To forgive divine…

This is a very good, thought-provoking post on the nature and necessity of forgiveness from Mike Frizzel at

Life in Mordor. I especially appreciate his paraphrase of Bishop NT Wright, who says that our refusal to forgive is tantamount to a denial that God forgives – that’s pretty dangerous for a Christian, isn’t it? To deny God’s work in Christ? But it’s so derned counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, counter to how delicious it feels to revel in how deeply we’ve been wronged.

It’s something that’s hard to accept. Having grown up Catholic (though poorly catechized), and having hung around so many former Catholics who were in the same boat as I, it’s easy to see why we fall away from the church. Yes, we’re all sinners, sure, but can we please not focus exclusively on the BAD news? Can’t we, for God’s sake, focus on the Good News that God recognizes our faults but loves us anyway? That He not only loves us, but that He loves us so profoundly that he took on flesh, walked in our sandals, and died for our sakes at our own hands? God gets it! We often don’t.

Anyway, here’s that post.

The Scandal of Forgiveness

“I’ll forgive you, but I’m never going to forget this.”“I forgive you, but this changes our entire relationship.”“I forgive you, but I’ve lost all respect I ever had for you.”

“God might forgive you, but I surely won’t.”

Have you ever noticed how many qualifiers we put on forgiveness? There’s always a “but” lurking at the end of forgiveness. Intellectually we understand the need for it, but we’re not willing to completely follow through. We know that we’re supposed to forgive, but we want the other person(s) to know that we’ll always have that offense hanging over their heads.

And because we tend to view forgiveness in a self-centered way, our idea of God tends to be skewed. How often have you heard a sermon on God’s forgiveness of sins only to be reminded how big of a sinner you are? Is that how God sees it? Does he forgive our sins, “save” us, only to constantly remind us of what we are forgiven from? Is that grace? Is that the Gospel?

N.T. Wright, in his little book on the Lord’s Prayer, says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that if you deny forgiveness to another person, you are denying that God forgives. What a completely un-Christian way to live, to deny to others the very thing that gives you life. How can I claim to follow Jesus when I fail to follow his most basic teaching, love your neighbors?

Can you imagine what life would be like if God actually worked the way we sometimes think he does? There would be no grace, only a constant reminder of sin and death. Not that the cross doesn’t remind us of our rebellion against the Almighty, surely it does. But, more importantly, the cross points to Jesus; where we should stand accused for every little offense, God’s hand points to his Son. Where we should die, our Redeemer lives.

That’s the scandal of forgiveness, that God actually means what he says. That he forgives our sins, removes our filthy clothes and replaces them with Christ’s. There is no “but”, God forgives and that’s it, nothing added. He doesn’t conviently remember a past sin when it suits him. He really forgives. Oh, that we could live that way.

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3 Responses to “To forgive divine…”

  1. I agree that forgiveness is essential, but does forgiveness mean that we must forget what was done, even to the point of trusting again? I don’t believe so. True, God does forgive us and forgets our sin; He flings it as far as the East is from the West if we truly repent. But human nature being what it is, many acts that require forgiveness are likely to be repeated, especially when there are a psychological factors are in play. I’m thinking of murder, sexual crimes, even pathological lying. Forgiveness is an essential thing, but to try and completely forget in some cases could possibly be dangerous. I think that’s what makes this issue so touchy. If we could forgive and forget with the assurance that an incidence would never be repeated, it would be very easy to do. But to put ourselves in a position to be taken advantage of again seems to be counter-productive. I’m thinking, for example, of an abusive spouse who says, “I’m sorry, please forgive me”, over and over again. Just my two cents…

  2. Good point, Jules. This seems to be a question of extreme obedience (I don’t intend that in a negative way) and of discipleship.

    In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus how many times we’re supposed to forgive someone who sins against us: “As many as seven times?”
    ” Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.'” (NRSV)

    Paul also mentions the importance of forgiveness in Colossians 3:13. “Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

    Possibly most telling of all is Matthew 6:9-13 (the Lord’s Prayer) where Jesus tells us to pray that we be forgiven AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS. What?! It seems more like a curse in some ways, cuz I know me, and I know that I suck at forgiving people. Why, then, should I pray that I be forgiven in as sucky a way as I forgive other people?! It’s harsh, but it’s there.

    Maybe at its core, this forgiveness thing is part of recognizing God’s sovereignty. First, by refusing to forgive other people (and even refusing to forgive ourselves) we deny God’s ability to forgive. Although it’s tempting to do so, I’m ultimately not willing to put God in a box and limit His sovereignty. Secondly, refusing to forgive and forget is an issue of trust in God’s sovereignty: it’s a desire to self-protect, which in itself is a denial that God is in charge.

    In the end, I understand what I just said on an intellectual level. Putting all of that into practice…now that’s a horse of a different color! It’s part of our fallen nature, I reckon.

    I’m glad you stopped by. Keep telling me I’m full of crap. 🙂

  3. I think we should forgive all that sin against us, even those we shouldn’t trust. Jesus some how managed to forgive those who hung him on the cross, but it’s very hard with the human condition to forgive, especially completely. The Bible wants us to turn away from our sin that we forgive and repent. This whole act is saying God cleanse me from this and take it away and I will turn my back from it. So when we forgive someone we have to also be aware of their attitude towards this action. Just think if the disciples went along with their fears of Paul, we wouldn’t have over half the New Testament.

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