Naming all the sin around us is not the solution. Exposing all the sin is not what matters. That is not what fixes the problem. Keeping score is not the Gospel. Shaming people and punishing people is not the Gospel. Forgiving sin – that’s the Gospel! Because it’s the only thing that works.
If something’s going to be done about sin, it’s not going to be with laws and commands or with judgments and punishments. Do we really think that what’s wrong with the world is something we can fix with more laws or more creative ways to do judgment? No. Forgiveness is the only way. God forgives sin. And as God’s children and disciples of Christ, we are the stage where that forgiveness is shown to the world. We make God’s forgiveness visible and real to the world.
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” ~Colossians 3:13
Forgiveness is the only way to deal with a sin that’s been committed against you. You can only forgive. Forgiveness does not settle all the questions of blame and fairness. In fact, forgiveness purposefully avoids those things. What forgiveness does is bring people back together. It allows a relationship to start over. It creates something new.
But I think a lot of us get stuck between forgiveness and justice. When somebody does me wrong, I can think of a hundred reasons not to forgive. He needs to learn a lesson. I don’t want to encourage her irresponsible behavior. I was the one wronged; he has to make the first move. How can I forgive her if she never says she’s sorry?
Here’s the deal: justice is not the last word. Justice is not the best word. The last word and the best word is forgiveness!
Forgiveness must be our Gospel response to every person who hurts us or sins against us. Our world has plenty of judges and juries and prosecuting attorneys to say, “You’re guilty.” Who’s going to say, “You are forgiven?” If it’s not us, who’s going to say it? “Your sins are forgiven.”
However important justice is – for the record, I think justice is very important – forgiveness is more important. Assuming the criminal crucified next to Jesus was receiving a just sentence – he admitted it himself that he was getting what he deserved – forgiveness trumped justice that day. Forgiveness was more important than justice. It always is.
You suggest that the solution to sin is forgiveness, I am thinking that something important is missing.
The problem with sin is that it produces negative effects (suffering) in the lives of the sinner. The suffering only stops when the sin stops. Forgiveness does not stop the sin. I’m with John the Baptist who said the problem with sin is repentance.
I, too, am with John the Baptist who preached “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Forgiveness removes the barriers to relationship. It takes away the guilt, the shame, the need to get even. It allows for something new to take place, including new attitudes and resolve about the sin in the first place. You are right it is not perfect. The forgiveness we give to one another this side of glory is not perfect. The forgiveness we receive from God through Christ, however, is perfect. Practicing that kind of forgiveness with others only makes things better.
My point was not that forgiveness is imperfect. My point is that forgiveness is irrelevant to solving the problem of sin. Consider sins like anger, envy, pride, judging, criticizing, even theft or murder. All of these sins create suffering for the sinner. The only way out, in my opinion, is to stop doing these things. Repent. Stop criticizing, stop judging, stop being proud, stop stealing. A person can continuously be forgiven for anger, pride, etc, but this does not stop the sin or the suffering.
I guess I am saying I fail to see any connection between forgiveness and the solution to sin. Please make that connection a bit more explicit.
Let me ask you: How do sins create suffering for the sinner? How does being angry or envious or prideful, how does stealing or killing create suffering for the one committing the sin? Be a bit more specific about that connection.
It seems obvious to me that being angry is suffering. It’s been a long time since I was angry. (I gave it up). But my recollection is that the sensation was not pleasant nor something I would desire. Same with envy. Envy is mental anguish incarnate. I also gave this up, but for years I knew the feeling. Notice that these sins, for all practical purposes, hurt only the sinner.
I am probably too big of a fan of Epictetus who said “it is not he who hits you or insults you, but your opinion of the thing.” In general we are only harmed by our opinions and not by the sins of others. False opinions cause suffering.
This is one of the places where you and I take different paths. In my view, these sins do not only harm the sinner, they harm the relationship or the potential for relationship between the sinner and the one sinned against. We are all created by God for community, for relationship with him and with others. Sin places barriers between our relationships. Even if the other person is completely unaware of your sin that involves him/her, the sin has erected a barrier in your mind or soul to relationship. Forgiveness, ideally, removes those barriers.
You and Epictetus may be okay with living inside and unto yourselves. But our Scriptures emphasize that true life is found in relationship with God and with others.
I do believe our actions can have an effect on relationships. I just don’t think forgiveness has much to do with it.
My closest relationship is with Karen. About seven years ago a large crow bar she was working with struck my head as we were digging some holes for a fence. This situation did not call for apologies or forgiveness. We both knew totally what was going on. We also both hold to the truth that “everything that happens to me is my fault.” In other words, we take responsibility for what happens to us. Apologies and forgiveness had no place here.
We have worked together with two big crowbars routinely (probably at least weekly) since then. There has never been a recurrence of me getting hit. I have not noticed a lot of change in Karen (she still intently focuses on her work). But I have made it always a habit when she has a crowbar to always know where she and it is even taking priority over the job. this just demonstrates the control I have over what happens to me.
Now suppose I did not know these truths, but instead became angry and blamed Karen (anger is always about blame), calling her some names and suggesting morals failings in her mother. This anger, as stated previously hurts me and only me. It is my anger and has nothing to due with Karen. It is none of her business. There is no reason for the anger to affect the relationship. There is no harm done to the other person nor to the relationship. No need for apologies and forgiveness..
Now suppose she gets angry that I got angry? Same thing applies. It is her anger and none of my business. She has not hurt me. If I am hurt (Epictetus) it is due to my own opinions.
Maybe if you do not agree you could provide some counter examples.
I do not disagree with the case as you present it here. Here’s another scenario: What if Karen had whacked you over the head with her crow bar on purpose?
I did say that our actions affect relationships. If I sat next to someone on a plane, I can choose to continue reading my book or choose to establish a relationship. Still there is no place in this framing for forgiveness. If Karen hit me on purpose I would take that to mean she does not want to have a relationship, at least not under my terms. Forgiveness still has no function in this framing.
She might later re-approach me and say she does wish to have a relationship. This would be a matter of her changing her mind and a matter of whether I trusted her as sincere and a matter of whether I wanted a relationship, etc. There is still nothing to forgive.
In summary, the problem with framing relationship in terms of forgiveness is that it shifts responsibility away from us. To believe we need to forgive someone is the same thing as believing they are responsible for harm to us, that they are deserving of blame. As stated previously, everything that happens to me is my fault: I take responsibility for it.
It is my fault that Karen hit me with the crowbar even if she did it on purpose. I should have been more thorough in investigating Karen’s tendencies and feelings. I should have been more aware of the risk and taken proper precautions. I should have been more knowledgeable which might have prevented me from being in the relationship to begin with. If Karen hits me on purpose it is because I was at a certain place at a certain time, all of my choosing. I choose to live with Karen based upon my risk assessment of doing so.. If I am mistaken in that assessment, it is my mistake. No one else is to blame.
It is possible to take responsibility for all that happens to us, to never blame others and to avoid anger. Anger is always about blame and is always a sin. It is also an intellectual error.
If you are to blame for being the victim of Karen’s intentional ambush and assault, if it is your fault and not hers, then, yes, there is nothing to forgive. Which is to say, if there is no sin, there is nothing to forgive. It’s a fundamental difference in philosophy and, I would say, reality. Your views are fantasy, Howard. In your world there are no victims of rape, no victims of murder, no victims of theft. That’s not the world I live in.
We both live in the same world. That world has some rapes, murders and thefts. I’ll take those to be your counter examples.
But to remove the emotion let’s start with lightening. We live in a world with lightening. Every year a predictable percentage of people will die from it. Shall we ask the lightening to apologize? Should we forgive it?
I have a pretty good understanding of lightening and what the risks are. I make choices based on my risk assessment. Karen and I take an hour walk every morning at 5AM. Sometimes it is in the rain. Sometimes we don’t go after looking at the weather. Sometimes I stay home and only Karen goes because we have different assessments of the risk of lightening. If Karen is killed on one of those days she goes alone, I am liable to think she misjudged the probabilities. I could be more careful myself. I could choose to live in a manner as to eliminate lightening risk altogether. That I do not is my choice. No one else is to blame.
Now, about murder. I assess it in a similar way. I believe my risk from murder is less than from lightening, but it is not zero. I could take it down much closer to zero, but I choose not to because of the trade offs. It is still all my responsibility.
As to theft, I have been burglarized twice in my life. Neither instance would have occurred had I acted differently and taken other precautions. Sure I can blame the thief and hope for an apology, but what good does that do? It’s just scapegoating and blaming. At the end of the day all I have is anger and your suggestion that I can rid myself of anger by forgiving. Using my method of framing the reality we both live in, there is no blaming or anger to start with.
If you live in a relationship with someone there will be instances where you can either blame the other person and get angry or you can choose to take the responsibility yourself and make no judgments about the other person. Framing involving forgiveness requires judging others which is also a sin. Leave other’s business to themselves.