Monday, November 19, 2007

What is forgiveness? V

Echoing God's forgiveness
But how is forgiveness possible? Avoiding is easier than confronting. Excusing is more polite than accusing. Tolerating is more familiar than acquitting. And grace is just so, well, unfair! How can we as a community live this way? How are we able to swim against the stream of our culture, our habits and our hatreds? Such a mighty task, such an arduous calling seems almost superhuman.

And it is. You’ve heard the phrase ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’. I think at least the second half is spot on. To truly forgive well is something God alone can do. The scribes were shocked by Jesus' claim to forgive sins, since "who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2.6-7) Jesus doesn't dispute this claim. He simply replied with a demonstration of his authority to forgive, to the glory of God. (Mark 2.8-12)

When we are invited, lovingly commanded, to also forgive, we are just playing catch-up with God. We are echoing God’s forgiveness. It is possible for us to forgive others because God in Christ has already forgiven them. We are just acknowledging what is already the case, putting our signature under God's. “We have the right and the obligation to make God’s forgiving our own – to forgive on our part what has already been forgiven by God.” (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 199)

God's prior forgiveness through Christ gvies us the model, the motivation, the authority and the obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Eight points if you can correctly name this Australian natural rock formation. And five more to someone else who can give its location.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V.


Anthony Douglas said...

It's the Carlotta there's an easy five points to somebody with access to Google!

Carlotta...looks quite high...might give you Vertigo...wasn't she a character in the film who had issues with forgiveness?

Anyway, Byron, I suspect there's a cheat going on here, or at least more to be said. Unless you've gone all universalist on us, are you suggesting that we should only really forgive Christians? What room does this logic give us to forgive those in open rebellion against God?

Shouldn't the warrant be subjective, rather than objective: God is forgiving, and so should we be, rather than God has forgiven X, and so should we?

Paul said...

Excellent series, Byron, and quite challenging.

I've certainly had my problems forgiving over the years. One of the things that has driven me to a greater Christian faith is its ethic of forgiveness. At one time, I sincerely desired to forgive another, but found it so difficult, practically impossible. I had my greatest epiphany of being spiritually bankrupt then. I knew I could not forgive this person by relying on my mind to provide the logic and emotion to do so. Something other than me had to provide the means, and I found that in God.

byron smith said...

Anthony - eight points and that's why I only offered five for the location.

Volf avoids universalism by arguing that like a gift, forgiveness can be rejected or ignored, so that the gift gets 'stuck' between giver and recipient. The forgiveness is not conditional upon proper acceptance (which involves repentance), but remains 'on the table'. Thus, we can forgive even those who have not (yet?) accepted God's forgiveness through repentance and faith, since God has forgiven them, even if that forgiveness has not (yet?) been received.

byron smith said...

Paul - thanks for sharing your experience. Indeed, forgiveness is not a human possibility without God's forgiveness coming first. He not only shows us how to do it, he gives us the 'riches' (in every sense) so that we can (for)give generously. He forgives us and he forgives those who have wronged us.

Anthony Douglas said...

Thanks for the clarification Byron. I did a little more reading too, and found some wisdom from Zoe H (now E) - the analogy between God and us breaks down at the point of his ability to engender repentance; hence his forgiveness can remain 'on the table' while he 'waits' for repentance, whilst ours must be delivered in full.

Donna said...

I'd like to add here a little plug for a book I read called "The Lost Art of Forgiving". It's a small book containing people's stories about how they were able to forgive some terrible things - it constantly illustrates the point which you made, that forgiveness is "swallowing the cost". I recommend it.

Tom Barrett said...

Hey Byron

Pushing a bit further on the issue that Anthony raised, i don't see how it can be accurate to say that God "has forgiven" those who have not yet accepted his forgiveness. Certainly he has adopted a "forgiveness-offering stance" towards them, but if the transaction isn't (yet) complete it seems inaccurate to say they "have been forgiven".

So to connect God's forgiveness and ours, I'd be more inclined to say "God genuinely offers forgiveness, and so should we". Then people's acceptance of God's forgiveness isn't a prerequisite for us offering them ours.

Going a bit further, I've heard a view (which I'm cautiously edging towards endorsing) which says that just as the effecting of God's forgiveness is conditional on a request for it (repentance), so should the effecting of our forgiveness. To forgive in the absence of repentance cheapens forgiveness, or downplays the wrongdoing, so the view says. This is not to take away from the need to have a "forgiveness-offering stance" regardless of whether repentance has or will come.

What do you think?

byron smith said...

Tom - I suspect that Volf may more or less agree with you, except that he would say that offering forgiveness is to forgive, just as offering a gift is to give. He would then say that the gift (or forgiveness) can get 'stuck' between giver and recipient if it is not accepted. The rejected gift hasn't merely been offered, it has been given by the giver, but the rejection renders this giving incomplete. Or something like that.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Carlotta Arch - outside Jenolan Caves, overlooking the Blue Lake.

Altought I'm a Mountains person, I've never been to Jenolan Caves.

byron smith said...

Donna - Thanks (belatedly) for the recommendation.

Moffitt - yes, another five. Though shame on you for never having been there. I love caves and think Jenolan is wonderful, despite being "touristic" as my Roman friend would say.

byron smith said...

Hmmm, perhaps "shame" is a little too strong. Nonetheless, they are worth the trip.