It was a defining moment for me theologically and personally.
We had a series of follow-up evenings after a summer of street preaching in Amsterdam (this was about 14 years ago.) The topic this evening was “Forgiveness”. I had, in several short presentations, made some comments about forgiveness and its roots in the Gospel and Jesus’ forgiveness of us.
At the end we opened things up for discussion and comment. A number of people said things about what they thought forgiveness was and how it impacted their lives.
One woman whom we had met on the street, in her early 30s, told the group that her father had abused her when she was a child. She had , in the last few years and with the help of a psychologist, been learning how to forgive him. She commented on how hard that was but how good it was for her to be taking those steps. It was moving.
Then a fellow team member of mine stood up and in gentle but clear terms informed that woman that her forgiving of her father was at best incomplete and at worst sinful if she was not doing it out of an active faith in Jesus. She had not repented and believed in Jesus as her Savior and Lord. Her forgiveness of her father was fatally flawed. My team-mate did not quite say “worthless”, but that was the bottom line.
My team-mate was responding completely in accordance with our (Reformed) evangelical Christianity. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.
But something in me protested and my heart broke. Here was a woman, trying to recover from an abusive childhood, taking the only steps she knew how to take to turn horror into hope.
And the first thing we had in our suitcase to give her was the thought that these acts of hers were really filthy rags.
Was this the way Jesus would have responded? I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.
For the first time I realized that something about my theology had to change if I was going to be able to minister in Amsterdam and come out of it alive.
It was the beginning of a long journey.