Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds by Chris Brauns
Let me begin my post about this book with one of the endorsements from the back cover:
Offenses will come. It’s a given. Unpacking Forgiveness wisely prepares us for the aftermath. Grieving the loss of our six children in a van accident and then being reminded of that loss throughout thirteen years of subsequent battles forced us to search the Scriptures concerning the issue of forgiveness. Chris not only has confirmed answers that we had found but has thoroughly sorted out what it takes to be right with God and man. This is a diligent work with heart. Scott and Janet Willis
Yes, the endorsement comes from that Janet and Scott Willis whose children died in a fiery accident over 20 years ago. Theirs was not one of those small offenses or personal annoyances the Bible tells us are to be overlooked or covered:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8 ESV)
This book makes a case for Biblical forgiveness and draws the distinction between the small offenses that love covers or overlooks (Prov. 19:1) and those serious sins that involve life or death, the division of a family, the troubling of a church, or other examples of substantial hurt and loss. The author leads the reader into the Biblical texts that deal with how to move forward in a forgiving trajectory, towards reconciliation, even if the process breaks down. The obvious contrast or comparison would be to Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, an excellent book I have written about here. While The Peacemaker covers forgiveness, it is a broader and wide-ranging treatment of conflicts and their resolution, which also involves discussion of forgiveness. Unpacking Forgiveness, on the other hand, is oriented toward how we individually or personally respond to others from a forgiving posture through less than ideal circumstances. The goal of forgiveness, in Chris Braun’s view, will lead toward a complete reconciliation, if possible, so far as it depends on you (Romans 12:18 ESV).
The author covers the same territory as all good books on the subject of forgiveness, reconciliation, and conflict resolution. So, the Christian who has read widely on these subjects in the Bible or other books will find very little new but will gain a fresh perspective through Braun’s skill to communicate very effectively by his use of potent illustrations and unflinchingly graphic real-life anecdotes.
Unpacking Forgiveness devotes five chapters to the most common (in my experience) and disorienting mental, emotional, and spiritual troubles we will encounter in matters of offenses and forgiveness — responding to or going forward with a person or persons who are unrepentant. Let’s be honest: genuine Biblical repentance for serious sin and abuse is rare. These title chapters lay out the author’s exegesis of relevant Scriptures, followed by three important appendices:
- How Should I Respond to the Unrepentant? Two Principles
- How Should I Respond to the Unrepentant? A Third Principle
- How Can I Conquer Bitterness?
- How Can I Stop Thinking About It?
- What If Christians Cannot Agree
- Appendix 1: More Forgiveness Questions
- Appendix 2: What Other Authors Say About Conditional Forgiveness
- Appendix 3: Biblical Words For Forgiveness
Spoiler alert. As usual, when I write about books I’ve read, they are not formal reviews — there are gifted people out there doing that and some of the best are on Amazon.com. I don’t generally give a blow by blow, but want to steer others to good books: if you want to know how the story ends, you’ll need to read the book yourself. With that said, I will tell you that the most valuable lesson in this book is one that every good Bible student should already know, yet many Christians don’t seem to believe. Forgiveness for serious sin, not the little things we overlook — in the Bible, forgiveness for sin is conditional — the process of forgiveness and reconciliation is conditioned upon repentance. Without authentic or genuine repentance, there cannot be full or complete reconciliation. Christians are to:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)
God forgives us in Jesus Christ upon our repentance from sin and turning to Him in faith. Jesus told us that we are to be a forgiving people — we forgive the brother who repents:
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, “I repent,” you must forgive him. (Luke 17:3–4 ESV)
When we are wronged and there is no repentance, our responsibility is to remain in a forgiving posture towards the person who has sinned against us and continue to love that person:
I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44 ESV)
Finally, when there is no repentance and the forgiveness process is short-circuited, we have to look to ourselves to keep from sinning further:
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble. (Hebrews 12:15 ESV)
This is where Unpacking Forgiveness shines, in providing the reader with the tools to go forward in the Gospel, beyond the failed attempts at repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation that are so common in the Church.
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