To Love or Never to Forgive…

I was in traffic today and found myself sitting behind a big, full-size Chevy truck which sported a message across its tailgate, a message of the sort one usually sees on bumper stickers. These words were actually attached to the tail, perhaps by a professional auto detailer, as a permanent decal.

On the left side, were the words “343 Never Forgotten,” and on the right, “911 Never Forgiven.” Apparently, the 343 refers to the number of New York City firefighters who died on Sept. 11th, 2001. That seems like a worthwhile message, whether on an auto decal or wherever. The other one, however, makes me scratch my head a little… “Never forgiven?…”

As I contemplated this message, I was reminded of a bumper sticker I used to see on a car on the University of Portland campus during the year that my daughter was in attendance there. It was, as I recall, a medium green color and simply said, “What if we loved our enemies?”

What strikes me about these two messages is that, up until a few years ago, I would probably have felt a very different kind of initial reaction to each of them from the reactions I seem to feel nowadays. I grew up in a family which taught me the value system of what I would now call “God and country evangelicalism”—GCE for short. 🙂

If I had seen these messages on cars a few years ago, I would almost certainly have jumped to the following conclusions: First, the guy (assuming it was a guy) in the Chevy was a good ol’ boy who loved his country and was passionate in his caring about what happened on 9/11, even if his message was communicated in terms slightly too strong. Second, that the person with the “love” sticker was a ‘flaming liberal puke’ who would probably give away the country to any terrorist who could smile sweetly enough.

Now, however, I feel an odd sense of wishing I could meet both of these people. I am curious about the lives they have lived which have brought them to these convictions. (I also wonder why they would want to share them with all of us who might be in traffic with them.)

Without passing any judgment on either of them, I find myself imagining the possibility that they both might claim to have some sort of Christian faith. Then I wonder how each might respond to the challenge to explain his or her message in light of the Scriptures, especially the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the gospels.

It makes me curious….


7 thoughts on “To Love or Never to Forgive…

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot on this subject recently…”loving” enemies. “Forgiving” evildoers. In my classes, we’ve talked a lot about the kinds of clients we would have trouble working with. Most of my professors admit that they would have difficulty working with clients who had committed some kind of sexual crime, or murder (or in the worst of cases, both). These are typically viewed as the scum of our society, the very worst of people, “Monsters”. “Terrorists”. “Abusers”.

    I must emphasize that I am not about to advocate that we “go easy” on criminals or are “tolerant” of sin in the world, the church, or our country. But I have noticed that people like to label certain groups with dehumanizing labels (“Predator” comes to mind for those who commit sexual crimes), and then use said labels to excuse merciless treatment of these individuals. They are beyond forgiveness, beyond grace, and certainly beyond love.

    No one “deserves” mercy. The very nature of mercy is that it is undeserved. “Forgiveness” cannot be granted unless there is some offense to forgive. This doesn’t mean we excuse the crimes and let dangerous criminals go free in our communities. I view this as more of a matter of the heart than a matter of social policy.

    I view the “911 never forgiven” decal as being more than wording that is “slightly too strong”. The person who put it on his (or her ) car may not have taken these words to heart, but the words themselves still reflect an absence of the love we are commanded to give our enemies. The person with the other bumper sticker may also not have taken the words “love our enemies” to heart. Love is not a weak, timid thing. It would not “hand over” the country to a viper, just as Christ would not tolerate Pharisees defiling the temple. Christ is Love. And Love sent Christ to the Cross.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. It’s been on my mind a lot recently, though I’m not entirely sure what such “Mercy” “Love” and “Forgiveness” exactly looks like in our everyday lives, in this country, at this time in history. I think it requires that we act against our nature, and our desire for retribution. “For it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Romans 12:19.

    I wonder what that means if we apply it to our country as a whole? I don’t have an answer for that. But it is something to think about…

  2. What if a bumper sticker said something like, “Martyrs, often forgotten. Nonbelievers, never forgiven.” That would be super.

    • James-

      Hmmmmm. While it’s more theologically sound, I imagine a bumper sticker like that would do little to woo said nonbelievers into the Kingdom of Heaven. I actually don’t like the phrase “never forgiven” for a bumper sticker at all, in just about any context. I think something like “You’ll never find what you do not seek” in the context of forgiveness would be all right, but it’s not quite true if you apply it to anything else (we often find other things in life without seeking them….!)

      And isn’t everyone a “nonbeliever” before conversion? Paul, for example?

      • Haha, well played Beth! I never had a chance. I suppose there is some art to converting nonbelievers. If we gave them all the truth straight up, it would be too nasty to handle. Perhaps converting nonbelievers is not unlike wooing a lover. You have to throw your best side out there to hook them, then slowly begin the revealing the deeper, darker truths. Someone should write a ‘Converting for Dummies’ book!

      • James and Beth —
        You two are fantastic! 🙂
        Anymore, I’m not one for bumper stickers at all. Of course, you are both well ahead of me in this way, chronologically speaking, anyway. When I was in my early-mid twenties, I was just coming out of my T-shirt Christian phase. (Yes, I had and proudly wore that terrible “Lord’s Gym” T-shirt, among other cornball garments.)
        My friend, Christian, told me several years ago about a friend of his who made his own T-shirt (and, I think, wore it to some Christian event, where it would make the right kind of point), which said, “They will know we are Christians by our T-shirts.” I think I might wear that one to a Christian convention. 😉

      • The T-Shirt idea is hilarious. There’s a Steven Curtis Chapman song that comes to mind with this topic: “The Change”. ( The first stanza is all about “Christian Stuff”.

        I think if I were ever to actually get a bumper sticker, it would be something silly like, “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.” That’s one of my favorites. 🙂

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