Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Lent 2021 Week 6 - Forgiveness

The shootings at Atlanta area massage businesses have stirred up a lot of emotions and thoughts regarding violence, treatment of women, race relations, socioeconomic marginalization, shame, media bias, police bias or insensitivity, and more. One question some are asking is exactly how much racism is there in our communities and in our nation? The polarization of viewpoints over the past year+ through our political season, pandemic response, and social debates seems to show very different viewpoints...and a desire to separate that is just as strong as our desire to unite. So if we have all these differing viewpoints, how can we ever get along? The social consciousness says, we will not get along until there is justice and equality.

Those are valid pursuits. They are God's goals for us: justice, mercy, love. The way the Gospel shows us to pursue them, though, is through grace, and namely, His grace toward us. Heart change is not possible until someone meets God and makes peace with God.

 Until then, how much are you willing to forgive?

What causes us to forgive? If we are waiting for reparations, then it is not so much forgiveness from us as it is repair work done by the offender. If we say we forgive, but then we also refuse to have anything to do with the offender, then we have not reconciled. It is forgiveness in name, but it is not forgiveness in experience.

What is forgiveness? Like with everything else in life, we have two options for how to define forgiveness. One is man-centered, based on our experiences, reason, and capacities. From this baseline we can say forgiveness is impossible, or depends on the offender's attitude (are they remorseful?), or allows us to forgive but not forget. These are all based on what our hearts and minds tell us what we ought to do.

The second way to define forgiveness is God-centered. If we look through the Bible, and we examine the life and death of Jesus, we find that God's definition is pursuing reconciliation. I'm thankful for Psalm 51, King David's song of repentance, but I'm also aware of how poorly he managed the relationships in his household in his later years (lots of drama). I'm thankful for Philemon, the short letter from Paul that talks about a man reconciling with a runaway servant (not quite our own American definition of slavery), where the ideal is that the master would not treat his servant poorly but rather he would treat him well. This exceeds just dealing with the offense; it is about fulfilling God's vision for what any and all of our relationships ought to look like.

I know some who are in abusive relationships need to be on guard - physically, emotionally, and mentally. I also pray that God would let His Holy Spirit break into all our hearts and minds to guide us. Is forgiveness possible? Anything is possible with God, as much as God allows it to happen.

We strive to emulate God, but it requires our obedience to God's work and pace.

God has forgiven us. Let us do our best to show this grace to all around us. Let us pray.

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