Forgiveness and Grace
June 26, 2017
Two years ago, we were confronted with an outpouring of forgiveness as a church and community expressed their grief and grace over an unthinkable act of hatred, terrorism, racism, sin and violence. Twenty four months later, the lesson still calls us to reflection. We cannot tolerate these motives or the actions that they evoke. Where does forgiveness enter the equation?
Forgiveness is a scandal. Forgiveness is irrational. It is out of balance, disproportionate, beyond our capacity, humanly unjust, and controversial ... and very, very real, liberating, and healing. It is always premature and it is always timely.
God forgives you. He does not excuse you or your deeds. He forgives you. He does not force you to accept forgiveness, but He does not cease to offer it.
Society may not forgive. Rational people may not. History may not. The justice system may not. But God does and God's people do as they open the channel of giving and receiving it in their own hearts.
The magnitude of the offense is not nor ever is the issue. Your remorse is not the issue. Deterrence is not the issue. There is no issue. This is beyond issues.
The only issue is the issue of blood from the hands, feet, and side of Jesus.
"Father, forgive THEM..."
It cost God to forgive. It costs God to forgive. To maintain truth and justice while extending mercy can tear at the heart of humans and of God. To be angry and to sin not is tough. But bitterness and hatred are tougher and more toxic.
God invites and equips us to do the same as He does. We cannot demand it of others or of God for ourselves or anyone. But when He enables us to give it, we receive more than we give.
It also costs us to receive forgiveness because it implies that we know we need to receive it and makes us vulnerable at levels that evoke it from us. It strips us bare and hangs our lives on crosses.
Sometimes it may be too early to talk about it because one must process what it is that is being forgiven. Yet, here is the scandal. It was brought to bear upon us by the victims of a terrible atrocity recently and no one has the right to criticize them for it. What they did was because their primary identity was not their skin color that made them a target or their ideology or their victimology. They identified with the Forgiver.
A racist was confronted with a God who is no respecter of the arbitrary labels we assign to human being.
Those forgivers are first and foremost, children of God and, in forgiving, they declare that nothing can take that away from them. That is their dignity not their weakness.
I hear people marginalizing them, dismissing them, considering them weak, naive, or unsophisticated in understanding their own emotions. How condescending!
Argue the societal implications of forgiveness all you like. Discuss who is authorized to offer forgiveness. Theorize its repercussions. It does not matter.
The voices of those who cry out, however prematurely you think it is, speak of their character before God and much more, the GRACE and power of God in their lives. His love in them is stronger than hate and it is love that shall prevail.
Nothing in forgiveness negates justice. Nothing minimizes indignation. In fact it fires up indignation at anything and everything less than God's love at work in the world and His justice lifting up every man, woman, boy, and girl.
I can only forgive the Boston Bomber or the Butcher of Charleston, or ISIS for the minimal effects of their crimes on me. Those who have suffered most and more have more to forgive and so many have.their witness inspires me to forgive the petty little offenses I have suffered with such boisterous protest.
If God forgives those who create the most horrific, massive, and public crimes,m how about you and me?
Why would we leave such a gift on the table?
Stephen, in Acts, led his accusers through long bible study and recounting of the grace of God at work in history and the response of the crowd was ...
... to pick up rocks and throw them at him until he died.
His response ... "God, don't put this on their account ..."
God forgives you and it is irrationally scandalous.
What are you going to do about it?
Another thought on personal forgiveness is that it allows us to move beyond localizing evil in one or two people so that we can fight the insidious systemic evil that gives birth to the individuals who carry it out. It is a form of corporate repentance , confession , and seeking for God. It also puts the one forgiven on notice that they have done wrong and the only way to wholeness and redemption is presented in the message of mercy, grace, and repentance.
Again the question, "What are you going to do about it?"