Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why So Hard To Forgive!?

"he is kind to the wicked" (Luke 6)

I have been pondering recently why it is important to forgive and why it is so hard for us to do it. I suggest that the gospel portrays forgiveness as important in a different way from other important disciplines of the Christian faith. Growing in our capacity to forgive as God forgives us, imitating God’s forgiveness, cultivating a desire to forgive, learning to forgive, and becoming a better forgiver makes Christ’s love grow within us like nothing else does; and Christ’s love growing within us is the cornerstone that makes possible the overall transformation of our character which God desires for us.

In the homily I suggested that it might be helpful for us to think a bit about why it is hard to forgive. My reasoning is that if we can better understand why we get sidetracked in our imitation of God’s forgiveness that we might just be able to repent of the ways of thinking and feeling that sidetrack us and, in turn, grow in our imitation of God’s love and forgiveness.

OK. so why is it so very hard to forgive. Well, there is the egotism. The me first stuff. As the popular writer Karen Armstrong puts it - “people don’t want to put others before themselves.We are addicted to our egotism, our likes and dislikes and prejudices, and depend upon them for our own sense of identity. When we come out with a clever and unpleasant remark about somebody else, we get a rush of self-satisfaction.......”

I also want to suggest that there is a theological error we fall prey to that stands in the way of our imitation of God’s forgiveness. Here is how it goes for many of us: We rightly understand that God is opposed to unrighteousness, injustice, and every enemy of his peace, his shalom. And we know that we are supposed to think about things the way that God thinks about things - or at least as much as is humanly possible. But then we run into a situation where we encounter someone who has wronged us personally or we observe them doing things that we perceive to be unrighteous or unjust and then we imagine that what we are called to do in that situation is to imitate God’s feelings of justice towards this person. Here is the problem though - there is no way that we can imitate God’s feelings of justice towards people and this is why. God cannot think of justice without thinking of love and the cross of Christ, whereas our thoughts about justice are too often bound together with thoughts of retribution and personal offence. If we fancy ourselves to be in some way the imitators of God’s justice we say this sort of thing to ourselves : “I know that we are called to forgive but I am going to forgive only if they change, repent and ask for forgiveness. Until then I will be ready to forgive but I will feel towards this person as God does - “justly angry”. I will not seek retribution against this person but I will only leave it alone because I know God will seek justice.”

This way of thinking and feeling reveals the ugly truth that it is far too easy for us to think of justice without thinking simultaneously of love and forgiveness. This way of thinking also betrays a misunderstanding with regard to what God was doing with Jesus on the cross. Here Miroslav Volf is helpful:
“ ‘In Christ, wrote the Apostle Paul, ‘God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor 5:19)’. Not: Christ was reconciling an angry God to a sinful world. Not: Christ was reconciling a sinful world to a loving God. Rather: God in Christ was ‘reconciling the world to himself’..... God placed human sin upon God! One God placed human sin upon another God? No, there are not two Gods. The God who is One beyond numbering and yet mysteriously Three reconciled us by shouldering our sin in the person of Christ who is one of the Three. That’s the mystery of human redemption made possible by the mystery of God’s Trinity: The One who was offended bears the burden of the offence.”

I brought this insight of Volf’s regarding the mystery of the atonement into this discussion because I suspect that when we misunderstand what God is doing in the suffering of Christ we are likely to get mixed up when we think about God’s attitude towards sinners. If our view of the atonement is that God took retribution on his Son as a third party so that he could not kill some of us, a view portrayed in many popular and scholarly versions of conservative Christian groups, then I suggest we are crippled from the start when considering the nature of God’s love. In turn this leads us to be confused when we think of how God regards people, even people who hate him and love wickedness. Again, we find Volf helpful: "If God does not find what is pleasing in an object - if human beings have become ungodly - God does not abandon the object in disgust until it changes its character. Instead, God seeks to re-create it to become lovable again... God is not just generous even to the unrighteous; God also forgives their unrighteousness so as to lead them through repentance back to the good they have abandoned."

I encourage us to think of our journey as a church community at Grace Chicago as a journey to imitate God’s love and forgiveness within our communities of living, working and playing in Chicago. May God grant that they we be known for imitating him in this way.

1. We mentioned in the homily that we are called to advocate for God’s justice but that it is a misstep to fancy ourselves as imitators of God’s justice. What is the difference? Can you think of some examples to compare and contrast?

2. What do you do when you find that your anger towards someone’s actions is all consuming foe you, making it impossible to conceive of praying for them much less forgiving them?

3. How would you answer someone who says to you, I don’t want anything to do with a God who kills his Son so that a small percentage of the history of the human race might have eternal life?

No comments:

Post a Comment