Archives For Forgiveness

Dzhokhar TsarnaevLast week we followed the horrifying news of a terrorist-style bombing, the murder of a police officer, a manhunt, intense shootouts, and finally the death of one suspect and capture of the other. As all of this unfolded, probably the last thing most of us thought to do was pray for these suspects.

Yet that’s exactly what we should have been doing, and with one suspect still alive, that is what we should be doing still. Here are three reasons we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.


#1 – Jesus Commands Us To Love & Pray for Our Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Maybe you read that and think, “Okay, fine. I will love and pray for my enemies. But this guy is a terrorist. He committed one of the worst crimes of our time. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.” But Tsarnaev is exactly the kind of person Jesus had in mind. Jesus says that everyone loves their own friends, but he calls us to love people who would ordinarily be hated. Enemies.

So Tsarnaev’s unbelievable deeds only serve to cement his status as the kind of person Jesus was talking about: a hated enemy. This kind of person, Jesus says, we are to love and pray for.


#2 – God Loves Wicked People

The reason Jesus gives for loving and praying for our neighbors is startling. We should do this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God, he says, sends his sunshine upon everyone, and dispenses his rain to all of his creatures. So why should we respond in love to such a heartless killer? Because that’s how you reflect your Father. After all, he is the one who sacrificed his own life to show his love for hardened sinners like us (Rom. 5:8).

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11)


#3 – We Shouldn’t Underestimate the Wrath of God

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17, 19–21)

Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.

Paul’s statement in verse 19 is intriguing: “leave it to the wrath of God,” or “leave room for the wrath of God.” In situations like this, we want blood. We want to see Tsaraev punished for his crimes. And this cry for justice is right. We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

So Paul tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. To bless those who persecute us. God promises to repay the evildoers; our job is to show them love. God has indeed placed human authorities on earth to handle such matters (see Romans 13). And our government will respond as it sees fit. But as for the church, our call is to be on our knees. After all, God is in the business of loving and even saving sinners—even the worst of them:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15

Of all the bizarre chapters in the Bible, Genesis 38 has got to be near the top of the list. In it, we read about Judah, the son of Jacob, who lusts over a Canaanite woman (a big no, no), has sex with her (another no, no), and she ends up bearing three sons. Er, Judah’s firstborn son, ends up marrying Tamar (probably a Canaanite and therefore another no, no), but he does what is “wicked in the sight of the LORD” and so God kills him. Then, Er’s brother Onan has sex with Tamar to raise up a son for his dead brother (this is actually a good thing; see Deut 25:5-10), but ends up spilling his “semen on the ground” (38:9), which was evil in the sight of the Lord, not because masturbation is wrong (at least, not according to this passage), but because of Deut 25:5-10. So God killed him too.

Violations of God’s will abound in this rated R story, most of which are of the sexual sort. So if you do your devotions in Genesis 38, you may be threatened by crass and untamed events. But the story is actually a beautiful one, because it highlights the scandalous nature of God’s grace. We’ll get to that in a second; first let’s finish the story.

So Judah is left with his widowed Canaanite daughter in-law, Tamar, and he tells her to wait until his youngest son grows up so that she can marry him. “Shhya right. God keeps killing off your loser sons. I ain’t waiting around to become a three-time widow!” So Tamar and Judah part company.

A few years later, Judah is strolling by the village of Enaim and he sees a sexy prostitute sitting in the city gate. Judah, being the charmer that he is, busts out his best Ancient Near East pick up line: “here now, let me come into you” (38:16 NASB). Yes, “come into you” means just what you imagined when you read it. And so Judah has sex with the prostitute, and since he left his wallet at home, he pays her on credit (38:17-18).

Stay with me. The theme of grace saturates this passage, as you will see.

Come to find out, it wasn’t a prostitute that Judah slept with. It was his daughter in law, Tamar, disguised as a harlot! And he should have taken lessons from his son Onan, because not only did he have sex with his daughter in law, but he knocked her up (38:24). As the story concludes, Tamar and Judah end up having twins—Perez and Zerah—and one of them would end up saving the world.

It’s a weird story, I know, but it’s ultimately a beautiful one, and here’s why. First, check out where it’s at. Genesis 38 occurs right after Genesis 37 and right before Genesis 39. (Brilliant observation, I know.) Genesis 37 begins the “Joseph story,” which runs all the way to the end of Genesis (i.e. Gen 37-50). But Joseph isn’t in Genesis 38. The Joseph story begins in 37, he isn’t mentioned in 38, but he pops up again in Genesis 39 as the main character. The story of Judah and Tamar, therefore, interrupts the Joseph story, and I believe the interruption is intentional. The placement of Judah and Tamar here, at the beginning of the Joseph story, is designed to contrast the characters of Judah and Joseph. And the contrast could not be greater. Joseph flees sexual lust and Judah runs toward it; Joseph is morally impeccable and Judah is an absolute zoo when it comes to righteousness. So, if you were God, whom would you choose to save the world?

Good thing you’re not God. It would make very good moral sense for God to choose Joseph to save the world, and in some ways he does (see Gen 41:56-57). But when it comes to God’s ultimate deliverance of his people through the promised Messiah, God deliberately selected the genealogical line of Judah and not Joseph to bring forth the Deliverer. And that’s the point of the contrast—to show that God is so powerful and so gracious that he can work through any circumstance and use any person he wants to usher in his promised redemption. God used the child conceived through the affair between Judah and Tamar to be the agent of redemption. Jesus would come through the line of Perez—the bastard son of an illicit affair (Matt 1:3). God very well could have chosen Joseph and his line to carry on out the plan of salvation, but he deliberately passed over Joseph and got his hands dirty by molding Judah’s mess into a conduit of grace.


Grace does not mean that God encourages sin or discourages righteousness. Not at all (Rom 6:1). But it does mean that no mess, no addiction, no eating disorder, can loosen God’s tender grip on your soul. Grace means that God delights in using really messed up people to do really great things. Grace means that when creepy sinners like Jeffrey Dahmer get saved (which he did as far as we can tell), we rejoice—even though he killed, had sex with, and then ate (in that order) 17 people. We mourn the creative destruction that sin carves out in the heart of man, but we celebrate even more the conquering power of grace.

Grace. We’ve domesticated the term. It’s too familiar. Too churchy. It’s been overused and abused, and in many cases has lost its profound brilliance. It’s a word that’s best understood from the gutter rather than the burbs—though it penetrates there as well. Grace pursues, forgives, transforms, and tears down stubborn walls of offense. As I’ve said in previous posts, God’s grace is more than just leniency and unconditional acceptance. It’s more than just God putting up with us, but seeking out repugnant sinners—the Gomers and Judahs of the world.

And we are Judah.