The Herb Of Grace

Theology and Poetry, Politics and Prose

Things That Sustain: Forgiveness Part 2 August 29, 2008

Things That Sustain: Christian Practices that must not be forgotten (or must be restored) if we hope to “Be Church.”

The following is a continuation of the previous post, A New Posting Series: Things That Sustain, in which I began discussing the impact of ‘soft’ forms of forgiveness and promised a defense of what I saw as ‘real’ forms of forgiveness; I continue to pursue this end in the scratchings and scramblings below:

But where did these lies come from? Is it really that serious a thing that we sometimes forgive too quickly? I think the point here is that the dismissal of guilt is actually not forgiveness at all, it is a secular way to deal with conflict. We see in this example the impact of “Christian culture” but the impact went only to forms and it has replicated those badly as well. In a Democratic society, conflict, unless sanctioned by the nation, is the enemy. There is no cross to bear, no sacrifice to make; conflict only serves to come between me and my right to the pursuit of happiness. So it makes sense that the world’s way of dealing with conflict (here meaning the children of a North American Democratic society) would be one of avoidance. It’s actually not a bad plan, much pain can be saved by knowing when to sweep an offense under the rug. It is simply not the Christian way.

Our way, as exhibited by the words, but more aptly, by the death of Jesus, teaches us that our conflicts are tied to that one conflict between God-for-man and man-for-man. We are taught not to flee conflict but to trust that God will make our pain into something beautiful. So we don’t have to fear the consequences of confronting someone who has sinned against us; we can trust that God is in the mix, so to speak, and that our endurance, patience, and honesty will be used well by the Holy Spirit.

In this way, by not fleeing from the conflict that may ensue from maintaining honesty, we open the door to forgiveness. What I mean is that by remaining in a state of relative truth (you are not sure that you have perceived the situation correctly), you remain open to relationship, to your responsibility to your brother or sister, and to the ability to see the sin for what it really is; it is from this posture that we give the offense to the cross of Jesus. It is only the forgiveness that is associated deeply with the crucifixion of Jesus that can be called real forgiveness. This does not mean that Jesus even needs to be mentioned to the other person but it means that you are responsible to God to carry out a good forgiveness, not one of the ridiculous imitations that nations devise to keep ‘order.’

This does bring into play another reason why our conceptions of forgiveness should be so closely tied to the life and death of Jesus; that reason is conversion and repentance. The words conversion and repentance seem to have a bad rap with many people and I think there are probably very good reasons for this. One of the reasons, no doubt, is that they have suffered the same abuse as forgiveness, the abuse of making it boring and nondescript, but that is another talk.

When we forgive someone in the way that Jesus forgives, and we will outline what this is later, we open the door to conversion (if they have never known Christ and His community) or we open the door to repentance (if they have known Christ and His community). I want to be clear that I do not mean repentance as the offender admitting that he or she is wrong; I mean their returning to God and His community by way of awe at the actions of those who attempt to imitate Christ in word and deed.

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5 Responses to “Things That Sustain: Forgiveness Part 2”

  1. R.O. Flyer Says:

    This is really beautiful, Joel. I’ll need to chew on this for awhile. Thanks.

  2. becky Says:

    I will be chewing for a loooooong time. There is so much to ponder. Thank you Joel.

  3. Matt Wiebe Says:

    Stimulating thoughts here Joel.

    Indeed, much of what passes for forgiveness in contemporary society is really just about minimizing conflict, particularly insofar as real forgiveness is saying to someone, in essence: “you have sinned against me, but I release my claim on your guilt.”

    It’s not “nice” or “orderly” to say something like that today. We might make people feel bad, which is the primary unspoken “thou shalt not” governing social interactions today. And observing this commandment practically guarantees the pervasive shallowness and truth-avoidance of much contemporary life.

  4. masonmusic Says:

    Thanks guys, let’s chew together.

    Matt, I love your phrasing of the modern “thou shalt not.” As conversations happen between various thinkers and believers, I think it will be important to illuminate the ways in which our true religious devotion is to a system other than Christ’s and so has its own commandments which it demands adherence to.

  5. […] began this series with the Christian Practice of Forgiveness, Part 1 and Part 2, and am now continuing with the […]


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