Fred Luskin

Why Desmond Tutu is Wrong

Friends, later this week, I’ll bring another report from this wild fishcamp island. (And there’s plenty of news!) Today----I must speak back to none other than Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Yes, I know who Desmond Tutu is. I know he won the Nobel Peace Prize, that he has played a key role in the reparation of South Africa. These are massive achievements and I admire him greatly. And his new book, The Book of Forgivenesscontains many stirring and illuminating truths. Who am I to challenge such a man? (To my new readers, I'm not entirely an outlier on this topic. I've written a book as well: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers.) But hear me out. 

This message must stop. 

This part of Tutu’s message on forgiveness (now running in the Reader's Digest) echoes word for word our western culture’s clichéd and self-centered understanding of forgiveness. These words below, titled “Why We Forgive” (excerpted from his book) utterly shrink the gospel.

Here’s how the excerpt ends:

When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberators. Forgiveness, in other words, is the best form of self-interest. This is true both spiritually and scientifically. We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves.

Who else says this---"we forgive for ourselves"--- besides the gas station attendant, the man behind me in line at the bank, the woman in my Sunday School class and everyone I run into? Nearly everyone I hear on major media, including these luminaries: Fred Luskin, the founder and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects, says outright that “forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.”  T.D. Jakes appeared on CBS This Morning this spring proclaiming,  “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” 
Dear Bishop Tutu and Ladies and Gentlemen, this notion is killing biblical forgiveness.

Here are 4 things wrong with this view, and why it matters.

1.  Biblical forgiveness is a gift first to the offender and to Christ---not to you.
I know you’ve been deeply hurt. So have I. I am right there with you, aching, crying, mourning what’s been lost, angry at the betrayer. But----even so---it’s still not all about us! I know that’s a hard pill to swallow in our me-first culture, but never does God “sell” forgiveness for its benefits to us. He simply commands us, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Pass on what’s been given to you. That’s a huge gift you can give to the very ones who don’t deserve it. And that’s just the point---because that’s who WE are as well: undeserving recipients of God’s forgiveness.
Do we get something out of forgiving others? Absolutely! We experience a marvelous sense of peace and “letting go” when we release our offender’s debts against us---for their sake, and for Christ’s sake. That gift comes as the overflow of obedience and love, not as the goal itself. I believe the more we seek our own happiness first, the less we achieve it.
2.  Biblical forgiveness is concerned with the well-being of ALL people, especially the guilty and needy. 
This is what we’re called to, friends! We who have experienced God’s own forgiveness are to be concerned with the welfare of others as well, especially those who are most in need of forgiveness! That’s good news--not bad news ! We get to be agents of reconciliation wherever there is brokenness and pain, especially in our own lives. Because God cares about all people---and we should as well.

Are we so far gone that the only appeal we can make for the greater social good is our own personal happiness and health?  If so, we have a much larger problem. And indeed, we do. 

3. Biblical forgiveness does not free you from the offender; it frees you to love the offender. 
Secular forgiveness brings freedom by releasing the victim from all obligation to the offender. Dr. Phil urges his followers to forgive as a means of reaching “emotional closure.” But he advises us to find “the easiest thing you can do to resolve your pain.”
Forgiveness does indeed free us: It frees us from our self-focus. It frees us from hate; it opens our hearts with empathy; it frees us to love even the enemy. Forgiveness frees and strengthens us to bring us close to the offender, to bless them, to love them with the love of Christ. I would have missed SO much if I had “forgiven my father” and then simply stayed away---and he would have missed so much as well.  Yes, it's easier to remove ourselves from the offender,  but we’re called to much more than self-protection. (But do please note: there ARE people who are too dangerous to be around and must be avoided. Use your God-given wisdom.)

4. Forgiveness is not about letting go of the past, but about redeeming the past
Many writing about forgiveness emphasize “letting go,” of the past and focusing entirely on the future. I understand this value, especially in a culture where horrific things have happened, but God does one better than this.
In biblical forgiveness, God redeems and heals the past rather than erases it. 
God continually admonishes us to “remember” Him and to remember the events of the past, both the triumphs and the disasters.
When we turn from the past entirely, we will miss the wisdom and compassion that we can learn from our wounds. As Dr. Dan Allendar has written, “Every tragedy in the past is an opportunity for redemption. And each time we forget, we lose another moment to experience God’s mysterious redemption in our lives. “ 

Here's why it matters. When we're asked to forgive for our own sake, if it is truly all about us, than we might just as well NOT forgive. Nursing anger and hurts is gratifying and can be fun! Some people love to be victims. Some people live for their anger. Some people---and we all know a few of these--- find far more joy and satisfaction in unforgiveness. 

May I give you a different vision of forgiveness?

"“We may begin the journey of forgiveness to ease our own burdens. But along the way we discover a chance to live out the fullness of the gospel: loving the unlovely, forgiving seventy times seven. In so doing, we reflect the kingdom of God among us. I could so easily have missed it. I could so easily have listened to those voices rather than to the man who hung on the cross praying over his betrayers, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ In the moment of his executioners’ greatest wrongdoing (and therefore their greatest need), Jesus offered forgiveness. We are called to do the same.  " (Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers)

When you do this, (and yes, it's very hard---and can only be done by God's enabling)  do you know what happens to you as the beautiful overflow?

Something wonderful. You become a gracious, merciful, compassionate person who reminds others just a little bit of the one went to the cross not for himself, but for all of us----Jesus.

One more reason, then, to forgive:

Forgive that you may be like your Father in Heaven.

Please, DO forgive for the sake of others. Including God himself.

And whenever you hear someone say these words, "We forgive only for ourselves"----please love them, help them and kindly share the great good news of Jesus' gospel with them,

for their sake.





Dearest Friends, if you don't have a copy of Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers and you really need one, please write me ( and tell me why you need one, and I will do my best to send one to you. They are not expensive, but I know budgets are tight.  (I would like to send a book to everyone--but I know I will have to make hard choices) I'm trusting the Lord on this, and will send what I can. My heart is for you and with you. To those who have been praying for me, my deepest thanks.