Thursday, March 13, 2014

Christianity Applied Chapter 6: The Almighty Grudge

One of the central principles around which the Christian religion (and many others, for that matter) is built is the idea of forgiveness. Whether we are seeking forgiveness for our sins, asking for forgiveness on behalf of others, looking to relieve ourselves of guilt, or even just trying to ease our minds and find a degree of inner peace, forgiveness is the path along which we approach God as we ask Him to ease our pain.

Too often, however, we confess our sins, we ask for forgiveness or seek to release our grudges by leaving them at the foot of God’s almighty throne, only to pick them right back up and take them with us as we leave the throne room.

The question, then, is why do we insist on doing God’s work for Him? Do we not believe that God is powerful enough to handle our particular problem? Do we think we’ll handle it better? If so, why take it to God in the first place? Do we just not know how to actually let go?

Admittedly, it isn’t easy. If it were easy, self-help books wouldn’t be the billion-dollar industry that they are. We want to relieve stress by letting go of our problems and putting the past behind us. We want to be able to forgive ourselves for our past mistakes and poor choices to better enable us to think clearly about the future.  We want to get past the addictions and bad habits that often stand between us and the better, more evolved people we aspire to be, yet when it comes right down to it, we are unwilling to take the final step in the process.

We are unwilling to let go.

Fortunately, this is not a new problem facing humanity. Like the other questions we have explored, our ancestors have wrestled and struggled with forgiveness for as far back as we have any way of knowing what people have struggled with. Again, we can turn to the Bible and find wisdom and a few answers to the dilemma of truly forgiving others and forgiving ourselves.
I think it starts with wanting God to forgive us and help us to forgive, but then not being willing to let Him handle it. We really seem to want equivocation, vengeance, when we ask for forgiveness. Lord, make the score even, please!

We need to learn that when we ask God to handle it, we have to trust that it will be handled.

The problem may be that we think in economic terms.  You get what you pay for.  There is no free lunch, as the popular saying goes.  For the world to be fair, people have to pay for their mistakes.  So we see the whole sin and forgiveness thing in economic terms.  If you run into the back of my car while you’re texting, you’re responsible for repairing my car, my medical injuries, the income I lose while I’m recovering, a rental replacement car for me to drive while my car is being repaired, compensating me for pain and anguish, and if I have to sue you to get you to pay for the way that you’ve “sinned against me,” then you pay my lawyer’s fees, as well.  Fine.  By your stupidity and recklessness you’ve done me great economic harm and you should pay economically.

But let’s consider another personal offense.  Your spouse is out with the gang while you’re out of town on business.  After having a couple of drinks too many, and feeling lonely and left to deal with everything while you’re out of town, your spouse ends up sleeping with your best friend – and you find out.  Here again, we tend to look at the situation in terms of a transaction.  If we’re totally unforgiving, we sue for divorce and we expect to get the house, the better car, the kids, generous child support, and the savings account in the settlement.  He/she is going to pay!  It’s a transaction.  After the shock and pain diminish a bit, you might be willing to try to work things out, but that means negotiation and transactions.  He/she has to convince you that they’re really, really sorry about what they’ve done, they’ve got to swear that it will never happen again, there’s no more going out with the gang when you have to be out of town, and most important of all, they have to ask (beg?) you to forgive them.  No money is involved, but it’s still a transaction.

The French philosopher Voltaire wisely observed, “If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.”  That’s certainly true.  We often, perhaps always, think of God as being just like us, only older and stronger.  But as Karl Barth put it, God is not man writ large. 

2 Corinthians 5:15, Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, He [Jesus] died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.  Paul says that Jesus died for the sake of all.  Right away, we often fail to think clearly about this.  We say, “Jesus died for my sins.”  We say to someone else, “Jesus died for you.”  It’s always about an individual, but Paul said, “Jesus died for the sake of all.  “All” is a very big word, even if it is only three letters long.  All.  You will never meet anybody, you will never see a news story about anybody, you will never hear about anybody who isn’t included in the word “all.”  All includes the newscaster you just can’t stand, the dirty, smelly person pushing the grocery cart filled with garbage bags containing all they own, the rich snob who doesn’t know you exist and doesn’t care, the drug user who abuses his children, the ex-spouse who hurt you to the quick.  All goes places we don’t even want to think about.
Now, why would Jesus die for the sake of all?  The rest of verse fifteen gives the reason – and Paul doesn’t say what we might expect.  Paul says that Jesus did this so that we would live not for ourselves, but for Jesus.  All this time you’ve been wondering where the expression, “It ain’t about you!” came from.  Well, here it is.  Paul says, “It ain’t about you.  Stop living for yourself.  Live for Jesus.”  “Live for Jesus” is catchy phrase, but like that little word all, it’s bigger than we might think.  Living for Jesus isn’t just about singing a powerful praise chorus seventeen times until everyone has a mildly hypnotic and ecstatic experience.  That’d be about our internal feeling, not our outward love.  Paul says in verse fourteen, “The love of Christ controls us,” but that doesn’t mean that we’re to be all focused on ways to say and sing, “I love you Jesus.”  No, Paul is saying that Christ’s love, the love that Jesus showed, is to take charge of how we love.                

Therefore,” says Paul, “from now on, we won’t see people by human standards. We used to see Jesus by human standards.” It was important to us that he was a descendant of David. We judged his actions with regard to detailed interpretations of the law regarding the Sabbath. We worried about the company he kept, and whether he was off his rocker at times, but that isn’t how we know him now. Now we realize that he was so filled with God’s Spirit that it was no wonder that he didn’t act like most people. And now we understand that seeing people in light of human standards isn’t what we need to be doing. We need to be inspired and moved by the love that Christ showed, and then we, too, will be motivated to show that same love to others. Jesus was all about all, not just about some. In fact, Jesus said if we love just our friends and family who are nice to us, so what? Murderers, thieves, and all kinds of evil acting people do that. 

That’s acting by human standards, but Jesus loved strangers. He ate with pompous people who thought they were better than anybody else. He talked to despicable Samaritans and those hated Roman army officers. He sought out greedy tax collectors to eat with them. Jesus was all about all.
Paul goes on to say, “This changes everything.”  This is a different way of seeing each other; this is different from the world you’ve known.  This isn’t how Caesar’s Roman Empire works, this isn’t the dog-eat-dog relationship that you see all around you, this isn’t tit-for-tat, this isn’t grab all you can because you’re afraid someone else will get it.  This isn’t about you.  It’s about all.  This is a whole ‘nother country – this is God’s world, this is God’s kingdom. This way of seeing the world, this way of seeing each other, this way of living is from God. 
Some of us worry about what God thinks of us.  We’ve been told that we need to “get right with God.”  And we can fret and worry and try to figure out if we’re good enough for God to like us.  It can consume us to try to figure out what the minimum standards are for us to have paid up eternal fire insurance.  What does our ticket to “glory land” cost?  Whatever way we express it, what we’re trying to do is feel like we’re reconciled with God, but Paul has more gospel, more good news to share with us. 2 Corinthians 5:19   God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people's sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.  God has reconciled us to himself through Christ by not counting people’s sins against them.  That’s what it says.  We just can’t seem to believe it, but that’s what Paul says.  God isn’t out to get us.  God is out to save us. We just can’t seem to get that through our heads.  We can’t imagine that much love.  We can’t let go of our guilt.  We can’t imagine a relationship where vengeance isn’t even a factor in the equation. But Paul says God has reconciled us to himself. 
That being said, do we just close our Bibles, and forget about God because our future is signed and sealed?  Is this kind of like having your gall bladder removed – now you never have to even give gallstones a moment’s thought?   Well, no.  We’ve been given something to do.  We’ve been given a ministry.  We might expect Paul to say that now we have the ministry of saving souls, or the ministry of bring people to Christ.  But Paul says that we have been given the ministry, the task, of reconciliation.  We’ve been trusted with the message of reconciliation. That’s what Jesus did.  He went about doing reconciliation.  Now we are ambassadors who represent Christ. What we’ve received, we’re to give to others.  We can think of this as paying it forward, or we might think of it as paying it outward. 
How can we spread the message of reconciliation?  On a huge scale, that’s what was done in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Instead of seeking revenge for all of the beatings and killings in the streets – or in the courts – a system was set up to promote reconciliation.  Instead of being mired in a blood bath for years, South Africa experienced peace.  At the end of World War II, instead of imposing reparations on the defeated Axis, the Marshall Plan provided help and promoted reconciliation.  We’d do well to remember that we’re to be ambassadors of reconciliation.

This is just as important in our personal lives.  It should color the way we talk about our ex-spouse, especially in front of our children.  It needs to affect how we look at the person down the street who has an accent, the man or woman who is trying to keep their family together on a part-time minimum wage job, the young adult who made a really bad choice and is now suffering from addiction.  Reconciliation is found in offering love and compassion instead of dispensing guilt and judgment.  Reconciliation is about seeing worth where many would only see worthlessness.  Reconciliation is when we see others though the eyes of Jesus and treat them in a manner reflective of the way Jesus treated even those deemed as incredibly unworthy. 


Post a Comment


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More