There are some parts of the Christian faith that bother me—well, actually, I have to be honest and say that sometimes, I positively hate some aspects of the faith that has guided my life for so long. I wish those parts weren’t there—and I have discovered that I am not alone in disliking parts of the faith. I have also discovered that I have a tendency to handle my dislike differently than some people.
Some I have heard and read deal with their dislike by ignoring the parts that they want removed. For all practical purposes, they remove the offending ideas from their thinking and their version of the faith. I can’t actually do that because as much as I dislike or even hate some of what the faith teaches, I have to take it seriously and figure out how I deal with it.
And that means that I have to regularly spend time looking at what is probably one of the most offensive parts of the faith for me at times—the whole issue of forgiveness. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for forgiveness. I encourage people to forgive; I try to practise forgiveness; I have done extensive theological, Biblical and psychological studies of forgiveness. I deeply value the forgiveness that I was given when I accepted Christ. I get excited when someone discovers the reality of forgiveness in their lives.
None of that bothers me. What bothers me is that as far as God is concerned, forgiveness is so easy and so complete and so freely given. Jesus, in fact, suggests that if someone sins against me, I need to forgive him seventy seven times (or seventy times seven times, depending on the translation) for the same offense. When I am the offender and the offense is raiding the chocolate stash too much, I am okay with that, although some of that may be from the psychological effects of the chocolate.
But when the offender is a child sexual abuser whose habit causes deep, long term trauma for his victims, I am much less willing to forgive. I don’t actually want to forgive once, let alone seventy seven or seventy times seven times. I much prefer the vision of such an individual suffering in the fires of hell for all eternity. As a pastoral counsellor, I have spend a lot of time helping victims of such abuse try to repair lives shattered by such people.
What I like even less, though, is that any limits on forgiveness that I want don’t just apply to the sins and sinners I choose. If we humans were allowed to set enforceable limits on forgiveness, ultimately no one would have to forgive and no one would be forgiven because somewhere, somehow, someone is going to be deeply offended by any given offense—someone is sure to be deeply upset by my relatively minor infraction of sneaking the chocolate too often.
God has taken a much different approach to forgiveness. He forgives-in fact, he is in the forgiveness business. “Are you a sinner?” he asks? “Do I have a deal for you on forgiveness!” Then, he proceeds to offer all humanity full, complete and no strings attached forgiveness. I do appreciate this, right up until it includes the child abuser who has caused so much trauma for so many people—and then I want to draw a line.
Fortunately, I am not in charge of forgiveness. God is in charge and he has seen fit to create a limitless forgiveness that covers my chocolate raids and the child sexual abuser. I do appreciate the forgiveness for my small and unspectacular sins—but accepting it means that I also have to accept the fact that God offers the same forgiveness to the habitual child sex offender.
In the end, I think I am glad that God is in charge and not me. I might have some serious trouble with the limitlessness of God’s love and forgiveness at times but because I want his love and forgiveness to apply to me, I have to accept that it applies equally to everyone. I may not like that reality at times but it is part of my faith, a vital part that allows me to be reunited with God—and if I take that part away from others, it may not apply to me either.
May the peace of God be with you.