Two of the lectionary readings for this weekend are explicitly about forgiveness. Genesis 45:3-28 tells the story of Joseph’s forgiveness extended toward those brothers that sold him into slavery. It seems that this kind of forgiveness was possible only because Joseph had a vision of God redeeming the pain, suffering and rejection he had experienced.
Luke 6:27-38 is one of the Gospel passages which speaks about love of enemies, forgiveness and judgment. (Jesus was really good at packing all of the tough issues into one small package.) From this passage it appears that forgiveness is part of God’s new order, the Kingdom of God as we often call it. Does this mean that forgiveness requires either the presence or at least the anticipation of God’s Kingdom?
Miroslav Volf shares this idea:
Forgiveness doesn’t stand alone, as a punctual act or even as an isolated practice. That would be too passive an understand of what forgivness is all about. Rather, it is embedded in a a way of life that is committed to overcoming evil by doing good. That’s how Luther interpreted “forgetting” in the phrase “forgive and forget”. Not to count the offenders guilty and not to press charges against them is important but insufficient. Luther insisted that you should “load” the enemy “with kindess so that, overcome with good [Rom. 12:21], he will be kindled with love for you”. – from Free of Charge, pg. 189.
Volf makes the point throughout his book that when we give or forgive we are borrowing upon the forgiveness and generosity of God. Our acts of forgiveness are “echos” of the forgiveness of God himself.
What is the dynamic between forgiveness, the Kingdom and the church? How do they relate and rely up on the other?
“To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.” – Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory, pg. 9
Thanks to Rustin I am a big fan of Miroslav Volf. In this little clip (about 10 mins.) he talks about getting a “new past”, the beauty and necessity of forgiveness, along with the way God works in the midst of our bad stuff.
This past weekend we discussed God’s forgiveness and the possibility that our refusal to forgive might interrupt our reception of God’s forgiveness. The Sermon on the Mount, and the verses immediately following, may seem threatening. In spite of this, however, I don’t see Mt. 6:14-15 as an example of God’s capriciousness. God doesn’t take his forgiveness away from us when we are slow to forgive as much as we remove ourselves from the source of forgiveness, God himself.
Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian and someone who has had much to forgive in his own life, outlines his explanation of this concern below:
There are no people who are too wicked for God to forgive them and for Christ to die for them. And there are no people whom God, for some inscrutable reason, decided not to forgive. Even the so called sin agains the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said would not be forgiven (Matthew 12:31-32), is not an exception. For that is the sin of closing oneself off to the One through whom God forgives all people and all sins. God’s grace more than matches any conceivable sin. “Where sin increased,” wrote the Apostle tersely but profoundly, “grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20).