Monday, August 20, 2007

"Would You Please Forgive Me?"

Suppose you got a loan for $400,000.00. It was a legitimate cause. You run a construction company and you needed a new piece of equipment. But suppose you had a gambling problem. Suppose the money didn’t get sent to the machine company. Instead, you blew it. All that money from the bank and more is gone. You’re about to lose everything. So you go to the Bank Manager and say to her, “I know that I’ve messed up. I totally blew it. Would you please forgive me? Just let this debt slide, ok? Would you please?”
Suppose the Bank Manager said, “I can see that you mean well. I can see that you’re sorry. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to pay off all your debts out of my own pocket and I’m going to make sure that you get all the help that you need to deal with this gambling issue, to deal with your marriage problems, anything at all, all at my expense.”
Suppose you’re deep into crime. Over the last ten years a million dollars worth of forged checks and stolen items have passed through your hands. Now you stand before the Judge and he asks if you have anything to say for yourself. As chance would have it you have something really important to say. “Your Honour, I am very, very sorry for all that I’ve done. I see the error of my ways and I plan to change from this day forward. So I was wondering, would you not just forgive these latest crimes of mine, but would you also simply wipe my slate clean? Would you please treat me as though none of that other stuff ever happened. I need a clean start. I need you to see me as a law abiding citizen. More than that. Would you see me as your own child and begin to take care of me? Please?”
Suppose the Judge stood up, came down from the bench and took you in his arms. While he is giving you a big hug, with tears streaming down his face he says to you, “Your debt is forgiven. As of right now, you have no criminal history. I will cash in everything that I own and pay off your debts. And because justice demands that a penalty be paid for your crimes, I’m going to do your jail time for you. Go in peace and don’t do this anymore.”

Pretty absurd right? It would never happen. Not on this planet. Not in this lifetime.

Except that it has happened. On this planet no less. And the consequences are taking place during your lifetime.

We owe a debt to God. We owe a debt far greater than anything we could accumulate toward another human being. The punishment that we have coming to us, the debt that we owe due to our rebellion against our Creator means that we deserve eternal separation from God. We are separated from God by this impossibly huge debt forever and ever, unless someone can pay this debt for us. But who could do it but God Himself? Well, the answer is no one. And that is why God, in His love stepped down from His throne and came to earth to pay our penalty for us. The only thing for us to do is to say yes to this offer of forgiveness, this offer of salvation, this offer of renewal.
This what some call cheap Grace or cheap salvation. In the Bible, at the end of the “Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus follows up his admonition to pray ‘Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,’ with a story of two men who went to the Temple to pray. The one man stood before the alter and told God what a good man he was and how lucky God was to have such a wonderful follower on His side. In fact, he told God, ‘I’m not nearly as bad as that other man standing over there.’ The other man that was being talked about had fallen on his knees before God and beat his breast saying, ‘Please forgive me dear Lord. I’m a dreadful sinner with no reason to expect your forgiveness. Without your mercy and grace I am lost.’ Jesus said to His disciples that this man, and not the former went away forgiven.

There is nothing cheap or easy about this type of forgiveness. The hardest thing that we humans can do is to admit to ourselves and to our Creator that we have not just done wrong, but that we are wrong - that we are fundamentally, essentially, totally and completely flawed. Not a single one of our “good” acts come and go without at least some tinge of pride, arrogance and corrupted self-love involved.

Unlike we humans who seem to get a kick out of withholding forgiveness, God longs for us to come to Him to receive forgiveness. He longs to heal our broken relationship with Him. That is why, while we were still His enemies, He took the first step to reconciliation. All that’s left to complete the transaction is our part, the reaching out an accepting this forgiveness, this freedom from guilt.

Now someone might say this is just a fairy tale; it’s just wishful thinking. Not so. There is not a human on earth that would invent a religion with this plot. Our arrogance and pride ensures that all manmade religions allow for the major role of redemption to be played by ourselves. In every religion but Christianity, their god plays the minor role; he jumps to our demands while we work our way to Nirvana or paradise or nothingness or whatever else it may be called. Only Christianity hammers away at the reality of our situation. Only Christianity reveals the concept of Grace. The concept of Grace, or undeserved favour, is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions past and future. Jesus and Jesus alone has done what we cannot do for ourselves. He provides for a healed, intimate and forgiven relationship with our Creator. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

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