Random Blog Clay Feet: May 25, 2008
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Unconditional Forgiveness

Last time I explored the problem of forgiveness as it relates to asking others to forgive me while understanding the true implications of what I am really asking them to do. When I understand that real forgiveness means that the forgiving person accepts full responsibility for all of the pain still inside of them caused by the offender, it seems almost offensive or irresponsible to ask someone to forgive me for something that I have done to cause them that pain.

But there are other aspects of forgiveness that I need to explore as well. With a completely new view of what constitutes real forgiveness the implications have a wide area of impact on related issues and I feel the need to look at more of them. One of these is the issue of whether forgiveness should be unconditional or should it be requested before being granted.

This is an issue that I have observed great confusion over in the minds of many people all of my life. One of my best friends many years ago could not even bring himself to imagine that the men surrounding Hitler could ever be forgiven for the atrocities they had committed against millions of people. The horrible and intentional nature of their crimes seemed to preclude, in his mind anyway, the option of their ever being forgiven either by men or by God.

Because of this intense feeling of his – and I would note it was based on some personal experience in the events of that tragic war – he simply could not believe the stories relayed in a book I loaned him called The Cross and The Swastika. This book told about a Christian who spent months ministering to these top criminals while they were being held in detention awaiting the war crimes trials held in Nuremberg, Germany after the war. Many of these men, according to the book, accepted Christ as their Savior and claimed the promise of salvation before they were executed for their war crimes. But one man in particular rejected the messages of mercy brought by the author of this book and before his execution committed suicide in a final act of defiance to show he was still in control of his own destiny.

This friend of mine, raised in a similar theological environment that I was raised in, did not believe that forgiveness could be unconditional. Along with many, probably the majority of people, he believed that a person had to have a genuine repentance and seek for forgiveness before God would offer that gift to that person.

This is a very commonly held belief about forgiveness, but is it really true? Is forgiveness only able to be offered to those who are willing and desiring and deserving somehow to receive it? If so, what are the prerequisites to qualify for forgiveness? Different people have different opinions about what qualifies a person to receive forgiveness and these ideas permeate most religions in one way or another.

But if these basic assumptions are not true to begin with then all the theological propositions about what qualifies a person to be forgiven are pointless discussions about irrelevancies. The idea of unconditional forgiveness is shocking and revolting to many people who believe that it violates all sense of decency and justice and so dismiss it out of hand before even seriously considering whether it may indeed be true. But the reason most people struggle to accept this idea of unconditional forgiveness is because they already have confused ideas of the real truth about forgiveness. If forgiveness means some of the things I discussed last time as commonly held beliefs it is quite understandable why people struggle to believe in the possibility of unconditional forgiveness.

If forgiveness means that there are no consequences involved from commissions of sin, if forgiveness means simply getting off the hook legally and set free to continue in a life of sin, then indeed unconditional forgiveness doesn't make any sense. But then, some try to modify this definition slightly and say that if a person really repents sufficiently enough – whatever that means – then they should get off the hook legally etc. But that is just another spin on a twisted belief about forgiveness that still doesn't make real sense.

One of the problems in understanding this issue is the confusion we have about justice and the difference between God's laws and man's system of laws. There is a radical difference between the ways of God and the created natural order of principles and consequences in contrast to the artificial system of so-called justice and legal arrangements created by men. Man's laws are prescriptive by nature and have to have arbitrary punishments and enforcers to implement them effectively. They focus entirely on external behaviors though they at times attempt to determine intentions of the mind. They are also based on economics though many people are not yet aware of that fact. Human laws are a poor imitation of the true system of God's laws which operate very differently than man's. But if we do not clearly understand these differences we will tend to believe that God operates His government just the same way we do.

But God's laws are simply descriptions of the way things are, not artificial rules and demands with arbitrary punishments attached. Although God has throughout human history been forced to implement human-style laws and punishments, that was never His intention for the relationship He wishes to have with His children. He simply has to relate to men in ways that they can understand and respond to in the mental condition they are in at the time. He still has to do that yet today, but inherent in all His dealings with men is the seeming inconsistencies in His instructions that actually reveal His desire to move us far past the childlike relationship of rules and restraints to a more mature relationship of love, respect and mutual enjoyment and trust.

If we are to understand better the truth about forgiveness then we need to also understand the truth about law from God's perspective. When we begin to perceive that God's laws are descriptive in nature rather than prescriptive, then the need for “getting off the hook” becomes irrelevant and a completely different dimension of reality begins to emerge. Included with that new perception of reality comes a radically different picture of God in our hearts as we begin to perceive a God we do not have to cower before but a God who is longing to have a sensible, realistic, two-way relationship with each one of His created beings.

Having a proper understanding of both law as God sees it and forgiveness in its true form we can also begin to make much better sense of what really happened at the cross of Calvary. Instead of Jesus offering Himself as an appeasement sacrifice to neutralize the anger of a God thirsting for revenge and blood, we begin to see the expression of an infinite heart of passionate love expressing that love in ways that at first seem very baffling to us. Part of what really happened at Calvary was the exact reverse of the teachings of many Christians today who believe that sinners will suffer eternal wrath in the hands of an angry God in the fires of hell. What happened at Calvary was a loving God falling into the hands of angry, hate-filled men. In doing so He exposed the natural consequences of sin – death in all its hideous ugliness.

But what was the most prominent feature that emerged during the hours of torture and agony that the Son of God suffered at the hands of sin-filled humans? It was the clear light of unconditional forgiveness in the blackest darkness of men's system of supposed justice exposed as the fraud that it is. While the legal system of men was used and manipulated to appear to produce justice while it was obvious that is was nothing but a veneer of legitimacy, God displayed the truth about real forgiveness as being the choice of the offended God and having nothing to do with the attitude of those needing His forgiveness.

When we look at this situation through the lens of a correct concept of real forgiveness it suddenly makes so much more sense. Remember, forgiveness is the choice on the part of an offended party to take full ownership of all the pain caused them by another and refusing to hold it against them. This allows complete freedom in the heart of the offended party from any bondage to being hostage to those offending him. That does not mean there are not natural consequences that occur as a result of the actions and choices of the offenders in their own lives. In the true system of principle-based “law” that governs the universe, natural consequences are inevitable unless grace and mercy intervene to prevent them. But that does not mean that forgiveness is not there all along.

Jesus did not die in order to give God permission to forgive – that is based on human-style judicial thinking and is not reflective of God's reality. Jesus died in order to demonstrate the forgiveness that has always been and always will be in the heart of God toward His wayward children, human and angelic alike. Jesus came to reveal in His life and death both the passionate love of the Godhead for us and the results that all will suffer if they choose to reject the forgiveness already provided for them and is irrevocable. Just as God's love is eternally unconditional, so is God's forgiveness.

At this point some would argue that if we are unconditionally forgiven then that would necessarily mean that everyone would be saved, and most people know that is not true. So since everyone will not be saved then it is concluded that there is no such thing as unconditional forgiveness.

But this is simplistic and circular logic that does not hold water upon close examination. It again is based on an assumption that if a person is forgiven then they are automatically going to be saved and will end up in heaven. But forgiveness is not synonymous with being safe to live with God for eternity in a loving relationship with Him. And being lost does not mean that a person was not forgiven. It simply means that that person rejected and repulsed the forgiveness that was available to them at any time they were willing to receive it and allow it to transform their heart. Being prepared for heaven is a very different thing than being just forgiven.

God is not the one who determines whether or not we are saved. He will be the one who exposes the choices that each person has made in their deepest heart to the onlooking universe, but He does not make the choice about that person's destiny. Each person is fully responsible for the choice they make themselves about what they will do with the forgiveness and grace that are irrevocably in place and will always be. The choice each one of us makes about our belief in God's forgiveness and His attitude toward us will determine whether that forgiveness will have a transforming effect on our hearts or whether we will cling to our appeasement models of fear-based religion. We can never earn God's forgiveness by any amount of repentance or performance or appeasement of any kind. We can only believe in what is already in the heart of God and change our opinions about how He feels about us thus releasing His power in our souls to re-create His image in our hearts.

In the same way, we must follow the example of God in not thinking that others have to repent to a satisfactory level before we are willing to forgive them in the true sense of the word. To do so is only to hold ourself hostage to the choices of those who have hurt us. What insane reasoning! Why would we wait for an abuser to repent before we are willing to be free in heart and spirit? Because of lies believed about ourselves and about God, that's why! Because of false notions about forgiveness and justice and many others things that Satan has confused and blinded our minds and hearts with. The clearer we see the truth about God and the unconditional nature of His love and forgiveness the sooner we will feel the attractions of love in our hearts and the quicker we will begin to heal and be on the path to wholeness again.

(part 3)