Forgiving Fathers

Warning:  this post is full of F-words!

Words like “fathers,” Father,” failures,” faith,” and “forgiveness.”


Failing Fathers (and everyone else)

For too many people, Father’s Day is not happy.  And not because their dad died.

For some, it’s because they’ve never really had a dad.  The man who provided half of their genetic material didn’t stick around.

Others wish their dad had abandoned them.  But he’s definitely been in their lives and left painful marks to prove it.

And then there are those who endure joyless Father’s Days because their dad was there yet not there.  Sure, he lived in the house and provided for the family, but he doesn’t really know his kids and they don’t know him, either.

Any man who fits any of these descriptions has failed as a father.  Yes, even the best fathers—who have avoided these glaring errors—have still fallen short in some way.

Ironically enough, sometimes a father’s good attempts end up negatively affecting his child!  For example, in an effort to encourage his son to do his best in school, Dad says, “I love seeing A’s on your report card,” or something similar.  Unfortunately, the son’s childish mind gets a message that says, “Dad only loves me when I get A’s,” and thus begins a life of perfectionism and fear of failure and who knows what else that keeps a psychologist employed in the son’s adult life.

Fatherhood is hard.  And even the best of men will fail his child in some way, shape, or form.

It’s the nature of humanity, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23 NIV).  Nobody’s as perfect as our Heavenly Father.

Let me say that again:  Nobody’s perfect.  This isn’t limited to just dads.  Moms can fail us, too.  So can siblings, grandparents, co-workers, neighbors, sweethearts and spouses, friends and total strangers.  You don’t have to live very long at all before someone hurts you in some way.  People will fail you.

Now, let this truth sink in:  everyone—including you—is susceptible to offending others.  And we do.  Since the beginning of time, humans have been violating each other’s rights, falling short of expectations, wounding in both physical and metaphysical ways, and in all other aspects offending someone.

So, in one respect, we really shouldn’t be shocked when someone offends us.  (“Offends,” and its variations, is my singular word for encompassing any and all sins committed against you, from the most heinous crimes and violations, to social injustices, to personal slights.)

A Rube Goldberg device, illust. Rube Goldberg (Public Domain) from Wikimedia Commons.

We also need to realize that our personal offender isn’t the first source.  The chances are extremely great that they offended you because someone offended them—perhaps in the same way but probably differently.  Like an elaborate Rube Goldberg device or a long chain of standing dominoes, their action against you was simply a reaction from something affecting them.

Remember: this offending has been going on for a long time, and we’re all links in the chain-reaction.  How you and I respond to these inevitable offenses determines whether we perpetuate offenses or break the chain.

Perhaps this understanding of our shared humanity is enough to help you forgive an offender.  I know it helps me to be more sympathetic and gracious.  But if you need more help, keep reading, because the truth I’m about to share is exciting, liberating, and the most hope-filled reason for forgiving others that I’ve ever encountered!

So, now that we know we all are getting pushed and shoved, jostled and bumped, we need to decide how we’re going to respond.


What About Big Failures?

“BUT WAIT!” you yell, “what happened to me wasn’t just a crowded-space jostling that caused me to momentarily lose my balance; it was more like a bully’s shove that knocked me completely down!  This wasn’t a stop-light fender bender; it was a full-speed crash that sent me careening into the on-coming traffic!”

I understand what you’re saying.  While I will never fully know and feel the deep wounding exactly as you’ve experienced it, I am empathic enough to understand that your pain is real.

I, too, have had some gut-wrenching experiences.  I’ve been mentally tormented with psychological and spiritual abuse—not from my parents but from fellow Christians!  Ministers of God have said things and interpreted Scriptures and rejected my efforts to help in ways that cut me to the core.  I have been so hurt that I have writhed on the floor in agony, screaming and crying in anguish for hours!  I have also felt trapped under a hardship so heavy it nearly destroyed my marriage and caused me, at least twice, to think I would have to give up my baby into someone else’s care. That’s just naming a few.

So, yes, I may not have the same dents and brokenness as you do, but I do know what it’s like to have your trip down life’s highway adversely affected by the crash damage inflicted upon you. There are no pristine cars traveling this road we call “life.”

This car reminds of all of us–clearly damaged but still functional.  Maybe.  Image by falco from Pixabay.

Unlike literal cars, though, you do NOT have to be written off as “totaled” and hauled away to the junkyard.  You don’t have to waste away, worthless and forever trapped in the warped condition an offender imposed on you.

But the choice is up to you.  I believe the key factor is how we choose to respond, once we’ve gotten past the initial and involuntary reaction.

You won’t be able to prevent that immediate sensation of anger, sadness, or fear; and that’s okay.  God gave us these emotions to help us realize something is wrong.

But once your ability to think clearly and reasonably returns, it’s what you do next that is critical.  It’s the difference between staying forever stuck in that “crash” moment, entangled with the offender, or breaking free and getting your life back on track.


Defining Forgiveness

My favorite definition for “forgiveness” is this:  To forgive is to stop demanding a better past (from the offender).  (I rarely identify anything as being my favorite, so please realize how important this is when I say this is my favorite!)

The above definition is my version of the quote, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past,” which has frequently been attributed to comedian, Lily Tomlin.  But a little research revealed an earlier and much more likely source, with a context that enriches this meaning greatly!

According to Quote Investigator, the earliest record of this amazing definition for forgiveness is found in a Los Angeles Times (2 December 1991) article.  Rev. Don Felt, a church pastor in Hawaii, is identified as sharing it with those attending a Nagasaki Day memorial service in 1991.

“Oh, the value of context!”

Pay attention to the details here!  Nagasaki, Japan, was the second and last city to be obliterated with an atomic bomb.  The memorial service was happening in Hawaii, which probably means many Japanese immigrants were attending, remembering the great loss of life and suffering.  And Pastor Felt was encouraging them to not expect the past to somehow be different, to not hold out until somebody reversed this horrible event.

So, now, instead of thinking this definition of forgiveness is just a funny lady’s wryly humorous explanation, we see it as a serious action that sets us free from the past.  Oh, the value of context!  The actual LA Times article that quotes Don Felt confirms this seriousness as it considers whether the United States will ever forgive Japan for bombing Pearl Harbor.[1]

Another great perspective on forgiveness has been expressed by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran minister & founder of House for All Sinners and Saints Church.  (Warning:  she does cuss!)  In her video, “Forgive Assholes” (1:13-16), she says forgiveness is like saying, “…what you did was so NOT okay that I refuse to be connected with it anymore.”

Unforgiveness is like being frozen in time, where the moment of offense is on a constant loop playing in your mind.  You keep vainly waiting for a different result.

And unforgiveness is also like being handcuffed to the offender.  You think you’ve made them your prisoner, wanting them to suffer.

The problem with not forgiving is that the past cannot be changed, and the only suffering prisoner is you!  The magic of time travel is nothing but fiction, so stop demanding that your offender do the impossible:  go back and undo what has been done.  Making a ball and chain out of your offender’s action is only slowing you down, so cut yourself free and do like Nadia says:  disassociate yourself.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay.

Stop dwelling in the past and quit carrying around that offense, which—by the way—is like a decaying dead body strapped to your back!

I’ll be honest; forgiving is not always easy.  The greater the offense, the harder it is.  And in some cases, professional help will be necessary.  But nothing worthwhile is every easy, anyway.

Besides, just because it can be difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Yet, what makes forgiveness even possible for us humans to do?!  The desire for things to be better is just too strong within us!

The answer lies not in expecting our offender to fix it, but in looking to someone else to make things right.


Our Heavenly Father

Imagine someone borrowed a large sum of money from you yet never paid it back.  It’s annoying and even offensive that this person doesn’t respect you or have the integrity to pay their debt.

Now imagine that your dad is the richest man in the world, with a thousand times more available to you than the huge amount this person owes to you.  Yes, the debt is a large amount, but considering your context of having unlimited wealth at your disposal, the debt is more like pocket change to you.

From that perspective, it’s easier to look that debtor in the eye and say without animosity, “Forget it.  I don’t NEED you to pay what you owe me, because my father is rich and will restore what you have taken from me.”

And when God is your Father, and you leave Him in control of your life, giving over to Him everything that concerns you, that’s exactly what you CAN say!

Have you ever had that kind of experience with some simple thing in this life?  Perhaps a friend broke something of yours, but because you knew your dad or mom could fix it, you weren’t really upset about it.  You reassured your friend with “It’s okay, my dad can fix it.”

It’s only when we have no hope of repair or restitution that we freak out over the slightest offense and desperately demand the offender correct the wrong.

Well, God our Heavenly Father is like the dad who can truly fix anything.  I often imagine Him as the ultimate chess champion playing against the devil himself.  It doesn’t matter what moves or strategy the devil sets up for destroying us, God always knows how to turn the play against our enemy and win!

For the omnipotent God of the Bible, nothing is impossible.  I’ve heard of artists who use literal trash to create truly beautiful artwork.  If a limited human can transform trash into beauty, then imagine what the infinite, all-mighty God can do with your life even after it’s been trashed by this sinful world!

The devil’s agenda has always been to utterly ruin us, using anyone and any means.  But even after he’s thoroughly trashed us, God has the uncanny ability to pick us up, lovingly examine us, and with inspiration in His eyes say, “Ooh, I can use this to make something wonderful!”

The only question left is this:  Will you let Him?



Do you believe what I’ve just said about God our Father?  Do you take God at His word?

Romans 8:28 reassures us “that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (NIV).  Do you see that promise applying to your wound?  Or is this verse just some vague general concept to you?

Believe that what God did for Joseph in Genesis, He can do for you, so that you also can say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being  done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20 NIV).  And Joseph “went through hell” enduring a cascade of offenses against him, yet he was able to say this to his offenders because he had faith in God and saw how God was using those hurtful situations to accomplish something good.  (Read Joseph’s story in Genesis 37, 39-50.)

There are plenty of other Bible verses and examples that prove God can do this kind of redeeming work with lives, regardless of the damage that’s been done.  And there are plenty of modern-day examples, too, like contemporary Christian singer, Russ Taff, whom I’ve written about.

So, quit looking to your offenders to somehow undo the evil they’ve done to you.  Turn your gaze instead to your Father who can fix anything.  No, He won’t go back in time and prevent that hurt from ever happening, but He is the only one who can turn your grief into victory dancing (Psa. 30, esp. vv. 5, 11-12; John 16:20).

Place your devastating hurt in the hands of your capable Father.  Show your faith in His skill by leaving it there and, while He works it over, release your offender from their impossible obligation to you.

You CAN forgive when you stop demanding a better past from your offenders and start looking to God for a bright, redeemed future!

Thanks for reading!


Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™


[1] Brien Hallett, “Perspectives on Pearl Harbor: Apologies Across the Pacific?” Los Angeles Times, 2 December 1991, sec. B, p. 5 (31 of 340); available from, accessed 9 June 2019. Quote Investigator has misidentified the page as B11.

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