How does Jesus forgive? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I don’t really read devotional material a lot. Most if is rather shallow to me and doesn’t really move me in any way. The exception in the past has been G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis devotionals. Right now, every day I read the Daily Stoic and I’m going through the Old Testament Apocrypha. A few days ago, I was going through the Stoic, whose author has not admitted any religious faith of any kind, and the author talked about Jesus on the cross and how whatever your religious persuasion is, the words of Jesus offering forgiveness to His tormentors is stunning and gives a chill.
Which leaves me again wondering, “Why doesn’t it?” I suspect it is because, as I have said before, we have grown up so much with Jesus in the culture that we aren’t really surprised by Him. We don’t consider His life anymore.
Now I know there are some skeptics reading this who will say, “You need to make a historical case that that is what was said.” There is a place for that, but I honestly want to just focus on the story today. What we all can agree on is that the story exists. This is something Tom Gilson hits on in his book Too Good To Be False. Whatever we think about the story, we can all agree that it exists. (And if it doesn’t, what are we talking about?)
What we are looking at is the unique character of forgiveness done on the cross. What does this tell us about Jesus? Like Gilson, I contend this is the kind of figure that we just can’t create wholesale. Today, it might be more doable, but that’s because we actually have a Jesus to use as a basis.
Today, we can easily talk about the way that someone is treating us and denouncing it and say that we are being crucified by them. We realize we are using hyperbole, but that is what we do. While I normally have problems with the word “literally” in the case of Jesus, He “literally” was being crucified.
This isn’t anything mild. This is being nailed to a cross with the intent being to not only kill, but also shame. Jesus could very well have been completely naked up there being exposed to everyone who walked by. This was done in public for everyone around to see. Jesus was an object lesson. Not only that, his accusers were convinced they were doing a righteous act, but it was also being done largely out of envy, from the people that were supposed to reflect the God of Israel.
There was indeed evil behind what they were doing, but to some extent, ignorance. On that basis, Jesus seeks forgiveness for them. It’s really incredible this is said from the cross. If you or I were wronged in a horrid way, it would be more likely for us to think about the incident hours or maybe days or weeks or longer later and say, “I really do need to have an attitude of forgiveness to them.” Jesus says it while it is going on.
How many of us are willing to say we’re at that level?
Frankly also, what we go through today is the overwhelming majority of the time mild compared to crucifixion. This is one reason why when I meet people who are Christians struggling with forgiveness, I tell them to do this exercise. Picture that you are with the person you are struggling to forgive and you are in the presence of Jesus telling Jesus all that He did to you.
Except Jesus is on the cross at the time.
If it sounds silly by comparison, that’s the point.
That will also, hopefully, make forgiveness easier.
This doesn’t mean they’re clean and free forever. It really means that you are leaving them in the hands of God and letting Him judge them. Now if they repent and come to God, that doesn’t even mean there are no consequences. God can remove eternal consequences, but there can still be temporary ones. David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, but his son still died.
It also doesn’t mean the wrong done to you doesn’t matter. It definitely does. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong. It very well could have been. It means you are not holding this person accountable. That also doesn’t mean everything goes back. You can forgive someone for something, but it doesn’t mean they are trusted again.
Here’s the hard part for us Christians. This is not optional. This is commanded. Jesus tells us that if you do not forgive, your Father will not forgive your sins. Now having said that, I don’t think it’s good to go up to your offender and say “I forgive you.” I think you are robbing them of the gift of repentance and frankly, they may not think they did anything wrong so it could make matters worse. However, you are to have the attitude of forgiveness. In your own heart, you are to relinquish the right to seek justice for your own personal reasons. That doesn’t mean no justice. You can forgive someone for what they did to you, but still think the police need to know for various reasons, such as the person being a danger to themselves or the community.
However, I still want to emphasize how shocking Jesus is. We can read the story and think it’s a nice story, but if it’s true, how incredible is that? Jesus lived His example of forgiveness and love and mercy even to the cross. There are no cries for justice. There is only mercy and forgiveness.
Live like that.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)