Unspeakable by Os Guinness
Posted by Orrin Woodward on August 28, 2014
As the Chairman of LIFE Leadership, I have made reading a life-long habit. Nonetheless, this year’s summer season reading regimen was particularly productive. In fact, I read so many challenging books at my Michigan house that it is difficult to choose which one was the most impactful. However, if I was pressed to choose, it would have to be Unspeakable by Os Guinness. This book tackles the question of evil and how the Judeo/Christian, Hindu/Buddhist, and secular humanist world views respond to it. Through following Guinness’s line of reasoning I was left appreciating the strengths and weakness of each worldview while still bolstering my belief that Christianity has the most consistent answers to the problem of, and the response to, evil in the world.
Most people see themselves as fighters against evil, but what happens after they realize that the biggest battle they fight against evil is the war within their own hearts? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described the dilemma human beings face in his classic The Gulag Archipelago when he wrote, “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being? And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” To destroy evil we must either destroy our heart or transform it through God’s grace.
In his chapter on second chances, Guinness takes no prisoners. He explains how nearly everyone has said the Lord’s Prayer at some time in his/her life. However, few realize exactly what they are praying when they say, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Indeed, most of us mouth the words blissfully ignorant of the prayers meaning. For when a person prays this, he is stating that if he doesn’t forgive others, then he prays that God doesn’t forgive him! Yikes!
Guinness wrote, “No wonder Saint Agustine called the famous line in the Lord’s Prayer ‘the terrible petition’: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ If we pray that prayer and fail to forgive our fellow human beings as we have been forgiven, we are actually asking God not to forgive us. . . nothing that anyone can ever do to us will equal what we have done to God, and he has offered us forgiveness completely and freely. Our duty, then, is to forgive as we have been forgiven and to show that we have been forgiven by being willing to forgive others in our turn. Do they deserve it? Did we?”
It’s important to understand that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. You can forgive someone even if they are unwilling to reconcile. It is this truth that allows Christians to have joy even when their enemies still hate them. Otherwise, they would carry enmity against their foes which poisons their own soul as much as it does their Haters. In the book Unbroken, for instance, POW Ernest Zamperini carried so much bitterness and hatred against a Japanese officer, who abused him in the war camp, that he nearly destroyed his own life through hating and alcohol. In sum, external evil (unjust oppression) had metastasized into internal evil (hatred in the heart). Fortunately, once he was forgiven by Christ, he was finally able to forgive the unrepentant guard.
Why am I telling you this? Because after twenty-one years of leadership, I have concluded that unrepentant sin holds more people back from their God-given destiny than anything else. Lack of forgiveness is sin, plain and simple. If you are a Christian, and harboring anger against someone, let it go. Place it in the same spot your own sins were layed – at the foot of the Cross. This is serious. Stop reading for a second and think about whom in your life you need to forgive. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Is there anyone from your past or present that is binding you in bitterness? Stop drinking poison while expecting others to die. Forgive them like Christ forgave you to release the evil bonds.
With so much evil and injustice to fight on the outside, why continue harbor these rebels on the inside? Guinness wrote, “. . . true forgiveness is not the same thing as condoning. . . It is not to deny wrong.It is not to tolerate the intolerable or lie down under the outrageous. It is to call a spade a spade, and evil evil, and to allow the full horror of its magnitude and outrage to sink in on every level – and then to be willing to dismiss the grounds of our own personal vengeance toward the evildoer. In other words, forgiveness confronts the evil as evil, and the wrongdoer as guilty, but refuses to retaliate and so refuses to play evil’s game and let evil have the final say.”
It’s time to wipe out our enemies by making them a friend. I let go of my remaining enmity back in 2011, shortly before the launch of LIFE Leadership. I realized that I could not carry around bitterness and resentment while still leaving enough room to love others as Christ commanded. What about you? Isn’t it time to let the hurts, the bitterness, and the pain go? Christ did that for us and now it’s time we pray rather than poison those who hurt us. Only then will you experience the peace that passeth understanding. Martin Luther King experienced more than his share of oppression, but he did not let the evil conquer his heart; instead, he observed, “We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of the enmity.” Amen to that, Mr. King.