nearly endless list of people to whom you owe forgiveness. Even young children quickly begin to sin against others and have to ask forgiveness (just as my two-year old had to seek forgiveness from her sister yesterday for tearing a page from her new Bible). And though Christians speak often of forgiveness extended to them by God, they speak far less often of forgiveness offered to others. In Unpacking Forgiveness, Chris Brauns provides “biblical answers for complex questions and deep wounds.” And really it is only God’s word that can unpack forgiveness, offering hope for true and lasting healing.

Brauns offers teaching on forgiveness that counters much of the mainstream of Evangelical thought. Nowhere is this shown more clearly than in his discussion about the conditional nature of forgiveness. Where we are accustomed to Christians “forgiving” any and everyone, perhaps standing outside the scene of a school shooting with signs saying, “We forgive you,” Brauns shows that this is not true forgiveness in a biblical sense. He distinguishes between a kind of therapeutic forgiveness that may make us feel better, and a genuine forgiveness that actually brings about reconciliation.

The book is packed with illustrations, many of which are heartbreaking. You will read some stories that have been widely reported in the media (such as the story of the Willis family whose six children were killed in a van accident caused by a manufacturing defect) and others that will be new to you. But through each of the stories you will see remarkable examples of Christians both extending and receiving forgiveness.

Brauns roots the human pattern of forgiveness in the divine model given to us by God. He offers the key principle that God expects believers to forgive others in the way that he forgave them. How, then, does God forgive? Brauns defines God’s forgiveness in this way: “A commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences.” We see that God’s forgiveness is gracious but not free; it is conditional (meaning that only those who repent and believe are forgiven); it lays the groundwork for reconciliation; and it does not eliminate all consequences. And this model of forgiveness, exemplified so clearly and so amazingly in the cross, is the pattern we are to imitate. Human forgiveness, then, is “a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and so to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.”

The book continues into areas of application, asking when it is appropriate to simply overlook an offense and offering principles on how to actually go about seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. Brauns offers biblical wisdom on what to do if you find that you simply cannot forgive and he provides principles on responding to the unrepentant. He writes about bitterness, about the inability to get over a wrong committed and about those times that Christians simply cannot agree. A useful Appendix includes a grab-bag of questions and answers, and valuable ones at that (How can I be sure that God has forgiven me? How can I forgive myself? Should adultery always be confessed?).

There are few things more unnatural and few things more holy than forgiveness. Living as we do in a fallen world, we are given endless opportunities both to extend and to seek forgiveness. In Unpacking Forgiveness, Chris Brauns eschews the easy answers and looks to the Bible to provide God’s wisdom on how and when we are to forgive. Relying on his experience as a pastor and on his deep knowledge of Scripture, he provides what is a logical, well-illustrated book on the subject. With humor at times and appropriate gravitas at others, Brauns leads the reader first to understand and then to apply what the Bible teaches on forgiveness. Because it deals biblically with a subject of universal importance, any reader can benefit from reading Unpacking Forgiveness. I recommend that you do just that. This is an excellent book you will not want to overlook.