Absolutely Absolute

Bradley Truman NoelBy Bradley Truman Noel11 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Tinder Tattiis and Tequila: Navigating the Gray Areas of Faith by Bradley Truman Noel


Chapter 1
Absolutely Absolute


“Absolutely not!” my father would declare, after I had asked permission for one thing or the other.

Given how emphatically he stated it and the accompanying glare, which was able to wither the hardiest of pleas (and plants!), I was left with little doubt as to the acceptance of my proposal! “Absolutely not” carries much more weight than a simple “No.” Absolutes are firm and unchanging. In philosophy, an absolute is “a value or principle which is regarded as universally valid or which may be viewed without relation to other things … something that exists without being dependent on anything else.”¹ My father’s judgment was certainly universal as it applied to our home and was not dependent on anything else, especially my opinion on the matter!

Before we can properly entertain a discussion on the gray areas of the faith, we must first pause and readily acknowledge that the Bible teaches us many absolutes. I will define absolute as commands given by God that are applicable to all people everywhere, at all times, whether or not we agree, feel they’re valid, or are inclined to obedience.

So while some things in the Christian life are clearly gray, other things are plainly black and white, whether we like it or not. Before we proceed, let’s take a few moments to consider some examples of absolutes in the Scriptures. This will help us better understand what gray areas are, and how we are to deal with them.

Now, when you hear talk of the absolutes in Scripture, your mind may go immediately to all of the “thou shalt nots,” the infamous and widely lamented list of do’s and don’ts.

As any purveyor of good Christians memes will quickly point out, following Jesus is not about rules; it’s all about relationship. And that’s true. Any honest student of Scripture will also tell you, however, that there are a number of commands in the Bible—the absolutes—that we must simply adhere to. But to turn the popular conception on its head, let’s begin with a sample of those commands that are in the positive—things we must do, rather than things we are forbidden to do.

The Positive Absolutes


As it turns out, God commands us to do one of the things widely regarded by counselors and psychologists as essential to human mental health. We are to forgive, freely and without reservation. I realize that many people have been hurt, deeply and almost incomprehensibly, all too often by someone they love, by believers in Christ, or by organizations that bear His name. I understand that forgetting what’s been done to you is impossible. God understands that too. But He nonetheless calls us to forgive, for it sets our own minds, hearts, and even our bodies free from the hurt and bitterness that can so easily poison us. As Joyce Meyer once said, “Harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die.” Prolonged refusal to forgive simply does not end well for us, so God has insisted that we forgive others. For example, Paul wrote:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Observing that we are to model God’s own behavior toward us, Paul instructs us to treat one another with kindness and compassion. Would anyone argue that basic human kindness and compassion are not desperately needed in our world today? Although we are so connected via multiple forms of social media, we are simultaneously faced with a harshness and division that is so plainly insensitive in nature that it sometimes catches us off guard. Keyboard warriors—so named because they do their fighting remotely via their computers—say things to others that basic human decency would likely never allow them to say to another person face to face.

Further than kindness and compassion, Paul instructs us to forgive one another, just as God has forgiven us. Modelling the vertical relationship we have with Christ, we are to forgive horizontally those around us, in the same manner.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

Again, using the Lord as our model, Paul instructs us to bear with each other and forgive any grievances that arise in our daily interaction with others.

Matthew records some very helpful teaching on forgiveness from Jesus himself:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21–22)

According to some Bible translations, Jesus said we must forgive “seventy times seven”—or four hundred and ninety times!

In this very well-known passage, Peter is earnestly inquiring about forgiveness. Bu now, the disciples probably sensed that Jesus was different than your average rabbi. His teachings certainly did not always toe the line of the local Pharisees and Sadducees. I imagine Peter was quite proud of his own question! He instinctively knew that Jesus would want him to forgive more than once, more than twice even. Some rabbis taught that forgiving someone three times was sufficient. So Peter really ups the ante! “Seven times, Lord? Surely that will cover it! You see, Lord, I’m getting your teaching; I’m catching the vision here. I know what this ‘good news’ is all about! So what about seven times? That’ll do it, right?”

I can just imagine Jesus so patiently smiling, sensing what’s in His disciple’s heart. “No, Peter. ‘A’ for effort though. Not just seven times. Seventy times seven.”

Can you see Peter’s mouth fall open? Can you sense his astonishment? How is that even possible? Surely after 150 times, we’re allowed to withhold forgiveness; by the 321st time, our adversary is clearly not learning the lesson our forgiveness is intended to teach! But that, of course, is not the Lord’s point. As often as someone sins against us, we are to offer forgiveness. For all practical purposes, our forgiveness is supposed to be limitless.

Following Jesus’ teaching in a passage now know as The Lord’s Prayer—which includes the plea for forgiveness, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)—Jesus makes a startling declaration:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14–15)

Wow! What an in-your-face statement! It’s hard to get much clearer than that when it comes to the incredible importance of forgiveness. Again, our ability to forgive others is taught in light of God’s forgiveness of our own sins.

Now, on first reading, this teaching seems very difficult; is Jesus really saying that our entire salvation hinges on our ability to forgive others? If we are deeply harmed by someone, and it takes some years for us to fully process what they did or said and offer them forgiveness, is our eternal salvation hanging in the balance? Not at all.

New Testament scholar Leon Morris says it very well:

It is not that the act of forgiving merits an eternal reward, but rather it is evidence that the grace of God is at work in the forgiving person and that that same grace will bring him forgiveness in due course. Forgiveness is important for the followers of Jesus, whereas the nature of the offenses committed against them is not. Jesus is saying that to fail to forgive others is to demonstrate that one has not felt the saving touch of God.²

¹ Lexico, s.v. “absolute,” www.lexico.com/en/definition/absolute.
² Lean Morris, The Gospel According to MatthewThe Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 149.

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