I wanted to write this post in response to a recent article making its rounds in social media:
“Brothers and Sisters, Unwed Pregnancy is Not a Sin”
If you have not read the article, I encourage you to take a few minutes now and do so before reading my response.
The article brings forth some uncomfortable truths and much-needed admonition to those who would hold mistakes over someone’s head forever. We should never look down on anyone except to help them up. However, the article makes a pendulum swing too far away from “shame” and takes some liberties with scripture that are false and self-serving. I hope in this post to find some middle ground between shunning unwed mothers and gushing over them. Please understand that this was quite difficult to write and comes from a deeply personal place of turbulent emotions. I have tried to choose my words with great care.
First and foremost, children are a blessing in all instances. The Bible tells us that “Children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3 NASB). Pregnancy may be a consequence of bad decisions but babies are never a punishment (as one politician cruelly put it). However the baby got there, it is a miracle of life and a joy to be treasured, even in cases of rape. Those children did nothing to deserve a death-sentence and innumerable families would love to give that innocent baby a good life. You cannot absolve one horrific crime with an even worse crime.
Now, could we be more loving, more forgiving, and less condemning? Sure we could! And we must. Shunning accomplishes nothing except making a bad situation worse. Two souls (mother and child) need the church’s support even more at that time. Sadly, we often fail to show that Christ-like compassion. We have much work to do in this area.
The article pointed out that a woman walking into a pregnancy crisis clinic doesn’t need a theological lecture. She needs to feel safe and know that the precious child she carries is a blessing. That is a perfectly appropriate response from that agency. However, her church family must offer something deeper; something even more loving and possibly less comfortable for everyone.
The article makes several appeals to the old “what would Jesus do?” question without recognizing one crucial fact: Jesus never condoned sin. Jesus reached out to people with love and acceptance despite their sin,but he was never content to let them stay there and He NEVER celebrated their sin. John 8:3-11 gives us insight into exactly what Jesus would do. He told the woman caught in adultery “I do not condemn you.” He also told her “Go and sin no more.” This means there is room for forgiveness and mercy even when there is acknowledgement of sin. The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, sin must be acknowledged before forgiveness can occur. Jesus put it bluntly in Luke 17:3 “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” No ifs, ands, or buts. He repents, you forgive–period. Leave the judging of hearts to God, where it belongs.
Having compassion is one thing; celebrating is quite another. In my personal experience, when unwed pregnancy is met with only praise and rejoicing, it is seen as something to aspire to and be proud of. You encourage it and get more of the same. This should not be. Repentance must be part of the equation. Not public shaming, not grovelling, and not periods of “probation” before welcoming a sinner back into the family of God, but true “godly sorrow” as defined in Second Corinthians 7:9-10.
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus had been teaching His disciples about how to deal with people when there is a conflict. Right after this, Peter chimes in with a question, sort of. Peter asks in verse 20, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (NASB). Peter probably thought he was being pretty generous. Wow, seven times! Peter, you’re much too kind. How shocked he and the others must have been when Jesus answered, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Now, Jesus did not mean that we should keep a tally sheet and when/if we reach 490 we can then say, “That’s it! I don’t have to forgive you anymore!” He was using a ridiculously large number to indicate that we should not be in the accounting business, but in the forgiving business.
Jesus expands on this in the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel which is found in chapter 17. As if the words in Matthew 18 were not hard enough to live out, Jesus ups the ante on forgiveness. “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4). Well, now You are just asking too much, Jesus. Seven times in the same day? That means this person is not showing true repentance and does not deserve forgiveness.
AH-AH-AH! Not so fast. That would require us to know and judge a person’s heart and ONLY God is qualified to do that.
Jesus makes this painfully simple: He repents, you forgive. Period.
But Jesus, You don’t know how many times he has—NO! He repents, you forgive. This is the command.
But Jesus, wouldn’t it be better to teach this person the lesson that—NO! He repents, you forgive. Just do it.
But Jesus, what if he doesn’t ask for forgiveness? Does that get me off the hook?
This is the part where Jesus would facepalm and shake His head. Don’t miss the point.
The disciples surely didn’t miss the point. Their perfect understanding was proven by what they said next. Jesus had just commanded them (and us) to forgive as many times as someone repents. Their immediate response was, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). They knew that they (and we) were going to need some divine assistance to carry out that command. The Lord’s answer is astounding. He essentially says in verse 6, “Use what you’ve got—it’s enough.” Their faith seemed as small as a mustard seed compared to the gigantic task ahead of them. Jesus told them that if their faith was sincere, then it was big enough. Well, OK Jesus. But if I manage to pull this off, I deserve a medal and a parade! The Lord predicts this attitude in verses 9-10 and preemptively strikes down any prideful feelings which may arise. “[The master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ” We don’t deserve a round of applause for merely doing what we were commanded. We are not worthy of a spot in Hebrews chapter 11 with the superstars of the faithful. We haven’t elevated ourselves to some lofty position of Christianity. We haven’t gained anything extraordinary. We are still sitting at zero. All we have done is prevented ourselves from falling below the line of obedience and into a deficit.
Is forgiving hard? Yes! It may be the one of the hardest commands to obey. What it is not, however, is optional; it is required. So let’s you and I stop treating it like it is optional. Let us not require people to grovel, beg, and crawl for our forgiveness after we think they’ve suffered enough and shown “proper” repentance. God did not require that of us. We may sin seven times a day against Him but He offers mercy every time we ask. His grace is eager, available, and immediate. So should ours be.