For Ourselves

Forgiveness isn’t something we do for the person who’s hurt us. It’s something we do for ourselves, so we’re no longer victims or prisoners of the past, so we can stop carrying a burden that harbors nothing but pain.

— Edith Eger, The Gift, p. 177

Photo: Donnersberg, Germany, November 8, 2003.

People Who Love Poorly

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.

— Henri Nouwen, You Are the Beloved, p. 264

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, August 30, 2021

Again and Again

This morning I meditated on God’s eagerness to forgive me, revealed in these words: “As far as the East is from the West, so far does God remove my sin” (Psalm 103:12). In the midst of all my distractions, I was touched by God’s desire to forgive me again and again. If I return to God with a repentant heart after I have sinned, God is always there to embrace me and let me start afresh. “The Lord is full of compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.”

It is hard for me to forgive someone who has really offended me, especially when it happens more than once. I begin to doubt the sincerity of the one who asks forgiveness for a second, third, or fourth time. But God does not keep count. God just waits for our return, without resentment or desire for revenge. God wants us home. “The love of the Lord is everlasting.”

— Henri J. M. Nouwen, You Are Beloved, p. 87

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 19, 2021

Outdoing Sin With Love

The church was meant to be an alternative society in the grip of an altogether different story line. Restorative justice is used in new Zealand as the primary juvenile justice model, and the Catholic bishops of New Zealand have put out very good statements on it. We see this alternative model of justice acted out in scripture — famously in Jesus’s story of the Return of the Prodigal (Luke 15:11ff.), but almost always in the prophets (if we can first endure their tirades). God’s justice makes things right at their very core, and divine love does not achieve its ends by mere punishment or retribution.

Consider Habbakuk, whose short book develops with vivid messages of judgment only to pivot at the very end to his “Great Nevertheless!” For three chapters, Habbakuk reams out the Jewish people, then at the close has God say in effect, “But I will love you even more until you come back to me!” We see the same in Ezekiel’s story of the dry bones (Chapter 16) and in Jeremiah’s key notion of the “new covenant” (Chapter 31:31ff.). God always outdoes the Israelites’ sin by loving them even more! This is God’s restorative justice.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 184

Photo: Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland, July 11, 2003

Casting Out Fear

I lived this story for years. I preached it. I fully bought into this narrative of an angry God needing to be placated. I understand the reason it works and the crushing effect it has on us when we embrace it, and I know how disorienting it is to be compelled to cling to a loving Creator while simultaneously being taught to be terrified of what that Creator wants to do to you if you don’t cling correctly. It hasn’t happened in an instant, and I can’t quite say how I got here, but I am simply living in a different story now. I still have God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit — but I don’t have fear anymore the way I used to. That isn’t to say that I don’t have “the fear of the Lord” that the Bible speaks of, that awe and wonder that recognizes my smallness and God’s indescribable scale and beauty. In fact, my view of God is as expansive and reverent and breathtaking as it’s ever been. It just isn’t defined by the rigid Christian narrative of my childhood that says I am an enemy of God at birth.

If God is God, then God is intimately aware of the path you’re on. God sees your striving, your desire to know, your efforts to love better, and so even when these things take you from tradition or orthodoxy or surety, there can be peace there and trust that God is present. Looking at the long, meandering road you’ve been on, how can you possibly define some precise pass-fail in all of that? If you feel the table of your hospitality expanding, if you feel the container you had for God being shattered, if you yourself are being drawn to something deeper than the religion of your past, that is the pull of God. It is the extravagant, barrier-breaking, tradition-transcending heart of Jesus that is demanding to be yielded to. To the gatekeepers and the finger pointers, this surrender to God will look like rebellion. They will demand guilt for the conclusions you’ve come to and repentance from the path you’re on. you will need to be steadfast and rest in the love that casts out all fear. They will snicker and condemn and dismiss. They will name this heresy. They will call this a mutiny. To you, it is a progression.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 166-167

Photo: Sunrise, South Riding, Virginia, March 16, 2015

The Father

The overall testimony of scripture is that God is the Father of all humanity. God’s love for everyone is expressed in the sending of Christ who told us that God is like the prodigal son’s father who never stopped loving his child, even when he lived a life of rebellion and tried to run as far away from him as possible.

God never disowns us. God never stops being our Father. We never stop being children of God. Even on our worst day, God’s love for us is based on who God is, not on who we are, or what we do.

Yes, we can reflect our sonship or daughterhood more clearly whenever we love others, serve others or forgive others. But, even if we fail to do this, it doesn’t change the fact that God is our Father, and that we are loved and forgiven. Based on our behavior, it may appear that our father is the devil, at times. But this is not the reality. It is a perversion of the reality. God is our Father, and we are all His children. If we reflect the character of Christ, then we are starting to look like our Father more and more. This is the way it’s supposed to work.

— Keith Giles, Jesus Undefeated, p. 111

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, November 8, 2020

God’s Outpouring Love

The Franciscans, however, led by John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), refused to see the Incarnation, and its final denouement on the cross, as a mere reaction to sin. Instead, they claimed that the cross was a freely chosen revelation of Total Love on God’s part. In so doing, they reversed the engines of almost all world religion up to that point, which assumed we had to spill blood to get to a distant and demanding God. On the cross, the Franciscan school believed, God was “spilling blood” to reach out to us! This is a sea change in consciousness. The cross, instead of being a transaction, was seen as a dramatic demonstration of God’s outpouring love, meant to utterly shock the heart and turn it back toward trust and love of the Creator.

In the Franciscan school, God did not need to be paid in order to love and forgive God’s own creation for its failures. Love cannot be bought by some “necessary sacrifice”; if it could, it would not and could not work its transformative effects. Try loving your spouse or children that way, and see where it gets you. Scotus and his followers were committed to protecting the absolute freedom and love of God. If forgiveness needs to be bought or paid for, then it is not authentic forgiveness at all, which must be a free letting go.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 143-144

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, October 18, 2014

Like God

In fact, Jesus tells his disciples to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies specifically because this is what God does to His own enemies. So, when we love our enemies, we are like God who sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. (See Matt. 5:45)

Jesus also shows us an “Abba” who, like the father of the prodigal son, goes out of his way to seek out his children; to embrace them, forgive them, and extend mercy to them, and who does not require punishment before extending this love to us.

Taking these facts into account, I find it highly unlikely that Jesus would have accepted the new teaching of Eternal Suffering, as the Pharisees had done. It seems far outside of his character to have embraced such a doctrine, especially in light of the merciful, patient, and loving God he revealed to us.

— Keith Giles, Jesus Undefeated, p. 77-78

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, October 2, 2020.

The Way of Forgiveness

So is the blood of Jesus precious? Yes. Of course! But it is more precious than most of us have ever realized. The blood of Jesus did not pay some sort of debt in the divine bank account for our sin. No, God had already taken care of that through His gracious forgiveness from all eternity. The blood of Jesus is precious because it reveals to us the most important truth of all, which is a truth we could never have seen or understood on our own. The blood of Jesus reveals to us that God does not want or demand blood sacrifice, but that we want and demand it. We require blood to alleviate our own guilt and solve our own problems. But by coming and dying as a scapegoat on the cross, and then rising again and refusing to retaliate, Jesus revealed that there is a different way. Jesus revealed the way of God, which is the way of forgiveness.

While sacrificial violence does bring a temporary peace, it comes at the price of the life of another. Forgiveness, however, brings a better and more lasting peace and one that does not require us to take the life of another, but invites us to unite in love and harmony with one another, just as God in Christ unites with us. How thankful we can be that Jesus suffered and died at our hands and for our bloodthirsty desires, to reveal to us that we do not have to live this way any longer. Like God, we too can love; we too can forgive. Only in this way will the world finally find peace.

Nothing else reveals our sin to us like the violent death of Jesus on the cross. All other sacrificial and scapegoat victims we could justify. They deserved it. They truly were guilty. We were just treating them the way they treated us. But not so with Jesus. He was “sinless” and knew no sin, but we killed Him in God’s name anyway, thereby proving that this is also what we do to others when we feel justified and righteous in killing them. Only the innocent blood of the Lamb of God could reveal this to us and also call us to put an end to it through forgiveness. For of all victims throughout history, only Jesus would have been justified in retaliation and vengeance against those who wrongfully accused and killed Him. But instead He forgave us. This shows that we too can forgive others. We can forgive as we have been forgiven. We can love as we have been loved. The way out of sin is to see how Jesus dealt with our sin against Him. Nothing and nobody else could have so clearly revealed this to us.

— J. D. Myers, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, p. 264-265

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 12, 2020