The Challenge of Forgiveness

This week you have probably heard the remarkable sound of family members of those killed in Charlestown addressing the man accused of being the shooter. One by one representatives of each of the victims stood and said “I forgive you”. The grandson of one of the victims said

“I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one that matters the most – Christ. So that he can change you. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

In words heard around the world. they offered this young man not only their forgiveness, but an encouragement to follow Jesus and their prayers that God would have mercy on him. What an amazing witness to the very real difference following Jesus makes.

For some people it raises the question is it unfair to expect this kind of forgiveness? Can (or should) we really forgive someone who has not repented? After all, doesn’t God only forgive us when we repent?

The answer to that last question is, thankfully, no. Romans 5:8 tells us

 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While we were still sinners. In Jesus’ death on the cross it was God who took the initiative. Before we even considered repentance, he had already done everything necessary for our forgiveness. Our repentance is simply us accepting what is offered, while we are still sinners.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus tells a story of a servant whose large debt was cancelled by his merciful king. Yet, when he is owed just a little by his fellow servant he shows no mercy. When the king hears this he is furious and asks the question

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (vs 33)

Jesus makes the point that our debt before God is much larger than what is owed to us. If we have been forgiven this debt, surely we should forgive others in debt to us?

The trouble is forgiveness is often very hard. I doubt that forgiveness is easy for the families of the Charlestown victims. One family member put it this way “For me, I’m a work in progress.” This is true of all us. We are all works in progress. I pray that the work being done in us would make us quick to forgive, as we have been forgiven.

A promise that all wrongs will be righted

So on Monday this happened in Sydney.

Then on Wednesday this happened in Pakistan.

A friend posted this on Facebook yesterday

I wish I could draw a line under the events of this week and quickly and clearly express all my feelings and opinions about what is happening in the world. I am a confused mess of anger and blame and indifference.

It summed up exactly how I feel. So I’ve found it hard to respond to what’s been happening. But David nails it –

“One of the jarring aspects of this whole tragedy is that it all happened just 10 days before Christmas. Sydney has, in the last week, gone into Christmas mode. There’s always that discernible change in vibe from just the season where all the big stores have their decorations up and start plugging gifts for purchase to that moment when the shoppers are in the mood too. I think we got there last week. The Lindt Café would have been decked out in Christmas finery as Man Haron Monis burst through the doors.

Of course, the most jarring difference is that between the actions of Monis and those of the One who those decorations are celebrating. It’s the same jarring difference between all man-made religion and the only true religion; trust in the Lord Jesus Christ of whom the angel says,

Matt. 1:21 “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Here is real redemption. Not that I save myself by my actions and am rewarded by a merciful God (again, note the contradiction in terms) but that another comes and saves me. Here is redemption already won for me, as Zechariah prophesies,

Luke 1:68    “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people”

There is no Jihad in following Jesus. All the struggle is done for us. In fact the opposite is true, we are urged in a sense not to struggle.

Rom. 4:4-8 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,  just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Much could be said about this and some contrasts are obvious, if not already much-stated. Both struggles for redemption are costly. For Monis there was not only the cost of his own life but that of others. He no doubt understood that their death was part of his jihad and justified, as do many others who have acted and will go on to act in similar ways. Jesus, on the other hand, offers up His own life not for His own benefit but for those who have sinned against Him.

That is not to say that Jesus does not look forward to paradise. The Scriptures are clear, pointing us to

Heb. 12:2… Jesus, … who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

But this is where the similarity ends. Monis, and others like him, look to the death of others who they view as being sinful as their own pathway to paradise.

Jesus offers up His own life so that those who are sinful may be carried to paradise.

Therefore the only answer to the sin and destruction of yesterday is Jesus. He brings redemption to all, no matter what they have done, if only they will trust Him, place their confidence in Him and His death on their behalf.

And He also shows us how to respond, to love our enemies and to seek their redemption. He brings comfort to the grieving and (not to be forgotten) a promise that all wrongs will be righted.

The events in Sydney over the last 24 hours have not ruined Christmas. Nothing can ruin Christmas – for the coming of Jesus into the World is greater than any other event. If anything, the deaths of 3 people in the Lindt Café only serves to demonstrate just how wonderful and necessary Christmas is.”

Read the whole thing here.

Forgiving the unrepentant. Is it necessary?

Or even possible?

This series of posts from The Briefing are a few years old but an excellent exploration of this question.

I’m also slowly working my way through D.A. Carson’s Love in Hard Places. This quote is particularly challenging

Over against the personal hatred that some people thought was warranted on the basis of their selective reading of Old Testament texts, Jesus mandates something else: “Love your enemies,” he says, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Here is a vision of love that is rich and costly: it extends even to enemies. It is manifested not least in prayer for enemies. We find it difficult to hate those for whom we pray; we find it difficult not to pray for those we love. In no one is this more strikingly manifest than in Jesus himself as he writhes on the cross and yet prays for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If Jesus is our example as well as our Lord, what arrogance, bitterness, pain, or sloth could ever justify our failure to pray for our enemies?

The problem with forgiveness

I’ve been pondering this for the last few weeks. The problem with forgiveness is it’s hard. When we’re hurt, the precious and sought after ‘I’m sorry’ rarely satisfies. It never changes what happened. It certainly is no magic fix to relationships. So even when we’ve heard the words, we must choose to put aside our hurt if we are to forgive. As much as we’d like them to, no-one can take the hurt away. We absorb it ourselves. True forgiveness means giving up the desire for vindication (or revenge).

But what about when forgiveness seem impossible? Like when a man walks into a school and shoots 26 people. How does anyone forgive him? Even if an apology helped, it’s not possible. Not even the strictest of guns laws will restore the life that was lost. No mental health care improvements will ease the pain for those who grieve. How do we begin to even contemplate forgiveness in this situation?

As Christians we remember that we have been shown overwhelming forgiveness. That our own sin, which is just as evil as this man’s, has been dealt with on the cross. We remember that true justice is not ours to enact, but God’s. A day will come when he will judge in perfect righteousness. And we cling to the promise that Jesus will return and the world will be as it should.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:1-4

And we pray come, Lord Jesus!

When we get it right, I’m sorry is redemption

I’m completely in love with Grey’s Anatomy. I love it all, but I do have a favourite scene. It’s the very last scene in an episode called No good at saying sorry. But the thing that gets my attention is not whats happening in the scene, but whats been said in the voice over.

As Doctors we can’t undo our mistakes, and we rarely forgive ourselves for them. It’s a hazard of the trade. But as human beings, we can always try to do better, to be better, to right a wrong, even when it feels irreversible.

Of course, ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t always cut it. Maybe because we use it in so many different ways. As a weapon, as an excuse.

But when we are really sorry, when we use it right, when we mean it, when our actions say what words never can, when we get it right I’m sorry is perfect.

When we get it right, I’m sorry is redemption.

I find these words compelling – especially that last line. When we get it right, I’m sorry is redemption. I’ve been pondering the different ways that this is true in the life of a Christian. First its true for our relationship with Jesus. When we get it right, I’m sorry is literally the redemption of our souls.

Now, I’m pondering the place of ‘I’m sorry’ in our relationships with one another. I’m hoping (probably because I know there’s an ‘I’m sorry’ I need to say) that its redemption for our friendships too. Of course, when we say it to Jesus we know its met with forgiveness. With each other, I guess we need to take a risk. And hopefully, when we get it right, I’m sorry is redemption.

The Catechist

The Catechist is..

a student magazine from Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. As students, we often serve in churches as student ministers or in ye olde English, as catechists. In other words, we’re both teachers and students. And so, we’d love to share with you what we’ve learnt, and learn from what you share.

The first issue’s theme is Forgiveness.

Be sure to check out my article on Singleness! Check out the first issue here. Enjoy!

Reflections on Mark 15:33 – 41

The Death of Jesus

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

There’s been a few moments in my life when this passage has had a strong impact on me. The most recent was last year during a class at college. We had spent the term looking at Colossians 1:15 – 20 which talks about Christ, the one by whom ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … all things were created by him and for him’.

After a few weeks of considering Christ as the creator of all things, we watched the scene of his death in ‘The Passion of the Christ’. I’ve seen the movie a few times and I’ve always found it a little unsettling, but this day was very different. I came to the conclusion that its inadequate to say that Jesus died for me. Because he didn’t JUST die. He was tortured, and humiliated. He was everyone’s enemy. And during this, while his was nailed to a cross, he calls to his father and he is mocked some more. He didn’t just die for me.

He also didn’t just die FOR me, he died because of me. Isaiah 53 says ‘We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’.

Watching the portrayal of this scene from Marks gospel I felt the full weight of that, probably for the first time. I don’t think I had ever really considered before what my part was in Jesus’ death. It’s easy to remove myself from it or to think that if I were there I would have been one of the good, faithful women who had followed him and cared for him. But I realized that it’s much more likely that I would have joined those mocking Jesus that day. In fact I did join them, because his death was a culmination of everyone’s sin, including mine. My sin isn’t just something that happens in my life, years after Jesus’ death – I was right there in the midst of it all, because he was wearing MY sin on the cross. Jesus, the one who created all things, who gave all people breath, breathed his last because of my sin.

So that was quite an overwhelming and emotion hour not just for me, but my whole class. After class I sat with some friends just trying to work out what it was that we were feeling and how to pick up and get on with our day. I see the answer in this passage. While it reminds me of the magnitude of my sin and the part my sin played in Jesus’ death, it also shows me the power of his death and why I don’t have to worry about those things too much.

At first it may not seem that impressive that when he died the curtain in the temple was torn in two, but it’s a beautiful sign of what happened in that moment. When I become a Christian one of the first things that really amazed me was the size and the power of Jesus’ ability to forgive us. I had being struggling with the thought that my sin was too big for Jesus to forgive.

But here we see not just any curtain, but a massive 3-inch think curtain that separated sinful man from a Holy God, spontaneously tear in two. And we see a centurion, a Roman soldier who was there to take part in the crucifixion, confess ‘surely this man is the son of God’. Jesus’ death is powerful enough to abolish the divide between us and God, and powerful enough to make the most unlikely people confess that he is Lord, and powerful enough to forgive even my sin.

I was to reflect on what this passage means to me for our Good Friday service. To me it means that Christ was tortured, humiliated and died not just for me, but because of me and that this it’s powerful enough to bring me forgiveness. Surely that means I owe him my life. Because surely this man IS the Son of God.