In a charming Christmas television special, Dolly Parton provides a family film that has been watched by more than 13 million viewers. According to one NBC website, “‘Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors’ is based on the inspiring true story of living legend Dolly Parton’s remarkable upbringing. This once-in-a-lifetime movie special takes place inside the tight-knit Parton family as they struggle to overcome devastating tragedy and discover the healing power of love, faith, and a raggedy patchwork coat that helped make Parton who she is today. The film is set in the Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains in 1955. It is neither a biopic nor a musical about Dolly’s whole life and performing career, but rather a family-oriented faith-based story about the incidents in her and her family’s life around the time she was nine years old.”
Without giving too much away, one incident in Dolly’s young life was the death of a younger brother. As Dolly tells the story, she had a hard time forgiving God for taking her brother from her soon after the child was born. However, in time, Dolly forgave God.
As much as I enjoyed the faith based movie, the idea of Dolly saying that she forgave God arrested my attention. Dolly is not alone in thinking that a person can, and must, forgive God, in order for personal healing to take place.
As a Christian, as a former pastor, as a spiritual counselor, I find the concept of people saying they forgive God for something, to be very unhealthy, and biblically unsound. The Bible declares God to be holy, just, and good. God cannot sin. He cannot lie. He can do no wrong. Because God is wholly righteousness, He does not need forgiveness. No creature can stand in judgment on God, or say that they have forgiven Him.
What individuals can do, and must do, is to bow before the Lord God of the universe and submit to His will, even when the will of God is not known. The ways of God are masked in mystery, but what is certain is that God will make all things work together for good, to those who love Him. While God does not need any human to forgive Him, humans do need for God to forgive them. Dolly Parton is no exception, and she would be the first to admit her need for a Saviour.
According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, forgiveness is “the act of excusing or pardoning another in spite of his slights, shortcomings, and errors. As a theological term, forgiveness refers to God’s pardon of the sins of human beings. No religious book, except the Bible, teaches that God completely forgives sin. The initiative comes from Him, because He is ready to forgive.” God is a God of grace and pardon.
Every heart should rejoice in hearing that good news, because sin deserves divine punishment. Sin is a violation of God’s holy character. Sin is what causes Muslim men and women to build pipe bombs in their home, and then take assault rifles and slaughter innocent people. Sin is what causes individuals to hate, and want to hurt others. Sin is why souls need a Saviour, lest they be destroyed by the wrath of God, who will avenge ever act of unrighteousness. God must do this for He is holy.
However, for God to be gracious, in order for God to forgive sin, two conditions are necessary. First, a life must be taken as a substitute for that of the sinner, for “without shedding of blood is no remission” of sin (Heb. 9:22). Second, the person in need of forgiveness, the sinner, must embrace God’s sacrifice in a spirit of authentic repentance, and genuine faith. The divine promise is that “whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
Dolly Parton can receive God’s forgiveness. She must receive it, and her testimony is that she has received God’s grace. What Dolly Parton cannot do, what Dolly must never think she can do, is to forgive God.