Saturday, November 17, 2007

What is forgiveness? IV

(iv) Not fairness, but grace
Forgiveness is not fair. It is grace, a gift. It is not limited to "three strikes and you’re out" (or even seven, as Peter discovered: Matthew 18.21-22). It is not conditional: "I’ll forgive when he says sorry". It is a freely given gift, an unmerited cancelling of debt. Of course, like any other gift, forgiveness can be refused. Just as an offered present can be left unopened or returned, forgiveness can be rejected. We can’t force someone to accept such a present; we can only offer it generously.

So it is not that I forgive those whom I think are worth it, or who might be able to make it up to me somehow. No, we are to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us: completely, repeatedly, freely.

But we often think we'd prefer things to be fair. Wrong has been done; and so we stand on our rights and make demands. A world where everyone gets what they deserve is predictable and feels just. However, such an approach misses the bigger picture:

“If on the bottom line of our lives lies the principle that we should get what we deserve, whether good or ill, forgiveness will sit uncomfortably with us. To forgive is to give people more than their due, it’s to release them from the debt they have incurred, and that’s bound to mess up the books.

For a Christian, however, a bottom-line principle can never be that we should get what we deserve. Our very existence is God’s gift. Our redemption from the snares of sin is God’s gift. Both are undeserved, and neither could have been deserved. From start to finish, we are always given free of charge and given more than our due. Therefore it is only fitting that we give others more than they are due.”

- Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 203.

Volf is pointing out that we are called to forgive as forgiven people ourselves. We are not giving anything more than has been given to us. We are first recipients of forgiveness from God. This is the point of Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant that follow's Peter's question in Matthew 18. A servant is forgiven millions of dollars worth of debt and yet refuses to cancel a debt of a few thousand dollars. We shake our heads because he just hasn’t got it.

To whom do you need to show grace, not fairness?
Eight points if you can guess the Sydney beach.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V.

27 comments:

David Entwistle said...

Hi Byron,
Another great series - thanks.
I notice you've labeled this post "justice". Do you think that forgiveness is a form of justice? Or does it negate justice?
Thanks again
David

byron smith said...

David - in my sermon I spoke about 'justice' and 'fairness' interchangibly, but when I came to post about it, I realised I had been sloppy in doing so and started to think about the very issue you have raised. The relationship between justice and forgiveness seems complex. In short, I wonder whether forgiveness both negates and completes justice, though wanted to think more about it before I posted on it. So I re-wrote the post removing all references to justice (changing them all to 'fairness', which is often used as a synonym of justice, though has different connotations). However, I forgot to remove 'justice' as a tag (until now). Thanks for catching me out! :-)

Michael Canaris said...

Clifton Gardens, going by the foliage and pier?

N.B. That reminds me: I haven't been there for quite a few years; when in Mosman, I mostly go to Sirius Cove and occasionally Balmoral.

byron smith said...

Sorry Michael, not Clifton Gardens.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Hi Byron, is it Clovelly Beach?

byron smith said...

Not Clovelly.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Newport Beach...(no idea)

byron smith said...

No. Though I guess there are a finite number of Sydney beaches...

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Is this Gordon Bay?

byron smith said...

No.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Tamarama Beach?

byron smith said...

Nup.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Shelly Beach?

byron smith said...

No, though I might just link to the discussion here, which may or may not be useful.

Anthony Douglas said...

Yep, that may or may not be useful. But on the off chance it is, I'll make an inspired guess at La Perouse.

byron smith said...

Ah, nice guess! But no, I said it was the discussion, not the picture (or even the post) that was relevant.

Jonathan said...

Double Bay?

byron smith said...

Not Double Bay.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Is it a beach close to Pittwater?

byron smith said...

Depends what you mean by "close". If you mean "on Pittwater", then no. If you mean "on the same side of the harbour as Pittwater" then yes.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

The beach at Taylor's Bay?

byron smith said...

Nope.

byron smith said...

It's a major and well-known beach, not a tiny patch of sand claiming to be one.

Anthony Douglas said...

Well, I think I've figured out the relevance of your hint - it's a beach you went to when you were a kid, so there's some nostalgia for you.

I also have up my sleeve an idea of where you were living at the time...

So I'll now guess: Balmoral. It's where we always went when I was a kid.

byron smith said...

Not Balmoral. I had never been to this beach before I took this photo last year. For eight points, I think this post has generated the most guesses. There are only so many Sydney beaches with a pier/wharf/jetty.

Anthony Douglas said...

It would seem that Google has let me down, for I can find no other Sydney beach on the north side with a jetty. Unless, of course, Sydney is defined very broadly indeed...

Matthew Moffitt said...

Clontarf??