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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Never knew forgiveness contained high fructose corn syrup.


      Forgiveness is not a commodity to be passed around "fairly", like cans of beans. God requires that we repent of our rebellions, stupidities and cupidities. The first Christian evangelistic meeting carried the message “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.". The modern evangelical Rev. Feelgood messages appear to remove most responsibility from us, beyond "slipping your hand up" and "praying this prayer". When Columbine happened, the next day school was in session a "We forgive you" type banner was up in the commons. Now, I recognise that a sentiment like that feels good, and in a sense will aid in not building up bitterness, but there is that other side of forgiveness.

Paul writes a peculiar thing in 2 Timothy 4.

Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:

Paul the apostle did not say "but I forgive him". He said " the Lord reward him according to his works".
That falls into the realm of  "imprecatory prayer", calling upon the Lord to deal with the bounder. It is a left turn from "forgiveness", leaving any resultant response up to God. King David was a master of this.

This is curious and confusing to me. I was brought up in the greasy grace mode, where you mutter "I forgive you" in an almost warding mode. I am having...difficulty...with this. I am no theological lightweight, but I really want to be clear on this. I don't want to spread around empty feelgood "forgiveness" where it is not called for, but neither do I wish to presume upon grace when the Scripture also says " And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors". This may appear silly, but it is a puzzle, and one which I should like to solve, both for my own satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of my Lord.


Doom said...

The notion of forgiveness has me tied in knots at times as well. Good to see I am not the only one.

I for one, believe wholeheartedly in forgiveness. The requirement, much as in the prayer you quote, is that it be asked. Now, I can't know if someone who does me wrong and apologizes, begging forgiveness, is sincere or not. That is God's job. So I must offer forgiveness. But if the wrongdoer never asks, I CAN'T forgive.

Further, forgiveness has nothing to do with punishment. If someone murdered my mother, then asked for my forgiveness, I would have to grant forgiveness. I would have zero expectation to see that the murderer was given a lenient sentence. There are differences. Further, I would suggest that being punished, even if forgiven, on earth would make entrance to heaven more likely, if they were truly repentant. Something about 'paying here or paying there', or even 'what you gain here you lose there', or some such.

Still, it does tie me in knots. Recently an 80-year-old priest was awaken in the rectory, and savagely beaten for the few dollars he had. He suggested he was all about forgiveness, which is fine. But as I think of things, did these men ever ask for forgiveness?

Now, mind you, these are just my thoughts. And there are areas this doesn't cover. I know no more than you, and perhaps less. But that is my story and I am sticking to it.

The Aardvark said...

The image of forgiveness in my mind is NOT wishing one who trespasses against me to be found dangling by a slender thread over the sulfurous Pit.

As you say, that does little to mollify temporal consequences.

Our forgiveness is conditional to how we forgive, that much is certain. I am thinking that "forgiveness" without concomitant repentance on the trespasser's part becomes little more than emotional salve...which to be sure has its uses. I surely must not wish evil upon another in return for evil received, but I may certainly ask Father to deal with it.

Thanks so much for your input, Doom. I pray the priest is well.

Michael W said...

Throughout my life with the Lutheran Church I kept coming face to face with Philippians 4:7 --- "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus".

Over the years I would come to interpret this to mean that, in regards to the way God moves, there's no guarantee that I'm supposed to Get It. I'm just supposed to accept it. I extend this to include, among other things, the concept of Forgiveness. If the Lord says "Vengeance is Mine", then perhaps the same condition applies to Foregiveness. God witnesses all sins, so perhaps the forgiveness of such is strictly His purview, and we are simply left with the reactions provided by our consciences.

Of course, this is just my notion.

The Aardvark said...

"there's no guarantee that I'm supposed to Get It."

That reminds me of "behold, I show you a mystery..." The Reformation crowd often present what resembles a "Gospel for Spock", one that can be reasonably discussed over drinks at get-togethers. One of the most freeing things I have come to is the fact that I am also not called to wrestle atheists to faith. They have made That Decision. "The fool has said in his heart 'there is no God'." I can and should pray for him, be ready to give reason for the hope that is in me. God must reveal Himself. The Faith once delivered is one of revelation. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." The very faith by which we come to Christ is a gift!

Yeah, Michael, forgivenesss does release us, turning it over to God grants us that peace, and God is better at paybacks than I am. Seeing the end from the beginning reveals motives and outcomes that I cannot see.

OH! Do me a favor, Send me your address to whardy(at)hiwaay.net

Trust me.

Michael W said...

First forgiveness, then trust. I love it!

Doom said...

You guys are talking about a third of what landed me in a confession booth. There is no way to understand. No, I am not saying that is the path for all, only, with a terribly powerful call from God, but with a lot of foot-dragging and doubts to be overcome, many questions. That is where that epic 15 year struggle ended. What I could answer seemed Catholic, what I couldn't answer was a mystery... which is Catholic. I used to, before I dug too deeply, be anti-Catholic (of a more mild form, albeit). I almost still pout about it, if that helps. :p I sometimes wonder if loving your enemy means more than what it seems? Bah!

Michael W said...

Don't know if this will help, but Dave Gardner once said: "Love your Enemy and drive them nuts!"

Keep in mind that a good portion of an attack against you is geared (perhaps unconsciously) to provoke some sort of reaction. Forgiveness usually short-circuits what is humanly expected.

I know that things have happened in my life which should, by rights, have kept me wrestling with the overall existential dilemma for years on end. Perhaps I've chosen the easy (or lazy) way out by handing the problem over to Jesus and having faith that, through him, all the schmutz would be cleared out.

There's a line from "Jesus Christ Superstar" which goes through my mind on occasion: "God, Thy will is hard/But You hold all the cards". To me it's a telling line because it reminds me that it's all God's will and God's way. It's why, when people tend to boo Judas, I find myself remembering that he was exactly in the spot God wanted him to be, playing precisely the role God needed to fulfill His promise. We can complain, praise, condemn or forgive as much as we want but, ultimately, the final decision is in higher hands than ours.

Apologies if this makes me sound like I'm into Predestination (which I'm not). Actually, I'm just holding onto the notion that God knows what He's doing.

Doom said...

No, makes perfect sense as much as that is possible. As for Judas, I still think he would have been fine if he had just... dropped to his knees and sought forgiveness. And, yes, he did God's will. I just wish he could have seen that. Lucifer fits here likewise. If he could just turn around (if another fallen angel would step into his former shoes).

Predestination is a weird thing. It exists and it doesn't. Sometimes though, our only choice is to do God's will willingly and knowingly, or to be pawns but against His will. We have choice, but not of outcome always? Mary could have said no, Christ (maybe?) could have taken up as king of the world, we can sin willfully, awfully, and at our leisure. But God still wins.

I still wonder, from time to time, if there was a woman offered the choice Mary received who turned it down, or even a Christ who chose otherwise (if my Church doesn't think a rejection by Christ is possible... iirc). I wonder how many men and women have chosen, using free will, other than God's will on the big things?

Doom said...

Then again I am a fruitcake. :p

Michael W said...

But a readable fruitcake. Far more than some people I can mention who actually get paid to offer their opinion to the sheep.

Yeah, Lucifer and Mary could've simply said "no". I mean, did Lucifer actually think he had a chance with this revolt thing? But, on the other hand, all of this was arranged by God. It's sort of like being nominated for a Hugo. Just being nominated is an honor.

The Aardvark said...

At least he doesn't have too much citron....

Doom, Calvin's doctrine of Predestination is a definite case of overthinking the gag. Paul writes:

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."

This is not teaching that God said "I like Mike; he's in...that Weatherly, not so much." Those who God knew would respond, THOSE He predestined to be like Jesus. It's part of the job description.

@Mike- I have severe problems with the "hireling preacher" business. NOT...IN...THE...BOOK. I heartily recommend Barna's "Pagan CHristianity", which exposes the stuff that we accept as normative church practise, but which is actually pagan in pedigree (the book is NOT an anti-Catholic screed, however).

Lucifer was the first narcissist. Of COURSE he could win. He was doing it!

"Keep in mind that a good portion of an attack against you is geared (perhaps unconsciously) to provoke some sort of reaction. Forgiveness usually short-circuits what is humanly expected."

This is gold.

Galt-in-Da-Box said...

"America prays for 'God' to destroy it's enemies. Meantime, America's enemies pray for 'God' to destroy it...Somebody's gonna be disappointed. Somebody's wasting their ****in' time! Gee, could that possibly be...hmmm...EVERYONE!?" - George Carlin.

Michael W said...

I've always had a problem with the idea of God as "personal revenge weapon". Even a casual reading of the Bible would seem to suggest that the Almighty would prefer all of Humanity to move closer together into a community of harmony.

The Aardvark said...

G-I-T-B, the point here is personal, individual forgiveness for trespasses suffered. The idea of a nation effectively praying against an enemy nation (God as WMD?)is foreign to the scriptures. George Carlin is less than reliable as an expositor.

(Ain't I a STINKER?)

@Michael: When the comments on Vox's post about the death of uber-atheist Christopher Hitchens of course devolved into hellfire talk, I had to respond:

"I think it important that the Christian faith actually has as its core not "sending people to hell", but the story of a God who, seeing His creation being willfully insistent upon going there, went to cosmic lengths to reconcile us, to provide the way out of that destination.

Be it sulphurous flames or eternal separation from God whilst gnawing your tongue in regret, it is the same. Father loves you, and wants to spend Forever with you. The choice is yours."

@Doom - Please pass the fruitcake.