1. Forgiveness is not always divine
“To err is human, to forgive is divine.” This is
a great old saying, but unfortunately it is not true. Most forgiveness
is not divine, but rather self-serving.
Christ told a parable of the servant who owed a great debt to his own master. Though the master was initially willing to forfeit the debt, he changed his mind when he heard that the servant would not forgive a much smaller debt which another servant owed him (Matthew 18:23ff). This parable reveals man’s predominant motivation for forgiveness, namely fear of being punished for our own offenses. It was fear, for instance, which kept the Pharisees from stoning the woman caught in adultery. If they made her pay for her offence, then they would have to pay for theirs as well. We all know inwardly what Christ said openly, “If you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you for your transgressions” (Mark 11:26).
However, Christ did not forgive like we do. He owed no debts, He committed no offences, so he had no fear of punishment. Hence there is a huge difference between Christ’s forgiveness and ours. We forgive others because we ourselves are bad, and we do not want to be condemned for our own badness. But Christ forgave us because He is wholly good, and He wanted to initiate us into His goodness.
Human forgiveness is a wonderful thing. Suppose everyone in the world owed debts amounting to a million dollars. If everyone forgave each other’s debts, then none would be richer, none poorer, and all set free from a crushing burden!
However, human forgiveness does not solve the problem of sin, much as humanists would like us to believe. The reason is that we do not just owe each other: we all owe God, and God owes no one. If we all were to forgive each other, then we would be reconciled to each other, but not to God.
The effects of our sins against God as so entrenched and so insidious that we are entirely unaware of them. We simply take them for granted as a part of life. We see no causal connection between human sin and natural disasters – nonetheless, the Bible assures us that the connection is there. Without sin, disasters would cease.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Luke 11:2) In heaven there is no sin. The elimination of sin heralds the coming of His kingdom. Sin is eliminated only through divine forgiveness; and divine forgiveness is bestowed through Jesus’ disciples empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Recall that after His resurrection Jesus appeared to His disciples, breathed upon them, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they will be forgiven. But if you don't forgive their sins, they will not be forgiven." (John 20:22-23) Hence, Jesus commissioned His disciples (and ONLY His disciples) to exercise divine forgiveness.
Paul says, “And be kind
to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's
sake has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) Let us therefore
practice divine forgiveness – not grudgingly from fear, but spontaneously
from love, knowing that our forgiveness paves the way for the restoration
of His Kingdom to earth.
2. Forgiveness is never free
Jesus commends the master who freely forgave his servant’s debt (Mat. 18:23 ff). Jesus’ principle, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mat. 10:8), certainly applies to forgiveness.
But God the Father apparently does not forgive freely. For Jesus paid for our forgiveness with His life. According to conventional Christian doctrine, God would not forgive our sin except that His sinless Son be sacrificed on our behalf.
Is conventional Christianity correct? If so, it appears that God is a hypocrite! On the one hand, He instructs us (through His Son Jesus) to forgive freely. On the other hand, He required a stiff price in order to forgive.
Nay, God is not a hypocrite. The problem lies in our faulty understanding of “free” forgiveness. Even “free” forgiveness costs something. “Free” forgiveness is free only for the offender: the forgiver pays the cost instead.
“God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). This is why the forgiveness of the Cross is “free”. The Father Himself suffered in Christ on the Cross, just as Christ suffers in us in our tribulations (John 17:23; 2 Cor. 1:5). The Father Himself, with and within the Son, bore the cost of our forgiveness.
Many Bible expositors teach that the Father turned His
face from Jesus when He was on the Cross. To be sure, Jesus did cry,
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:46). But I believe that the Father did not leave
Jesus alone, He did not turn away. He saw and felt everything
that happened at the Cross.
In some Communist countries, police have tortured the children of Christian parents to death, right before their parents’ eyes. “The torture will stop”, the parents are told, “if only you deny Christ.” No doubt these children suffered horribly. However, the parents’ emotional torment was just as horrible as the children’s physical pain. Some parents even went insane. Just so the Father suffered as His Son was tortured to death on the Cross.
The cost of forgiveness is not just suffering: it is death – death to self. This is why those who live in Christ must die with Christ (Col. 3:3). Death with Christ includes dying in divine forgiveness.
Let us die fully. Let us pay our full share of the price of forgiveness, knowing the joy set before us when others are reconciled to God through us (Heb. 12:2).
3. Forgiveness is Intolerant
True forgiveness does not minimize other’s offences. True forgiveness never says to the offender, “Oh, that’s all right, it was no big deal.”
We minimize others’ offenses because we know that we are guilty of equally serious mistakes. We want to think that our own sins are no big deal, so we are tolerant of others’ sins. Unfortunately, our sins are not as benign as we would like to think. They have unimaginably horrific consequences. Suffering and death entered the world through a single bite from a forbidden fruit. Is a single bite of fruit any worse than a single morsel of tasty gossip? Or a single lustful thought? Or a single impulsive, angry word?
Long-term weather patterns are completely unpredictable, and may be unduly influenced by apparently trivial events. Meteorologists sometimes say that a flap of a butterfly’s wing can cause a hurricane. Since such is the case with the physical climate, is it any surprise that the entire world’s spiritual climate can be catastrophically effected by our “trivial” sins?
We are so foolish to think that our “good works” can make up for the evil consequences of our sins. After Adam bit the fruit, could he put the fruit back together again? Our pride, anger, jealousy, greed and lust cause injuries which are far, far more destructive to God’s creation than Adam’s bite was.
Hence when we forgive, let us not deny the seriousness of those sins we are forgiving. This makes forgiving much harder, but much more effective.
Copyright © 1998 CrossPollen
Last Revised: May 14, 2003
CrossPollen Main Page || top of page || CrossPollen e-mail