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April 10, 2009

Unlimited grace

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." --Luke 23:34

This statement from Jesus ought to have a dramatic impact on the way we live. Perhaps it loses impact because we assume that Jesus is in a league of His own in the forgiveness game; there's no way we could match His grace. Or perhaps we see this as an example of how God forgives without realizing the implications it has for us. Meanwhile, we forgive those who are sorry for their sins -- which does not describe these crucifiers at all; and we forgive those who haven't hurt us too badly -- which also does not describe these crucifiers. Somehow we've confined our mercy to definitions that Jesus never embraced. We've limited grace.

Think of the drama of Jesus' statement. These aggressors were committing the ultimate crime: an unjust execution of their holy Creator. There has never been a more evil act. And yet, Jesus forgave. Without their asking. Without their even being remotely sorry.

Chris Tiegreen, "Amazing Grace," April 10, The One Year Worship the King Devotional

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LeeQuod

So here's God, who has killed people on the spot in the past seemingly without hesitation, for what seem like quite small infractions (taking some plunder from a kill zone, steadying an oxcart, making fun of a bald prophet, etc.). In fact, after this event he'll make both Ananias and Sapphira keel over right where they're standing, just for a financial irregularity. Capital punishment seems to not be up for debate.

Furthermore, He's a king who has sent his prince - sole heir to the throne - as a final emissary in a last-ditch effort to make peace with a bunch of people he could just as easily eradicate, then repopulate the entire territory. And, he's considered that idea before - and even carried it out once. Edward Longshanks of "Braveheart" and Xerxes of "300" have nothing on this king in using force against people.

So they capture the prince, who is not merely the heir but the fiercely beloved son of this powerful ruler. And if they were doing it today, they'd have tortured him nearly to death, then beheaded him and televised it. It is hard to imagine a more deliberately provocative event, from the perspective of the one on the throne. (Imagine one of President Obama's daughters, captured by Islamic terrorists, who...) 9/11 pales in comparison. "Hotel Rwanda" pales in comparison. This is an event that cries out for retaliation on a massive scale - a day when the Earth might truly stand still and watch in shock and awe. So what happens to those who conspire, those who torture, those who kill as if it was routine, and those who run away to save their own hides?

Nuthin'.

The next morning, the torturers, conspirators, and all the rest get up and go about their day. They start repairing the damage from the earthquake, but otherwise life is completely normal. No heart attacks, no balls of fire from Heaven, no wild animals in the streets, no plague, no strange mist killing the firstborn,... nothing. As far as we know, all the other protagonists in this drama except Judas are able to live out their days as they would have expected.

The shocking thing is not that an exhausted, dying, grief-stricken Jesus asks for forgiveness for his tormentors and murderers. The shocking thing is that the Father grants it.

labrialumn

That is the middle of the book, LeeQuod. Read the end of the book.

LeeQuod

I have a friend who is from rural South Africa. He told me about being raised on a ranch and needing to shoot the baboons who would regularly overrun and vandalize the property.

I mentioned that my wife has a Beanie Baby stuffed baboon on a shelf in our bedroom, and after listening to his story, I was tempted to take the toy out into the backyard and shoot it, to participate by proxy.

Now, though, I'm tempted to start by shooting my wife's teddy bears.

lab, my dear Brother In Christ, I **have** read the end of the book. But one of my traditions at Easter, although I haven't yet responded directly to Kristine's request, is to take a passage of Scripture (often due to the posting of a Point blogger) and throw myself into the scene as completely as possible. This often involves not leaping to the correct answer from the catechism, but instead trying to view the scene with the eyes of someone approaching the story for the first time (but with a familiarity of the rest of Scripture - perhaps like the Apostles would have done).

Think of Greek and Roman mythology. Under similar circumstances, would Jupiter/Zeus have stayed his hand? Would any other god have decided to allow the torturers and crucifiers to have died of natural causes?

Think of our own movies - revenge comes quickly. Is there a sequel to "Hotel Rwanda", perhaps based on Catherine's book, in the works? Ah, as I thought.

I have always felt rushed by the church's approach to these events. One of the best part of Maundy Thursday events (which were new for me until a few years ago) is to sit and deeply contemplate what is normally rushed over to get to the more familiar event - so we rush from Golgotha to the empty tomb, from the Resurrection to the Great Commission, and from the Cross to the World's Last Battle. It is a frightful rush to (ahem) judgement.

I know how the Lion sang the world into existence. I know how the final chord will resolve the dramatic tension. Let me linger here on this dissonance, just for a moment, because it powerfully moves me.

Gina Dalfonzo

In that spirit, LeeQuod, I found that this made for some inspiring Holy Saturday reading.

http://www.ourprayer.org/DailyGuideposts/?p_storyid=2238948

labrialumn

The sacrifice at the Passover of the lamb without blemish for the sins the people committed in ignorance. "Father, forgive them *for they know not what they do*." Jesus is the Passover Lamb.

The Bible does not teach that willfully unrepentant sins are forgiven. Quite the contrary.

labrialumn

To quote Bonhoeffer in today's "Breakpoint":

"Bonhoeffer begins the work by showing exactly how much we’ve reduced Christian discipleship by contrasting the notions of cheap and costly grace. Cheap grace he wrote, “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. . . .” In short, no desire to change. In contrast, costly grace is a call to follow Jesus. “It is costly,” writes Bonhoeffer, “because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”"

LeeQuod

labrialumn quoted Bonhoeffer: "the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance"

AHA! Thank you, labrialumn!!! Something has been nagging at me as I've read the reviews of Catherine's book, and *that was it*! I now feel ready to read the book itself, exploring the differences (if any) between the forgiveness we offer, and the forgiveness God offers, plus the distinction between the common term "forgiveness" and the way a highly-trained German theologian might use it. Thanks again!

Rolley Haggard

Stepping into the crossfire (now that the shooting seems to have stopped)….

I just wanted to note that it is possible to be technically correct and yet miss the whole point regarding the necessity of repentance. It is possible, after all, to master the letter but not the spirit of the law. (cf Luke 9:54-56 and 2 Corinthians 3).

If we are speaking of *eternal* forgiveness it is true there must be repentance (and faith) in order to obtain the forgiveness that qualifies one for entrance into heaven. That is the letter of the law. To insist on it makes you technically correct.

The spirit of the law, on the other hand, goes beyond the letter to ask and answer the question “why?” Why is repentance required? There is a reason. It isn’t that God arbitrarily decided to make forgiveness contingent upon repentance. And it certainly isn’t that repentance makes amends for our offenses. And repentance doesn’t put God in the humor to forgive, either. He’s already in the humor to forgive. Then why repentance?

This is why: God CANNOT forgive sin unrepented of. Forgiveness HAS to be contingent upon repentance. God’s forgiveness (i.e. justification) is chiefly a legal problem. This point is crucial if we are to understand God’s attitude toward sinners – the same attitude we’re to have towards everyone, no matter how vile they are. It was “while we were yet sinners” and “enemies” that God sent Christ to die for us. Repentance does not change the way God feels towards us. He loves us beyond what we could even dare to imagine. The only thing repentance changes (besides our attitude towards Him) is what He can *lawfully* do for us.

God *wants* to forgive and bless everyone, but He cannot do it lawfully unless there is repentance. Why? Because repentance and faith are the only instruments suited by their nature to enlist the advocacy of Christ, who will gladly plead our case before the throne of justice if we are willing to “hire” Him to do so. To fail to hire His pro bono services is an implicit declaration that we prefer to plead our own case, to be our own defense attorney. And if we don’t “hire” Him to defend us in the celestial court of justice, but choose instead to try and defend ourselves, well, in the original Hebrew, “good luck!”

Repentance is not a *condition* for forgiveness. Rather, it is a *means* whereby the forgiveness God wants to give may be given *lawfully*. We need to keep this in mind so that we don’t, like the Pharisees, get the letter right but wholly miss the spirit of the requirement.

-- The letter of the law says, “no *eternal* forgiveness without repentance.”

-- The spirit of the law says, “I will forestall judgment and love you lavishly, irrespective of whether you repent, in hope that you *will* repent before it is too late.

Again --

-- The letter of the law says, “you’ve got to meet a standard - repentance.”

-- The spirit of the law says, “I (God) met the standard; I paid it all. You don’t need to do anything but give Me the legal right to represent you in court – authorize me to lawfully save you.” That’s what repentance and faith does.

I hope the difference is clear. Technically one is correct to say “no forgiveness without repentance.” But the spirit of the law (i.e. the whole point of God’s entire revelation) is that He wants all to be saved, because even He cannot *lawfully* be forgiving and gracious to us forever if we do not (via repentance and faith) take refuge in Him. To assert that “The Bible does not teach that willfully unrepentant sins are forgiven” is to miss the point. It is to strain at gnats and swallow camels. It is to give the impression that it is right and good to be grudging with our grace and forgiveness because God Himself is. Shame, shame.

Repentance is not a *condition* for receiving grace and forgiveness. It is a *means* for the Judge of All the Earth to lavish blessing upon the lawbreakers without becoming a lawbreaker Himself.

Repentance does not appease God. It *enables* Him to be “just and the Justifier” of sinful men.

God wants us to be recklessly, lavishly gracious and compassionate and forgiving toward all because that is the way He is, and to miss this point is to miss everything. We are to be like the Good Samaritan because that is what God is like.

It is not “cheap grace” to behave like the Good Samaritan did. Indeed, it is costly grace because it gives all and expects nothing in return. It is wholly centered on the Other, not on Self. It is this grace and goodness that leads us, as by a Shepherd’s hand, to repentance (cf Romans 2:4).

Grace is God loving us constantly, extravagantly. It is Him loving us in spite of the legal obstacle. It is Him finding a way to overcome the legal obstacle. It is Him through infinite personal cost making it lawful for Him to bestow *eternally* the love that He feels for us right now. It is Him constantly watching the horizon in hopes that the irredeemably wicked prodigal might return and, by the preposterous grace of God, be redeemed.

We don’t want to cheapen grace by giving people the impression that they can have eternal life without repentance. But neither do we want to portray grace and forgiveness as things to be withheld until the guilty party repents. To do either is to turn the gospel on its head.

* * *

(Note to Gina – Gina, I once again rationalize (I’m getting good at this) the length of my post on the grounds that I haven’t made many other posts lately. So….how much of my future quota have I squandered here today?)

Gina Dalfonzo

I'll extend you some grace on that one. ;-)

LeeQuod

Rolley, I wasn't shooting at labrialumn. In fact, my last comment was quite genuine delight toward him for clarifying something for me. And even when I feel the most provoked by his comments, I would merely want to shoot an effigy of him named "Teddy". OK, maybe two or three effigies.

To live above with the saints we love,
Oh Lord, that would be glory.
To live below with the saints we know,
Now *that's* another story!

(Which reminds me: was there a time when you didn't copyright your poetry? Because that one above is attributed to someone named Anonymous - perhaps Hieronymus Bosch's brother? - but it sure sounds like it could be one of yours.)

And at the risk of asking for more words from you (hoping that Gina's grace may abound all the more), I'll inquire: When Jesus said "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," what happened? Did the Father actually, permanently forgive them for that act? Or were they merely forgiven at the moment, to be faced with it again upon their death if they died unrepentant? (In either event, my original point still stands: any other so-called god would have been expected to zap 'em with a lightning bolt, on the spot. Or have that earthquake swallow 'em all. And have the NT writers say "See?" so we didn't miss it. But none of that occurred.) Seems like only the latter would be legal, per your exposition, but if so, then there are two kinds of forgiveness - temporal, and eternal - and one should be sure which is being offered before accepting.

And, is there a difference between this forgiveness that requires repentance, and that of "As We Forgive" that seemingly does not? See, I'm up to 489 times of forgiving someone, so time is of the essence; one more, and Jesus said I'm done...

And kudos for making reference to the letter vs. the spirit of the law, straining at galmas and swallowing gamlas, etc., etc., without once using the "P" word - because I don't think lab's being one. He's blinded by zeal, perhaps, but he has his heart in the right place. (On the shelf, in a jar of formalde- sorry, couldn't resist. Feeling quite puckish today.)

As to word quotas, I'm sure if I ever visited PFM I'd be washing dishes for a *very* long time - then vacuuming, washing windows and blinds,...

Rolley Haggard

LeeQuod,

Anony, so far as I know, is not in the lineage you mention. Although his genealogy is obscure, he is allegedly kin to Mickey, Minnie, Mighty, and Modest (although the latter is generally disputed by those over 30). One thing is sure..….but I don’t remember what it is. Anyway, from Here On A Mouse is a mouse.

Yes, I wrote that poem. Back in 1866. It was originally a song sung to the tune of “Behold What Manner of Love”. Sing the last line with me and you’ll see what I’m talking about. All together now –

“Now that’s another story!”

Ooh, a little flat. (And I’m not referring to the domicile of Anony’s urban cousin).

Anyway, I have to admit, I’ve got a million of ‘em. What do you mean, ‘a million WHAT?’ A million poems, of course. What did you think I meant? But speaking of stories, you may have heard that Paul Harvey once offered the author of said poem $50 for rights to use the “now that’s another story!” line to conclude his broadcasts. What you may NOT know is that I refused, explaining how I’d already promised it to a German spark plug manufacturer and amateur poet by the name of Anonymous Bosch. Back in 1866. And now you know the rest of the story.

But I digress. Why did I take up keyboard in hand, anyway? Oh yeah. To compose another apology to Gina for my biblical comments (biblical proportions at any rate). Got any suggestions?

Hey, I’ve got an idea. Maybe if I break one big comment into several hundred smaller, say 5 to 10 gig posts, she won’t notice. After all, she never got wise to the fact that it was my interminable badinage with Dr. Steve that kept crashing the TypePad servers and corrupting source code a while back. Heh. I think she blamed it on Travis. In any event, it’s worth a try. Here goes…..let’s call this post

Part 1 of 10³²

Gina Dalfonzo

Sometimes this blog cracks me up.

We've had those who fling insults airily about, flaunt their breaking of the rules in my face, and dare me to do something about it. As far as I can tell, they wouldn't dream of apologizing for anything, ever.

And then those of you who strive to follow the rules to the letter and are full of encouragement, friendliness, loyalty, and all kinds of valuable contributions -- who are the life and soul of the place -- are always apologizing all over yourselves for every tiny infraction, real or imagined.

I've tried and tried to figure this phenomenon out, but it's beyond me. Maybe one of you wise minds can help . . . ? :-)

Jason Taylor

Someone who cares about other's feelings is likly to apoligize. A troll is not as that is the point of being a troll.

But presumably that was a rhetorical question?

Gina Dalfonzo

No, not at all! I genuinely would like feedback on this, so thanks, Jason.

LeeQuod

Sorry, G, :-) but I think this phenomenon is relatively straightforward.

There are those who see others as less important than themselves. Interestingly, it doesn't matter how relatively important they see themselves; they could have huge egos or swim in a sea of self-loathing, and it wouldn't matter. They just see that others owe them, and not vice-versa.

And there are those who see others as more important than themselves. As long as they have some recognition of their own value, they are able to see two (or more) people having some kind of relationship as, well, a valuable thing in itself. So any damage to that relationship would be important to repair, and even better to avoid.

C.S, Lewis said that none of us have ever met a truly mortal human being. We would be in awe of an angel - so why not awed, at least a bit, by a person?

And this is made more special when one thinks about the contributions of the other person, and the thrill of being able to actually interact with them. Without this blog, what chance would I ever have to even meet, much less dialog with, someone like (say) Anne Morse, or even less likely, Roberto Rivera? One misstep by me could easily cause them to reconsider the value to them of replying to me at all, ever again. And I've been so blessed by Rolley, Jason, SBK,... the list goes on forever. Why would I want to endanger all of that for some thoughtless remark?

Most amazing, I think a modern-day Joan of Arc drives to work each day listening to her car radio, sipping her coffee, and thinking about what to write and have written by others. It's a bit stunning to realize that she even notices me, much less cares, what with the magnitude of battles to be fought. But that's the amazing topsy-turvy economy in the Kingdom of God. So in a way, my apologies are an act of worship.

Steve (SBK)

I was walking to work this morning and thinking: "God, it's a good day to be alive." No one reason. I just have a lot to be thankful for.

... and this blog is one of those things I'm thankful for.
God Bless you all.
Thanks.

Rolley Haggard

Wow, LeeQuod. I can’t top that. Interestingly, I had the exact same sentiment from C.S. Lewis in the back of my mind as I pondered my own response to Gina.

I have come to believe with all my heart that all people are infinitely precious to God -- infinitely. We throw that word ‘infinite’ around a lot without being able to really comprehend it. So I have a different way of putting it that I strongly believe is demanded by a proper view of the cross.

And it is this -- I am profoundly persuaded that God loves all of us more than His own life, just like you, my friend, love your son more than your own life and would have taken the impact of that car had you been able to. “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall Your heavenly Father?”

Isn’t that what the cross proves? Isn’t that what literally happened on Calvary, that God literally loved us more than His own life? Nevertheless, if anyone should ever challenge that conviction, I would LOVE to take them on. I may not be much of an apologist but I am just crazy enough to believe that I have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ, and it is His infinite, sacrificial love, and I can’t, for the life of me, stay quiet about it. (But I do try not to be too obnoxious in my zealotry).

It’s literally true – He gave all He could give – not chiefly for glory, but for love of our filthy hides. He didn’t die for Himself. He died for US. How then, can I knowingly treat ANY human being as less precious than God Himself does? (And God forgive me that I often do).

P.S. Dittos to Jason Taylor’s and SBK’s remarks.

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Gina Dalfonzo

I wasn't fishing for compliments, honest :-) -- but I'm overwhelmed by all of your kind words and will make sure the rest of the team sees them. Thanks, guys, so very much. We couldn't do this without you.

Rolley Haggard

LeeQuod, my additional thoughts on some of those good questions you raised a few terabytes further up. First, “When Jesus said "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," what happened? Did the Father actually, permanently forgive them for that act? Or were they merely forgiven at the moment, to be faced with it again upon their death if they died unrepentant?”

Understand that my remarks are those of a bible student, not a bible scholar. That said, I don’t know any evangelical commentators who would assert that the Father actually permanently forgave anyone irrespective of repentance. We’re just about forced, by dint of abundant clear teaching found elsewhere, to conclude this is some other flavor of forgiveness. Passages such as 2 Cor 5:19 probably shed light on what did transpire: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” And there’s also Rom 3:25-26 where it speaks of the forbearance of God. Leon Morris (TNBD) notes that there are at least 3 different roots in the OT and 5 different verbs in the NT used to signify forgiveness, each with different shades of meaning. Our English bibles often do not incorporate nuance in the translation. Hence we are apt to simplistically conclude that “forgiveness is forgiveness”, period.

In light of the many times divine eternal forgiveness is clearly linked with atonement and repentance, and the relatively few times where it is not so clearly linked, it seems easy to make the case that the “forgiveness” Christ procured for His crucifiers was of the nature of a “postponement of punishment”; what Peter called God’s “longsuffering”, where He shows Himself “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9. In these cases it seems sinners are “temporally forgiven” by God in sincere hope that they might repent and be “eternally forgiven.”

You also asked, “And, is there a difference between this forgiveness that requires repentance, and that of "As We Forgive" that seemingly does not?”

No difference, IMHO, except that nasty legal problem that God as Judge is saddled with. He heartily wants to forgive everyone (and so should we!), but even if a sinner does repent, God cannot lawfully forgive (forever) their sins. The strength of sin is (of all things) the law! There is a debt that by law must be paid for sins committed against and in the presence of the Holy One, and God alone can and must pay off that debt if it is ever to be paid off. In Christ the debt was paid and if the sinner approaches the bar of justice and in-the-voice-that-is-repentance says, “Your Honor, I have committed my entire defense to Christ, whose services were freely offered to me”, then there is no more legal barrier between God and the sinner because Christ’s advocacy, His intercessory work, is effectual, just as Wesley said:

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me;
“Forgive him, oh forgive” they cry,
Nor let that ransomed sinner die.

God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others is (or ought to be) identical in all respects, for “love does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Cor 13). God doesn’t take sins into account (until He HAS to), and neither should we. We can write it off (if we’re so willing) because we are not the Judge (“There is One who judges” John 8:50). But God cannot write it off. Every sinner owes Him their dead body because that is the wages of sin. But thanks to Him, we have a Dead Body to give Him and still keep our own at the resurrection.

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