Forgiveness: Over a Cross to Freedom ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, May 22, 2006

Forgiveness: Over a Cross to Freedom

Spiritual Junkyard

I think we can agree on this: the fabric of life is injurious, like a medieval hair shirt; it’s woven with offenses. The earth is teeming with human life—we rub elbows, we butt heads, and where we make contact we leave bruises.

No matter who you are, the world has an abrasive relationship waiting for you, made to suit. Not even the most sincere and helpful people are exempt, and in fact, if you take a cursory look at history, you come to suspect they are especially susceptible. For example:

Jesus’ disciples felt the injustice of this state of things acutely. They understood that most people, and maybe even themselves, were jerks. However, wanting to go along with Christ’s new formula, they expressed a willingness to make concessions.

Peter was the spokesperson for their peacemaking effort. He asked Jesus how many times a generous, self-respecting man could be expected to forgive his antagonists, and then quickly answered his own question:

Peter would forgive and forgive and forgiveup to seven times, at least. (After that, the brass knuckles would come out.)

What spiritual guru could resist such an offer?

Unfortunately for Peter and the boys, Jesus was not just another spiritual guru. He turned Peter’s proposal on its head when he made a counter-offer: Seven times? How about seventy times seven? The disciples were not fooled by the math (490 times, and after that bitterness is in the clear). Jesus was saying, in essence, Forgiveness has no statute of limitations.

The disciples’ chagrin at this point was understandable. (Peter unobtrusively and reluctantly dropped his baseball bat in the ditch.)

Only later, persecuted, berated, executed, would the disciples learn the freedom that Christ had displayed in the face of an antagonistic world. Forgiveness was the ultimate rebuttal of earth’s viciousness, a refutation for which there was no answer.

The disciples came to know this well because Christ forgave them all—repeatedly and without conditions. He had forgiven Peter the overweening pride and stray dog selfishness that had led him to officiously question Jesus’ judgment and then later deny their friendship altogether. Peter was the stand-in rep for all the disciples and, indeed, the whole world in this: Jesus forgave him when he broke the Savior’s heart.

But the discharging of debts didn’t end there. Christ had pardoned the “personal” insults, yes. But then he had died, execution-style, in the manner that Romans reserved for their most despised criminals. All the disciples ran like rabbits. And then came the unfathomable twist. A miracle of freedom rising from a miasma of guilt, of divine fire ascending from dead ashes, a wonder greater than the Grecian phoenix.

Jesus came back and he forgave them all.

When Christ walked out his grave, alive, the disciples understood at last: “personal” sins were never merely personal. It was God who kept the books. But it was also God who had acquitted them. He had absolved his friends of every moral charge laid at their feet. This was heavenly forgiveness: Jesus had suffered for them, taking on the deserved death of humankind. He had taken on the pain of sin, the conclusion of God’s inevitable justice—and they were no longer culpable.

How different their lives would have been if Christ had not been the forgiving kind. In light of his example, how could they do otherwise?

Peter, a tempestuous man, must have been familiar with the depreciating value of a grudge indulged. The satisfaction derived from such bitterness shrinks, and so does the person who carries it. Peter must have learned that when bitterness locks an offender in an emotional abyss, part of the captor goes inside as well.

It’s a testimony to the otherworldly quality of Christ’s kingdom that his answer to a world of perpetual offense is a spirit of infinite forgiveness—and a killing cross to make the bargain good.

No mere man would suggest such transforming madness.

Inspired by a message from John Vanderhorst, "Step into air and sunshine," 5.21.06.

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R. Sherman said...

To truly understand the nature of His forgiveness, one must first accept His justice. As you say, forgiveness is not a mere,"Oh don't worry about it." Rather it's payment; it's retribution which is made by another.

Sometimes, I think we Christians think about the forgiveness part without pondering the suffering part which He undertook for us.



Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife