“As the Lord Forgave You” | Reflections on God’s Justice and Our Call to forgive

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

I took a moment this morning to consider this verse. I thought about what it meant to forgive. I thought about the people I had had difficulty forgiving. Exhibit A. my speech teacher in college, whom we will refer to as Dr. X. I went out of my way that semester, a semester that I began with an emergency surgery and three day stay in the hospital, I went above and beyond in her class, and I received an “A/B” on all of my speeches. A/B? I had never received such a mark in my life. What did it even mean?

Person holding a red pen.
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I requested clarification from her and she replied that she “hadn’t decided yet”. Keep in mind this was on assignments I had turned in over the course of weeks and weeks of classes. She hadn’t decided whether my assignments were worthy of an A or a B marking after that long? Why? And how could I improve without a clear understanding of where I stood grade wise?

In the end, she never gave me a proper answer, despite my repeated queries, and eventually gave me a B in the class.

The injustice of it all made me furious for years, and I had to take some time every time I thought about forgiveness to forgive her. She was just doing her best to grade her students fairly, I told myself… trying to quench my anger, Only to realize I didn’t believe that. I believed she was biased, I believe she graded me unfairly because she didn’t like the views I had expressed in speeches and didn’t like the fact that I missed three of her classes and still did well. I had plenty of evidence supporting those claims, and I stand by them. I don’t have to abandon them in order to forgive her. Our culture often seems to define forgiveness as finding a reason that someone’s behavior might be excusable, and then excusing it on that basis. But is that really forgiveness? Is that the pardon that Paul is referring to when he talks about forgiving others as Christ forgave us?

When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he didn’t die for a bunch of things we did without knowing any better. We have the law. We knew what was right and wrong and we did The wrong thing over and over again anyway, and he forgave that.

I must conclude, then, that merely excusing behavior as somehow acceptable when it was not is not what is meant when we are told to forgive others. God, even in his magnificent grace, does not abandon justice in his response to wrongdoing. He does not explain away our deceit or adultery or covetousness as “understandable in our situation”. No. He is the righteous judge, who demands a price to be payed for all evil.

Wooden cross.
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For the believer, this price is paid in full by the blood of Christ. We are declared innocent not because we are, but because Christ took on the sentence we deserved. This means that any evil committed against me by a fellow Christian has not gone unanswered. Like my own sin, their’s has been paid for by Jesus. A sobering thought. Can I really remain unforgiving when I realize that the same blood shed for my own evil was shed also for their’s? Equally sobering is acknowledging God’s answer to the non-believer’s sin, that is, hell. 

God’s response to evil is wholly sufficient, whether through the cross or through his eternal judgement. Thus, I need not fear recognizing my neighbor’s offense as truly wrong. As angry as I may be, reflecting on God’s provisions for perfect justice must lead me to forgiveness and even tenderness, not because what they did was okay, but because what they did has been, or will be, rightly dealt with. I cannot, and need not, add anything to God’s justice through my own retribution. Furthermore, if the offender was a non-believer, I should, at least at some level, be moved to compassion knowing that this person is facing eternal damnation. This is someone who, like me, needs the Gospel and if I, a Gospel believer, respond to them with hate and vitriol, I venture to say that they will be no more likely to turn to the one I claim as savior. 

Forgiving a professor for an unjust grade may be a small thing, and indeed it is, but God’s answer is the same for little injustices as for immeasurably grievous ones. The Lord does not ask us to excuse evil. He commands us to forgive, knowing that he will handle every evil great and small with righteous judgement. I think that is a much more satisfying model of mercy than anything our culture could offer.

Thankful for a Compelling Savior

One thing our culture hates about God is that he is uncompromising.  He demands certain behaviors of us, and condemns others, and there are consequences if we do not respond.  We see that here.  The master of the house invites several people to come in and be a part of his banquet, but each refuses, citing some excuse.  Thus, the master says that none of those who were invited and denied his invitation will taste anything of the feast he has prepared.  So uncompromising? Yes.

But he is also a God who compels.

“16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.

17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.

24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24)

Though some refused him, he sends out someone to compel others to attend the feast.  Someone, like Jesus himself.  Yes, God has standards, the highest ones imaginable, but God knows that we are broken, and in his great love for us he does not abandon us to our brokenness.  We are poor.  We have nothing to offer the God of the universe, and yet he does not simply leave us to suffer in our poverty.  We are blind, but we are not condemned to darkness.  We are lame, but we are not resigned to a life of immobility.  Jesus moves us through his sacrifice, which demonstrated his love for us and atoned for our sin.  He compels us through the Holy Spirit, who moves in our hearts that we might be able to hear and respond to the master’s call.

“If today you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.”  If we feel convicted over our sin, we should not be angry that the righteous creator God has called us out.  Instead, we should recognize that such conviction is a mercy.  It’s a call to come in and enjoy the feast of grace that God has prepared for all who are willing to partake.

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When Weighty Cares Beset Your Soul — A Prayer for 2018

This is just a small bit of verse that came to me as I prayed that the Lord would use this year as he pleases.  Undoubtedly amateur in terms of poetry, but I’d thought I’d share anyway, since the sentiment is sincere, if nothing else.

 

 

When weighty cares beset your soul

Rejoice, oh heart, the Lord extol,

For in his hands each trial finds rest,

To ease the anxious, grief-burned breast.

 

And when the swords of men draw near,

Remember then his side, the spear.

He took for you the shame for sin,

And granted you new life in him.

 

And if one day the tempest rage,

Should cast you out into the waves,

Look up to see your sleeping Lord,

And know his peace means you restored.

 

For never did he like Jonah stray,

Or from his father turn away,

The righteous life we could not live,

He by grace through faith will give.

 

“Your faith,” he’ll say, “has made you well.”

So we need never taste of hell,

For though we only death deserved,

Jesus came to heal our hurt.

 

Oh let me never forget thy grace,

That cleanses me from every trace,

Of sin and every evil thing,

Which kept  me from my God and king.

 

Oh that. thy Word and thine alone

Might be for me foundation stone

And when the mighty waters come

I shall say, “Thy will be done.”

Thankful for Imperfect Art

Art is an earthly representation of the creative power of God, dim and weak in comparison, but undoubtedly so.  We are made in his image, and being made in his image we display, like him, the ability to create and to breath life into our creations.  As an artist, I often find that my creations die too early, or, at least, do not reach full maturity because I forsake them, citing their imperfections as my excuse.

And then it struck me.  What if God had done that with his imperfect art?

All things were good when he made them—perfectly good—but they did not stay that way.  God gave his creatures a will, a will which could choose to follow him or turn from him.  In turning from him, we turned from perfection, and thus into imperfection.

Still, God did not do as I would have done.  He did not forsake his art.  Rather, he pursued it, even became a part of it when he saw fit to take the form of a babe, born amongst peasants, suffer the lowly, hungry life of a working man, and was denied and crucified by the very imperfect creations he had come to pursue and perfect.

How many songs have I left unsung?  How many stories and poems and articles have I left undeveloped and unfinished due to my petty frustration over their iniquities?  Undoubtedly hundreds, but I am thankful that God shows me a different way.  Even now I am tempted to leave this bit of writing undone.  I am tempted to quit the document and never look back at it, too unsatisfied with this sentence, or that word, or the whole concept in general… but I, too, am an imperfect creation, and my creator did not abandon me to non-existence due to my defects.  As an artist, I have a responsibility to my art to develop it, to give it at least a chance at life, even considering its deficiencies.

Thus, as an expression of my thanks in this regard, I hope to be a more responsible creator in the coming year.  In my quest to become more like Jesus, I hope that I will pursue my art, like he did, and gift it existence even when I feel it doesn’t deserve it. Here begins my fight against perfectionism, which has long been the, often victorious, enemy of my work.  It will be a long-fought battle, of that I am certain, but if it was worth it to God, it is worth it to me.

Are We Holy, or Just HOLEy?

Philippians 4:11-12

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

I had a lovely, long conversation with my wonderful hostess yesterday about satisfaction, and how we can only find true fulfillment in Christ.  We, as human beings, are like a puzzle, or a ragged patchwork quilt, full of wholes–they are wants, fears, hopes, missing loved ones, etc–but there is one whole that is much larger and much differently shaped than any of the others, that can be filldd only by God himself.  Are you filling your God-shaped hole with God?  Take a moment to consider, are you Holy, or HOLEy?