I had three reactions to this book–two positive and one disturbing.
First, I found the book quite interesting. That’s saying a lot, as few books hold my interest. But Tammy’s story hooked me in more than most novels. The book is definitely a page-turner.
Second, the main message of the book is one I believe is extremely important. She describes how she forgave the man who murdered her son. Many Christians seem to think anger, rather than mercy, is justified in cases where there is an extreme offense. Tammy’s story illustrates how the greater the offense, the more mercy is called for–and the more God-like it is.
And she doesn’t simply state that she forgave him but goes into considerable detail about all she felt and the emotions she experienced throughout the process. The scene in the courtroom with the killer moved me to the core.
I would like to recommend this book and shout about it from the housetops to get people to read it, so that people can see what a beautiful thing mercy really is.
However, there is a third element in the book that tempers my endorsement. A repeated theme in the book is the comfort the author receives from being certain her son is in heaven. I certainly hope he is! But my concern is over the basis upon which her confidence rests.
I got the impression from an early draft of the book that the author’s confidence is based on her son’s conversion experience. She seemed to be saying that if a person has a genuine conversion experience, that person will be in heaven even if he does not follow Christ after his conversion experience.
I spoke to the author about this concern, and her response was remarkable. She said, “Oh my! … I don’t want people to think accepting God as their Savior doesn’t involve surrendering themselves and making Jesus Lord of their life.” Even though we had this conversation on the very day of the deadline for her final manuscript, she spent the entire day making changes to the book to clarify the gospel.
I say that’s remarkable because I know what it’s like to reach publishing day after spending years on a book. At that point, after spending thousands of dollars on editing and proofreading and all the rest, you don’t want to so much as move a comma, much less make any substantive changes. Mrs. Horvath is to be commended for placing the importance of the gospel above all!
I pray the changes will prevent anyone from getting the same impressions I initially had. I believe it is crucial that we be clear on exactly what a person must do to be saved. To be born again, a person must believe the truth about God and trust him–trust him so deeply that they happily turn their back on the world to embrace God’s way.
Jesus put it in the most radical terms imaginable.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
James 2 is a chapter devoted to describing two kinds of faith–one that can save and one that can’t. The faith that can’t save is dead because even though it believes the right things, it doesn’t trust God enough to follow his way.
And not only is salvation dependent on faith, it is dependent on persevering faith. Not just a momentary conversion experience, but a faith that perseveres all the way to the end.
Colossians 1:22-23 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
Hebrews 3:14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
1 Corinthians 15:2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
Romans 11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
One final point. This is a very minor issue-so minor that if you’re not into semantics and precision in word use, you might want to just skip this part of my review.
For those who are word sticklers, here goes:
I think the term “mercy” might be a little more accurate way of describing what this book is about than “forgiveness.” Most people think forgiveness is when you choose not to harbor bitterness, anger, or resentment and not to harbor thoughts about the person’s wrongs. I believe a better word to describe all that is “mercy.”
Forgiveness, I believe, goes farther. Forgiveness is the restoration of the broken relationship. That is why God requires us to ALWAYS show mercy, regardless of whether the person repents. But full forgiveness (restoration of the relationship) cannot happen unless the person repents. That’s why we are not required to forgive unless the person repents (Luke 17:4). Not even God forgives unrepentant sinners. The relationship cannot be restored unless both sides come together.
For a book-length treatment of this view of forgiveness see The Christian Experience of Forgiveness
by H.R. Mackintosh (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3…).
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m NOT saying it’s okay to harbor resentment toward someone who has sinned against you and hasn’t repented. We must not do that, because God calls us to show them mercy. And I don’t know if I’ve read a more beautiful example of someone showing that mercy than in Tammy Horvath’s “Gone in an Instant.”