Can you forgive the seemingly unforgivable?

When I was a seminary student, I took a job as an administrative assistant for a theology professor on campus.

I’ll never forget a phone call a student made to the office one Monday morning.

I literally answered the phone on the worst day of his life.

His voice was trembling on the other line, “Can you please tell the professor that I won’t be in class today?”

“Sure,” I said, “I can tell him. Is there something we can do?”

“I . . . I . . . just found out my seven-month-pregnant wife was killed in a car wreck. Hit by a driver coming off a long shift who fell asleep behind the wheel. My little girl was in the back seat.”

He was in total shock. He had to be, because he was calling his professor to let him know he wouldn’t be in class after something so tragic happened in his life. I guessed he was trying to find some kind of order, some kind of normalcy in the midst of the chaos.

I was floored by his words. I promised him we would be praying for him, something I immediately started doing so the moment I put the phone back on the receiver.

I have thought about that phone call a lot over the years. I wondered what had happened to the seminary student, his child, and the man who accidentally killed his wife and unborn child.

Nearly a decade later, I happened to come across an article about the crash on a national news media website. What happened after the crash was nothing short of amazing.

First, the little girl in the backseat escaped with minor injuries. The student remarried and is now serving as a pastor in a successful ministry.

Were it me, I might have gone to social media to endlessly gripe about how this driver destroyed my life. I might have gone out of the way to blackball him, to hurt him. Maybe, in a best case scenario, I would have done my best to forget he existed.

The student actually befriended the man driving the car. They actually became close friends. The student/pastor found the power to forgive and pour the love of Christ into this man’s life.

Wow.

Could I forgive someone for doing something like that in my life? Could I forgive the unforgivable? Could I reach out in love to someone who hurt me like that?

Forgiveness is hard. It means letting go of something that someone has done to us that still hurts us. Sometimes it means admitting to ourselves that we have done wrong by holding a grudge—no matter how “innocent” we think we were in what happened.

Can you love people who have wronged you? Can you genuinely care for them, go out of your way to be kind to them, and show compassion to them even if the pain that they caused still lingers?

Jesus longs for his church to show grace and forgiveness to one another, to show compassion to a world in desperate need of it.

Shortly before his death, Jesus gave his disciples this important instruction:

34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).

These words remind us of three very important things.

First, Jesus loved us and showed us mercy, grace, and forgiveness when we were not deserving of it. This forgiving man lost his wife in an accident, but we had done something much more vile. We are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s glorious standard for our lives (Rom. 3:23). We rejected the good things God gave us and traded his truth for a lie. All of us deserve death and eternal separation from God (Rom. 6:23).

But God shows how radical his love is for us in this way: while we were his enemies, he gave Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8). Jesus showed us love, even when we were living in open rebellion to him. Jesus showed us mercy even when have failed to give it others. Jesus showed us grace by putting himself in our places.

Second, Jesus commands us to love another. The love that he calls us to is more than a feeling. The love he has called us to is love in action. We must extend love and mercy to those who wrong them, to tell them they are loved and valued, and to be Christ to them in the world.

Finally, the world will know we are Christians by our love. If the body of Christ doesn’t show love to each other, the world will never believe the gospel. If we don’t love our neighbors, they will never know the love we have experienced in Christ.

So, because we have received God’s love and forgiveness, extending it should come naturally to us. We should practice it with patience and endurance and longsuffering.

When you experience the seemingly unforgivable, remember how you were forgiven and rescued from your sin. Let love and grace change everything.


Rhyne Putman serves as the Pastor of Preaching and Vision at FBC Kenner.

His day job is at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he serves as the Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture. (Yes, he’s the nerdy theology type.)

Rhyne is the author of In Defense of Doctrine (Fortress Press, 2015) and of When Doctrine Divides (Fortress Press, 2017). He greatly appreciates any contribution you make to his son’s college education by buying his very (interesting) books.

He’s also a pop culture geek who thinks himself Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen. He also bleeds Mississippi State maroon.

More importantly, he’s the husband of the stunning Micah and the father of a rambunctious preschooler named Ben.