Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Forgiveness


Luke 23:33-34 (New International Version):

"When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'"

Theological Perspective: Christ's petition for the Father to forgive the ignorant murderers prefigures the nature of forgiveness for the rest of us once Christ was crucified. In effect, once Christ was crucified and his blood was sacrificed voluntarily, our forgiveness was accomplished before we asked for it. So now, we don't necessarily need to ask for forgiveness (though it is a good practice, and as Bonhoeffer noted, keeps us from thinking of forgiveness purely as a reflective activity). We just need to live in that forgiveness, and ask the Holy Spirit to quicken that forgiveness in our lives.

15 comments:

sarah said...

Yes, a forgiveness quickening is good. I think also that it is that we live in gratitude, acknowledging the forgiveness and subsequent payment of our debt given to us by Christ. That's really what it is. He forgave us, and paid our debt. 'It is done.' What remains is the gratitude of freed men and women and children, prodigals, living in the Love, the Grace that He is.

Asking for forgiveness isn't a lost activity in the light of His payment for us, though. He accomplished that for us, but we continue to act in ways that to not ask for forgiveness for some us, would in our own hearts, cheapen His sacrifice. Not for all, but maybe for some. I ask Him to forgive me, knowing He has, but as a confession, not a pleading as though He hasn't already forgiven me.

It could be a semantic argument for some, I suppose, but taking this out of the realm of philosophy and into the realm of my very small experience in the universe, it is what it is- a confession of the evidence of my debt, a grateful acknowledgment of His sacrifice and love, of the debt that He paid.

I agree with you, of course. Pleading for what He has already given is a bit odd. It's like being served a plate-full of food and then asking the one who served it for a plate-full of food. Uhhhh... wha?

suneal said...

In the "old days," people had to sweat and earnestly get on their knees to know God has forgiven them. We live before a holy God, and if we don't know, better to sweat it out than be deceived. On the other hand, I totally agree Sarah and Chris in all your sentiments so nicely put. What a huge topic though. Often for example forgiveness is mentioned alongside confession of sin. Yeah, sin, as in SIN. That means disobedience to the holy commandments of God, who will pay us in full, if we are not forgiven, for our sins. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). The debt is our sin. God is also faithful not to forgive us if we don't confess. Either way, He is faithful.

Anonymous said...

I love how God bends our rules, societal, cultural, and personal, on topics like forgiveness. He forgave his killers, whether they would ever accept that forgiveness, because he new the powerful, transcendent nature of forgiveness. I love how forgiveness, His forgiveness, stretches to the dark realms of the past, bathes the present in its miracle, and reaches boldly to the unforeseen future. I love, that love and forgiveness are not merely brothers, but one and the same. You can not love, and not forgive, and you can not forgive, and not love (paraphrased from Bryant H.McGill). If God is truly love, then he was compelled, driven even, to forgive. Imagine living life that way. Such high aspirations for us who are but dust.
Of course, to bring this pious discussion to an earthly level, (I'm sorry. I just can't be serious. My bad.) I love the quote by comedian Emo Phillips: “When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.”
So, yeah, asking for forgiveness is a good thing to practice. You never know, eh?
Cheers
Wyatt

Christopher said...

Suneal,

I agree that we should confess our sins because He (God) is faithful to forgive when we ask of Him. However, just to wax all philosophical for a moment, if we look at spacio-temporal reality, we can assume that since Christ's forgiveness of sin was consumate at the Cross, the dialectic would conclude that even before we ask, we are forgiven. Thus, God is faithful to forgive our sins when we ask because He already has.

Now, when it comes to not confessing/repenting, we are not forgiven because we have rejected what He has already done for us: forgiven us. Thus we condemn ourselves and God has no choice (I think) but to allow us that condemnation. What do you think?

suneal said...

I'm sorry Wyatt, I just can't be funny. God does not bend rules to forgive, in the cross of Christ, He paid our debt in full and then some. Ain't no rule bending there, at all.

And if God was "driven by love" to go to such lengths as to send His Son to the cross to suffer, die and be crucified in order to forgive us, then equally He was "driven from His holiness," to send His Son to pay the full penalty for all of our transgressions, thus satisfying the demands of His righteousness, holiness and justice.

Finally, forgiveness implies repentance, so if good ol' Emmo did not return the bike, or at least try to make amends, this bespeaks the cheap fluffy-duffy erroneous and theologically retarded idea that God can "bend the rules" and does in order to accomplish forgiveness.

Again, so far I am the only one who has mentioned what we are forgiven for, SIN. Without actually calling it that, see how theologically adrift we get? If we do not grasp that God's forgiveness is in no means an "overlooking" of our sin but actually a complete recompense for it in the Person of the sinless Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world, then yes, we will think God just waves the magic wand and all are now forgiven. The higher transendant forgiveness wand is forever sparkling with its bright little stars in the atmosphere, and all we need do is breathe it in and wolla, we're all forgiven! Or, we can keep the forgiveness of God in Christ in line with the rest of God's inspired Word, and see it is no laughing matter, but grips us with the utmost severity of a call to the holiness of God. Any forgiveness outside of that is very cheap, and yes, very laughable.

Christopher said...

"You can not love, and not forgive, and you can not forgive, and not love (paraphrased from Bryant H.McGill). If God is truly love, then he was compelled, driven even, to forgive. Imagine living life that way. Such high aspirations for us who are but dust."

Wyatt,

Thanks for your insights. I wonder though, if you think that McGill's notion of love and forgiveness is logically consistent. Not that it has to be, mind you, (God, as you said, bends the norms) but it would seem to me that judicial matters offer forgiveness without love. Take for exammple, a criminal: he stands trial in court, shows contrition for his first-time offense, and is let go with a stern warning. Is that not forgiveness without love? Or, in another scenario, a doctor forgives a nurse for administering the wrong medication and thus causing a messy situation he has to clean up: would that forgiveness not be a duty-bound, or deontological forgiveness rather than a relational/loving forgiveness?

I'm probably splitting hairs here, but I wonder at the idea of identifying forgiveness with love such that they are practically the same thing. It would seem to me that love is the central characteristic of God, should be our own central characteristic (imago dei and all that), and that forgiveness is an action that flows out of love. Thus forgiveness contains some of the characteristics of love without being love.

What do you think?

And don't worry about the Emo Phillips quote. I think it's brilliant! Thank you for including it.

Christopher said...

Suneal,

I don't think the transcendence of forgiveness that Wyatt is identifying is without its object, sin. Between theologians, I think we all know that forgiveness in the divine economy implies the mercy and grace of God despite our sin.

From my own reading of Wyatt's post -- and I could be utterly wrong-headed here -- I think he was simply reflecting on the after-effects, and the afterglow, as it were, that forgiveness yields in a person's life. That he didn't mention "sin" does not mean that the rest of us can't, or won't infer that from what he has written.

I mean, on a purely biblical/theological level, what else does God forgive, if not sin? The one implies the other, does it not?

suneal said...

Chris, you said;

"Now, when it comes to not confessing/repenting, we are not forgiven because we have rejected what He has already done for us: forgiven us. Thus we condemn ourselves and God has no choice (I think) but to allow us that condemnation. What do you think?"

Yeah, so how does this change the fact that ultimately God does not forgive everyone, for if he did, universal salvation would be our gospel. The emphasis for the non-believer is "repent." God's wrath remains on any not "in Christ." Confession is the door in. The building already exists of complete forgiveness "in Christ," but let us not get carried away with a building irrespective of the entirety of the character of a holy, just, all-powerful and loving, forgiving God. Christ has not yet "filled all things." We should be encouraging others to press in to the kingdom and that requires repentance and confession of sin.

Christopher said...

"Yeah, so how does this change the fact that ultimately God does not forgive everyone, for if he did, universal salvation would be our gospel."

It doesn't, and you're right. However, my original article was not about making headway into universalism. I understand how you've connected that notion with what I originally wrote, but in all fairness, I never actually addressed the idea of universalism.

Since it is brought to our attention, however, not confessing sin, and refusing the forgiveness of Christ results in separation from Him and, of course, living in unforgiveness. Obviously then -- and as my article was intended, though it isn't entirely clear -- we are dealing with the subject of 'forgiveness' as it relates to believers, not unbelievers.

suneal said...

Chris, you said;

"Between theologians, I think we all know that forgiveness in the divine economy implies the mercy and grace of God despite our sin."

Yes Chris, and I think we also know it implies the grace and mercy of God "for our sin" to deal with it, both as forgiveness, and as the vehicle of its elimination. The forgiveness "for our sin" was my emphasis. Hopefully, that is enough on topic for you.

suneal said...

Chris, regarding this post being about forgiveness for believers, since so many "atheists" have been coming by as of late, I think it only wise to say so in your post.

Christopher said...

"Chris, regarding this post being about forgiveness for believers, since so many "atheists" have been coming by as of late, I think it only wise to say so in your post."

Yes, thank you. You are right to note that. And thank you for helping me flesh out this issue a little more in light of the unbelievers who come by this site.

Anonymous said...

Christ asks God to forgive his killers BECAUSE they do not know (are not aware) of what they're doing.

They did not ask to be forgiven. The did not CHOOSE forgiveness, it was bestowed on them, the reasoning in this case - their own ignorance.

If you feel that constant petitioning for forgiveness makes you feel better, that's ok, but it is unnecessary.

sarah said...

Anonymous, also to consider is the reality that we also don't know every tiny and even grand violation of the law for which we are individually guilty and for which Christ paid; so saying, yours is an important point.

Carrying on...

Christ's intercessory prayer here is pretty amazing given that the request for forgiveness comes without repentance! Or obviously contrition since without knowledge, contrition isn't possible either (covered already by the observation of ignorance).

I was taught that God's forgiveness is always contingent upon my repentance and contrition. When I asked about sins about which I was unaware at the time of committing, I was told that that's why we pray for a general forgiveness as well as for individual sins, that self-examination is still the #1 activity of those who desire forgiveness before prayer and of course, communion. This just all seemed so bizarre to me. I thought, well, I'm glad someone told me this, because otherwise, I would be labouring under false pretenses for my whole life, having not acquired the little tidbits of secret knowledge only available to theologians and those who read their works.

Even picking through the scriptures- a luxury afforded those who can read, those who can afford a bible, those who do not have four children running around for 14 hours each day including a baby, those who have the inclination and intellect to support such searchings, etc... It just cannot be this complicated to receive the gift that Jesus has freely given.

This and how can I know from inside myself whether my own judgments about my own self, being so close to me as I am, are going to be in any way accurate anyway? Is is not more plausible that while we do desire to live according to the goodness and within the character of our Creator, that His choice to pay our sin-debt was His choice and therefore contingencies are already accounted for? What I mean is that I tend to think that the role I play in this atonement drama is not a secondary, read-the-script-stupid part, but rather a communally primary role wherein my acknowledgment is inclusive of my gratitude for what He did and does, and in this state I participate with Him in an intimate relationship with Him, not one wherein I am constantly trying to measure up or trailing behind Him fumblingly trying to grasp at threads of His cloak as he breezes onward, brushing the kicked-up dust off of my face.

It is the implicit argument regarding forgiveness and sin that I think the atheists have correctly assessed and that I have had to reconsider as a result: Does God create human beings in a state of brokenness or expectation of brokenness and then either demand that they be whole, and unbroken, or that they grovel at His feet for rescuing them, when He created them that way? We have many examples of this sort of relationship between human beings and in every case, it is obviously abusive.

Do we serve an abusive God? I cannot buy the argument about this that well, He is a *just* God, so He *has* to.... blah, blah, blah...

He is a relational God, so He can and does suspend justice in favour of mercy clearly in many many instances and definitely in His actions regarding our sin.

So, shall we sin all the more that grace may abound? lol. Of course not... and so it goes...

The point for me is that God is patently not who I've been told He is, and this is a great relief to me. I side with atheists in their position that god (the idea and the accepted description) doesn't exist. The true living God is someone very much unlike what I've been taught 'about' Him. I prefer to know Him, because knowing *about* Him has lead to a lot of misunderstandings between us, mush like the way some of my husband's friends completely misunderstand who I am based on descriptions, no matter how well intentioned they are by my husband.

Christopher said...

Anon.,

Thank you for re-inforcing my thoughts.