In his article, ‘Choosing My Religion’ in The Weekend Australian Magazine (April 14-15, 2018), Bernard Salt says that while he had ‘a deeply religious (Catholic) upbringing, my faith lapsed in my 20s’.
That said, he goes on to observe: ‘Christianity is connected with so much of humanity over two millennia because of its central tenets. The idea of forgiveness is both bold and powerful; it takes courage to forgive, and it cultivates the positive qualities of the human spirit. Without forgiveness there is vengeance and anger. Don’t get me wrong: I think there are times when it is entirely appropriate to show anger. Vengeance I’m not so sure about …’
Further, he comments: ‘In our increasingly godless society, I wonder whether in casting off what I see as the far-fetched bits of religious belief systems we aren’t also losing those bits that over time have made a proven contribution to the quality of human life. A community that practises forgiveness is stronger than one that never forgives. Anger taken to the grave achieves nothing; it is forgiveness that cultivates love and humility’.
While Bernard Salt’s observations are helpful, his solution that we draw the best from all faiths to ‘create an even better society for the future’ is at best only partial. In the uncharted waters of new values we are creating, apart from ‘forgiveness’ what other values should we include in, say the top ten? Furthermore, and this is more telling, where will humanity find the inner resources to implement such values? We don’t even live up to our own New Year’s resolutions.
In this kind of discussion we need to pause and ask ourselves afresh, and others too, what we know about Jesus. For example, on one occasion one of his close followers, Philip, said to him: “Lord show us the Father…” (John 14:9). To which Jesus responded, “He who has seen me has seen the Father…” Popular thinking concludes that Jesus is the ultimate good guy, or one of history’s great teachers, but neither comes near what Jesus said to Philip. He is saying that he is not just God’s emissary or ambassador, but God himself. He was claiming to be God in our shoes.
One of the striking things about Christianity is that it is grounded in history. The Gospel writers insist that Jesus of Nazareth not only lived but is unique. He is not just a prophet, he is more than a prophet. He is not just a man, but God’s Messiah who came to serve us by providing the means whereby God could forgive us.
Forgiven. In leaving God out of the equation of life, we omit the starting and the end points of the whole notion of forgiveness. In his great penitential psalm King David cried out to God: “Against you only have I sinned…” (Psalm 51:4). As Derek Kidner in his helpful commentary, Psalms, observes: ‘Sin can be against oneself and against one’s neighbour but the flouting of God is always the length and breadth of it, … Our bodies are not our own; and our neighbors are made in God’s image’ (p.190).
In Colossians 3:13 Paul the Apostle writes: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. God has every reason to be angry with us: we are sinners, we flout his law, and we ignore him. But what did he do? Having sent his only Son to die the death we deserve, he offers full and free pardon to anyone who turns to Jesus Christ in true repentance and faith. So Paul exhorts: ‘If God has forgiven you, shouldn’t you also be prepared to forgive those who have wronged you?
Here we have a response to Bernard Salt’s concluding comments where he writes: ‘… I am troubled by what I see as the evolution of an increasingly harsh – vengeful, even – society, especially when dealing with perceived transgressors. Justice of course must be served and must be seen to be served but society should not be above forgiveness…’
Forgiving. Christianity offers us God’s full and free forgiveness, and with it the motivation we need to forgive one another: Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.
Furthermore, taking us beyond the limits of human wisdom, God gives us the framework to achieve this – the way of love. Put on love which binds you all together, Paul writes.
Love. He knows how easy it is for us to be angry and bitter. He is aware of the destructive effect of wounded feelings. But he also knows of the one force that can heal and enable us to grow into maturity – love. Love is patient and kind he writes in 1 Corinthians 13. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. Rather, love bears all things, endures all things, and hopes all things (1 Cor. 13:4-7). We need God’s love at work within us to forgive. Knowing we are forgiven, we will be forgiving.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com