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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Forgiveness?


"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you"
C.S. Lewis


If I am a Christian than I must believe that God forgives, not just my sins, but the sins of every individual that has ever lived in the past, lives in the present and will live in the future. This is one of the primary doctrines of Christianity, that God forgives the sins of humankind. While there is much discussion about how this forgiveness is incorporated into human history and into our daily lives, there has not been, from what I have witnessed, much discussion as to what forgiveness really is. 

It has been established that God forgives, but what is forgiveness? 


"If God forgives, than God must forgive everything. If God does not forgive everything, than God is not God."
- P. Ewert


More discussion to follow in regards to this topic. Looking forward to reading your thoughts and opinions.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Philosophically, or maybe theologically, you are beginning with an idea of who God is, and then proceeding to understand claims made by the Christian community or Christian tradition in light of this idea.

You are asserting - and I agree with you - that God is fundamentally, or first and foremost, a forgiving God. This is the lens through which we should see everything else.

Before Christ came into the world, what did God's forgiveness look like, how did he forgive? He had the Israelites make sacrifices for their sins, right? So God's forgiveness has always been mediated in some way - through sacrifices, through the sacrifice of Christ, etc. He has always required a sacrifice it seems. And yet, I'd like to think that God forgives directly, immediately, without mediation. It appears that in the Christian worldview, forgiveness requires something on our part, we must ask for forgiveness, go out and sacrifice a lamb, believe in the resurrection, etc. Why can't God forgive us directly, without human agency or human action?

Perhaps forgiveness is the embrace of your being, everything who you are, without requiring anything from you. And this given embrace transforms you, allowing you to forgive others.

The thing I find difficult picturing or understanding is the vastness of God's love and forgiveness. When you observe how corrupt, debase, and evil our actions are in the world, a forgiving God is unfathomable, and yet, our only hope.

GA said...

I may venture to say that you may be making assertions that cannot be "proven" OR you may be raising issues that have to be seen from two (or more) perspectives and which may then appear contradictory.
So, first of all, by what "authority" do you conclude that God MUST forgive everything or he is not God?
But also are we talking about what God HAS done, or what MAN has experienced?
And are there things that are unexcusable or unforgivable? OR are there "conditions" that change and therefore a different standard is applied?
Echoing in my mind is the statement of Jesus on the cross, when he asks of the Father that those who have "wronged him" be forgiven... because of their ignorance. "They know not what they do". Does that mean they were "out of their mind"?
And elsewhere we read that "in times past God "winked" at the transgessions because of ignorance .. BUT now commands all men everywhere to repent... (Act 17:30)
So, for man to experience "forgiveness" does he have to repent? And if so are we talking about God failing to forgive apart from forgiveness, or are we talking about mankind failing to live under the liberty of forgiveness because he does not have any reason to believe it is his as long as he holds on to the "sin" or very act of independence (lack of trust or faith) that brings reconciliation or dependence and fellowship?
Anonymous ties "forgiveness" into the offering of sacrifices and of Jesus being the sacrifice, but I think the record is that it was NEVER the sacrifice that affected the forgiveness or restoration. Without the repentance AND faith, (or trust) we read that the outward ritual was empty and had no meaning. Thus the principle has been and always will be... until the end of 'time'... that the JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.
So even among the ignorant, the Gentiles, or non-Jews, a "sacrifice" offered "in faith" with repentance was sufficient to give the penitent, a sense of restoration or reconciliation. (Because God does forgive, and honours "faith" as the means of experiencing 'salvation' through his Grace.
Abraham knew "righteousness" by faith. And this was before the law was given, but it was through Christ who had not yet "come into the world" yet was "slain from the foundation of the world".

And lastly, for however we are to understand it, we are told that we cannot "know or be forgiven if we do not forgive".

GA said...

Another word that Jesus gave...to the Pharisees was that "blasphemhy against the Holy Spirit could NOT be forgive. I have my own understanding of that and I think it fits with the tie-in with repentance (and trust) as mentioned above.
The Pharisees were ascribing miracles (or Works of the Holy Spirit) to the devil. As long as they dismissed these "miracles" or signs as John called them to the devil and not as the authentication of Jesus being the Christ then they would never have to admit that he would be the "Saviour". Since the work of the Holy Spirit is to give testimony of Jesus, AND to convict of sin, then as long as the Pharisees could attribute everything Jesus did and taught as being "of the devil" then they would never come to repentance, and thus .. the "blasphemy" against the Holy Spirit would result in their never being "forgiven". On several counts they could not claim "ignorance". They had the Scriptures that spoke of Jesus. They professed to be "in the know". They had the testimony of the "signs". They had the teaching and example of Jesus. When "man" has the same evidence and refuses to acknowledge God's love and mercy and grace, is God "obligated" to "show" his forgiveness to him? Are they forgiven or are they not? Will their experience of position confirm or deny it?

CalledToQuestion said...

@ Anonymous
Yes, in this context, the God of Christianity seems to be 'idea' of discussion. This is due in part to the fact that most readers here at this blog come from a Christian background or understanding. I do not know of any Christian that would disagree with the belief that God is fundamentally forgiving, but what this forgiveness is and how it operates is arguable among many Christians. As you have shared, throughout much of history sacrifices were preformed in regards to the process of forgiving; whether those participating did it out of ritual or did it out of a sincere apologetic heart. To this process of sacrifice, you bring up a very important question, "Why can't God forgive us directly, without human agency or human action?". Even though, in this day and age, we do not practice the sacrifice of animals, fruit or vegetables(at least not in Western civilization) the Christian practice of forgiveness still, for most, requires a 'sacrifice' of the individual. So it seems that this forgiveness still requires something in order for it to fully be operational.

I enjoy what you said, "Perhaps forgiveness is the embrace of your being, everything who you are, without requiring anything from you. And this given embrace transforms you, allowing you to forgive others.".
Yes, perhaps.

It is, indeed, difficult to fathom the unfathomable of the Perhaps.;)

CalledToQuestion said...

@GA

You may venture.:)

As to who's authority, It is by my own authority, of course, and of the Christian theology (though I will venture, myself, too say that most Christians are not even aware of it) that God is a God of forgiveness. Who of us really has any authority, when it comes to the matters of ‘God’? If either you or I say anything at all about 'God', are we not going by our own authority? If this is the case and if authority is the concern, then all mankind should hold their tongues and be silent. If we did this then we would have no theology (Maybe we should). I will venture, once again, to say that we all have the authority to discuss the topic at hand, because we are human and this is the kind of stuff we do.

We are, mainly, discussing forgiveness. This may, or may not, have to do with what God has done or what man has experienced. In regards to this post, the primary question is, what is forgiveness?
Your questions
“… are there things that are unexcusable or unforgivable?” and, “…are there "conditions" that change and therefore a different standard is applied?” are both good questions and are necessary to be asked if we are to discover what forgiveness is.

"They know not what they do". Does that mean they were "out of their mind"?
I think we are all out of our mind, no?

Love the question,

“So, for man to experience "forgiveness" does he have to repent?”
Does he? (I will get more to this in following posts)

As you shared(at least what I got from it), the best way we can know forgiveness is in forgiving. How, then, can we forgive if we don’t know what it is?

The question remains; what is forgiveness?

GA said...

PHIL
When I say by what "authority" I do not mean by what "right" because surely if it is an opinion about God we all have a right. But I meant since we are talking about "God" then by what Biblical Basis do we come to this conclusion? But of course if we are not talking about the "Biblical revelation" of God then we can pretty much do all our own definitions as we go along.
SO... we still haven't defined or determined what "Forgiveness" is and no one has bothered to find out what the English Dictionary says it means.
So rather than be doing that, how about we come to it by saying WHY there needs to be "Forgiveness" and from whom and towards whom?
Would it be wrong or presumptuous to say that forgiveness of necessity must imply a slight or offense of some sort? And to what extent does that imply a "standard" or "law" to be in place either written or commonly understood?
So if you were comfortable being known as a clown and I called you a clown, there would be no need for me to seek forgiveness or for you to expect to have me repent or for you to extend "forgiveness". But where there IS an offence then doesn't that suggest a "breach of the "law", or a break in relationship? [I would say that maybe it is never about a breaking of a law and is always about the relationship. When we break a law we are not "forgiven", we "pay a price".]
Repentance (and confession) means that there is a regret and an admission of a transgression on the part of the transgressor toward the transgressed. IF this is a correct understanding of what precedes any need for "forgiveness" MIGHT we be coming to a place where "forgiveness" may define itself?
On my part if I am extending forgiveness to an offender, am I not saying that the consequences of the offence have been "nullified"? Do I not have to say, that in spite of all feeling of hurt, or all evidence of the actual guilt, I am going to restore the relationship to its former state...(or better)and I will "remember the sin no more". NOT that I will "forget" the facts and what happened, but it is in the past, it has been concsiously dealt with and any consequence now are "cast into the sea" or are as far removed from our relationship as the east is from the west. This would SEEM to be the Biblical definition as to how God forgives those who trespass against him. And as in the Lord's Prayer, the Luke 11 version, vs. 4 makes it clear that 'sin' is any indebtedness, that we have incurred against God, and any indebtedness we may feel someone else owes us.
Can I conclude then that Forgiveness, is having the account ledger Paid in Full, and the Historical record (of wrongs) made completely blank so the story can start over again, FRESH.
And if we take into account Jesus declaration that we are to forgive our brother 70 times 7, then there should never be any pages hanging around that are NOT blank, when it comes to giving every individual the chance to "write their story" anew.
So for there to be forgiveness or for one to seek forgiveness there has to be a consciousness of the one who might be offended existing and then an understanding of what would constitute an offence and then a desire to have the consequences of that offence nullified. And isn't that what the Bible says about there being no "sin" where there is no law? That is to say, no sense of the wrong committed until we grasp the standard OR relationship that has been "broken".

Miriam (Pete) Rashleigh said...

I'd say the ideal would be that every offense would be easily forgiven, whether the offender asked forgiveness or not. This world is not ideal, and we as finite beings cannot even grasp what "ideal" is in the IDEAL sense of that word. We can't grasp right or wrong to that extent, either, since we are not fully aware of what constitutes "right" and "wrong". That is why God is the only final judge. However, He does have certain standards which he does say in many places that breaking of those deserves death. He gives the chance at forgiveness. But it seems that where knowledge of breaking the law/standard is involved, that also a move on the part of the law/standard-breaker toward desiring forgiveness is also expected, and a turning around (repentance). So yes, that can happen 70 times seven, but I see that there needs to be at least a desire on the part of the one offending to stop offending in that particular way, and to do the right thing. If there is no desire to change in that way, to improve in offending (God primarily), that probably indicates a heart that is more towards pleasing and serving one's own ego. In that state, anyone outside of that ego can be easily trampled to preserve only the offender's ego. Therefore, the offender who is so hard-hearted as to never back down from pleasing his own ego is in the place of putting himself in the place of God, and that is one thing that God will not have, as when Lucifer was cast out of heaven. Because while He loves everyone equally, He cannot allow the few egomaniacs to continually trample others, and they must be brought to justice. They may be in the place of seeking forgiveness at that point, but if not, they can expect some certain kind of judgment, either as a direct result of their actions or attitudes, or else by human law-makers bringing them to judgment in a court of law or in a vigilante sort of way. Either way, humans will be held to account, and this will certainly take place when we all stand before God, and He finally decides what has and has not been forgiven/paid for. Even in the case on earth where forgiveness has been given there is usually some restitution required. That's probably where Roman Catholicism came up with purgatory. There is in human nature an understanding that wrongs need to be righted in some way. Where there has never been restitution on earth, there may be some way that God has for bringing justice to situations. That would be His call, not ours, but I would say that His mercy and His justice will always be balanced, as they were at the cross.

Kmarie Jones said...

I rejoice in the fact that some mysteries can not be solved fully nor would I want to do this. I accept the reality of mystery in life and meaning, but NOW I must live. In living I have to choose to find love and within love forgiveness is a facet although is it complete and true? Perhaps not. But it is what it is for me now. In that... I am.
And now...I am and I live therefore I love.

CalledToQuestion said...

@ GA
Why does the discussion of God only have authority if it is from a "Biblical basis" and yet my or your opinion does not? Does God only give revelation through the bible? Is the bible the final word or is God?

While the question, Why do we need forgiveness?, is an important one and one worthy of discussion, we still have not answered the question, what is forgiveness?

You haven pointed out some good insights surrounding the issue of forgiveness and how it seems to operate; some that, I believe, will lead us closer to what forgiveness is.

CalledToQuestion said...

@Miriam
Rather than being easily forgiven, why not solely forgiven. I would imagine that forgiving an offender too be much more difficult when the offender never admits the offence.
If we can't grasp or comprehend what constitutes "right" or "wrong", how, than, can we trust our comprehension that God is the final judge. To say this or that about God, is just our attempts to grasp at something that we do not entirely know.

CalledToQuestion said...

@Kmarie
Do I detect a Descartes twist in your last sentence?

CalledToQuestion said...

@ Everyone

I appreciate all of your thoughts and I am thankful that you have engaged in the conversation. We have definitely given our opinions about how forgiveness operates, and while this is good, we still have not answered the question of the post. As I stated in the post, 'While there is much discussion about how this forgiveness is incorporated into human history and into our daily lives, there has not been, from what I have witnessed, much discussion as to what forgiveness really is.'

I will repeat the question; What is forgiveness?

GA said...

I would say the main reason we appeal to a Biblical revelation of who or what God is, is because GOD spelled with a Capital "G" to signify Elohim or the God of the Hebrews is of necessity a Biblical "god". So while God the Almighty, the Grand Architect, the First Cause, the Creator of the Universe(s) may reveal himself to others apart from the Bible then we will need terms to clarify that revelation as "God as he has revealed himself to me", or "Allah as the Muslims perceive him", or "Zeus as the Athenians understood him to be according to their writings",... "but as interpreted by Paul" etc.
So, I suppose you should insist that when we speak of "God" we also let the reader know that our understanding of the God of whom we speak is the one we have "made in our image" according to the thoughts or revelations of..... and fill in the blanks. Of course my "Biblical" understanding is still my interpretation but at least I have some chapter and verse or passage in mind when I make some statement. But if I come up with an image of the God-head as in THE SHACK... then I should let people know I came by it while in a coma, or on a trip, OR because I was trying to come up with a "novel" way to picture a Biblical portrayal.

GA said...

@PHIL
I thought I did define what Forgiveness meant,(to me)by both describing what I thought it was and what it was not.
SO, for the sake of discussion or debate I will put it this way and then the rest of you will have something to say YES, or NO or PARTIALLY to.

Forgiveness is the means to or the state of being restored to a "fellowship" or close relationship with a being where there has been real or imagined separation.

Forgiveness IS NOT a pardon for a crime committed or a suspended sentence, or a commutation of a sentence.

Courts and officers of the law (civic or religious) are authorized to fix fines, and penalties and sentences when crimes are committed and only judges or rulers acting as king, or president or an "authority" can pardon or reduce the legal sentence. An individual acting as a "common citizen cannot pardon one found guilty.
Forgiveness on the other hand has no place in a court and can only be extended at a personal level and has to be between the one offended (or wronged) and the one who did the offending or wrong.

GA said...

As we use the term we often confuse the two aspects and we may talk about "letting someone off lightly" as though they have been "forgiven" or we speak of them having "paid their debt to society" and "society" should "forgive" or has "forgiven them.
But these are two separate concepts.
Forgiveness is that which is beyond the law. i.e. fellowship. Sentencing is that which is beyond relationship/fellowship and has to do with the Law.

Some people can break the law, and never need forgiveness. Some can keep the law and need forgiveness. Some can break the law and serve a full sentence and never know forgiveness, and some can break the law, experience forgiveness and never be "sentenced" or "pay for their crime".

GA said...

Does Jesus death "pay for our forgiveness or was he paying for the crime? Justice demanded a "life" or "sentence" and in this case "the sentence was" in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die". And the Levitical system said that instead of the individual "dying" they could substitute an animal, lamb OR bird etc. Jesus became the sacrifice, the Lamb of God, once all. And we have the echo of Hebrews 9:22 where the KJV uses the word "remission" but in connection with "law" and "ceremonial cleansing" so that here and elsewhere the "sin" is not the breaking of fellowship but the breaking of a law. So when NIV speaks of "forgiveness" instead of "remission" is it because they are synonyms and my presentation is without merit, OR is it that they have failed to see the difference?

So my on the spot word study at this moment tells me that the Greek word here and elsewhere in KJV translated "remission" is "aphesis" which has as its root the word meaning "freedom" or "pardon" (the verb form used in the Lord's prayer and in answer to Peter as to how often he had to "forgive" his brother.So aphesis means and is translated in KJV as: "deliverance, forgiveness, liberty, remission."

So, I, on my own authority conclude that my definition of Forgivenes as a means and/or state of restored fellowship, differing from a sentence still stands. Jesus death pays for our crime and meets the demands of the law, but the restoration of fellowship was in the heart of God before the fall or the law, and was granted before the actual crime, because as Phil has said (or what I will read into it)"Since the very creation of man was for the sake of "fellowship" hence man was "Forgiven" before the fall, and he experiences that restoration of fellowship when he recognizes his part in the breach, repents and "asks" to KNOW the forgiveness or restoration which is already there. God, being God has already "forgiven" and could not withhold forgiveness, but that does not necessarily "cancel or pardon the sentence" ... which has been done through Jesus' death. Perhaps my 'case' is strengthened when I suggest that the Hebrews "remission" of sin is the offence against the law and requires the "death" or blood, but the forgiveness that we are to grant unto our debtors, and "brother" though he sin 7 x 70 requires no blood, but only the act of our will.
According to the record, is it significant that the woman taken in adultery does not 'confess her sin, nor repent, but when Jesus has her declare that no one 'condemned her', he told her to go and sin no more."
And when he 'forgave the sins" of the man on the mat, did he not say: Your sins ARE forgiven, (Luke 5:17-26)No mention of repentance.
Significant too that the only place I see "repentence" mentioned in connection with OUR forgiving our brother is in Luke 17:3,4 and there it might seem that it was in response to a brother who offended, almost ignorantly and having to be "rebuked" and then the offence is to be forgiven IF the offender recognizes the offence for what it was... and repented.