By Scott Keith –
Right when I’m in the middle of a first class lecture concerning how I have been wronged, the subject of my derision exclaims “I am sorry. Please forgive me.” There is nothing more frustrating! Don’t they know that I was just getting warmed up? Don’t they realize that I have a gift for pointing out the error in others’ actions and reasoning? Don’t they realize how profoundly wrong they are if they are giving up so quickly? If they understood the depth of their error, they would allow me to finish my rant before pulling out the “please forgive me” trump card.
I’m smart enough to know that the Scriptures tell me over and over again that it is my calling to forgive my neighbor. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21-22). “So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). But, being smart enough to know that Jesus tells me I have to forgive my neighbor doesn’t mean I like it.
Absolution is a funny thing. I like absolution when it is aimed at me. I like confessing on Sunday and watching and hearing the pastor pronounce my forgiveness before God and man. I even like being forgiven when it is I asking for forgiveness. The words of John are truly a comfort to me: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). I simply wish that I would like doing the forgiving more than I do. What is wrong with me?
Therein is the point: what is wrong with me is that my sin runs deep. To me, the gift of forgiveness often becomes the hammer used by the Law to crush me. My sin and yours are pernicious. Sin causes me to see those things which God has given me as good and gracious gifts as though they were meant to harm me. The depth of my depravity knows no bounds. Just when I think I have the high ground, through something that outwardly appears to be a blessing, the Law shows me that I am a sinner in thought, word, and deed.
The only comfort that I have is that the forgiveness offered to me and the forgiveness I offer is not based on me. Rather, all of our forgiveness, absolution, redemption, justification, and sanctification are found in Christ alone. Even though in my sin I take the good gifts of God and turn them into a curse, He takes that curse upon Himself and returns it to me as my redemption.
In Christ, all things are made new. In Christ, my weak absolution is transformed into a forgiveness that is real, thorough, and complete. Apart from Christ, there is not forgiveness, but in Christ, forgiveness is made new. The death and resurrection of Christ for our redemption is just that: a complete redemption. Having been “bought back,” we are now free to forgive our neighbor.
Forgiveness always comes to us on the lips of another. Though the forgiveness we now provide is yet tainted by our sin, Christ stands behind our words of forgiveness as the Word of Life. He breathes life into our empty words, “I forgive you,” and in Him our half-hearted proclamations of absolution are made full and complete. What a wondrous gift, even when we don’t realize it or like. Praise be to God that He doesn’t wait on our attitude when He decides to forgive our neighbor through our lips.