Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Sometimes forgiveness doesn’t make sense. When a wife cheats on her husband and doesn’t know if she wants to end either the marriage or the affair, how much time should be offered? Should forgiveness be considered? When a child’s been abandoned by their father who suddenly shows up again, hoping to reconnect, how open should the child be to their father’s request? How willing should the child be to forgive? Should Christians be ready with a blank forgiveness check for everyone that hurts them? C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”
God calls us to forgive. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus then warns His hearers in Matthew “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6:14-15) The Holy Spirit teaches in Ephesians “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4:32) Both of these lay some very hefty and difficult demands upon our shoulders and deserve our attention. How does God want us to deal with that person who has hurt our feelings with harsh words, or smeared our reputation with rumours, or hurt us physically? He wants us to forgive, just as He in Christ has forgiven us.
How has God in Christ forgiven us? Totally. Completely. Without asking for anything in return. Even before we were asking for it, God sent His Son to die on the cross to pay for our sins and win our forgiveness by His death. God makes all the moves to bring about reconciliation with His fallen creations. This doesn’t mean that God is overlooking sin, or that He no longer takes it seriously. No, quite the opposite. If you want to see how seriously God takes sin, look at the cross. All of what Jesus endured is exactly what your sin deserves. Make no mistake, forgiveness is hard, and God in Christ shows you just how hard it is. To forgive you, the Father had to offer His Son on the cross for you. Forgiveness requires a great personal cost. For God, it required the Son to suffer and die, even though He is the offended party. He is the one we’ve wronged with our sins, but He is also the One who seeks reconciliation and pays the price before we ever asked Him to. For us, it requires that we drop dead to any perceived debt that we feel that the offender owes us for the hurt that they’ve caused. It means that we take that load upon ourselves and pay for it ourselves. And, no, this doesn’t make sense. Not to our sinful flesh. Not to the world. But God has revealed Himself as a forgiving God, a God who takes the first steps to forgive by sending His Son. He’s a God who, in His very nature doesn’t make sense, so why should it surprise us when He would do something as senseless as forgiving fallen, corrupted, evil sinners like you and me? Marked by His forgiveness, marked as His people in Baptism and by His body & blood at the Supper, we are a people who are different from the world. A people who do things that make sense, such as being quick to forgive, even if we’re never asked.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider