Love, Forgiveness, and God’s New Language

During this Easter season I have quoted from N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope nearly every week. Perhaps I should break down and just do a series on his book? Throughout the book Wright reminds us of the historical support for the resurrection, its theological purpose, and, in the book’s latter parts, why it matters for us today.

Always reminding us that the Kingdom of God is where heaven and earth meet, Wright brings into focus the practicality, and absolute necessity, of love and forgiveness:

… love is not our duty; it is our destiny. It is the language Jesus spoke, and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him. It is the food they eat in God’s new world, and we must acquire a taste for it here and now. It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing, and we are called to learn it and practice it now so as to be ready when the conductor brings down his baton. It is the resurrection life, and the resurrected Jesus calls us to begin living it with him and for him right now. Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope: people who truly hope as the resurrection encourages us to hope will be people enabled to love in a new way. Conversely, people who are living by this rule of love will be people who are learning more deeply how to hope.

This is the message that underlies the gospel command to forgiveness–which is also, of course, the command to remit debts …

But forgiveness is not a moral rule that comes with sanctions attached. God doesn’t deal with us on the basis of abstract codes and rules like that. Forgiveness is a way of life, God’s way of life, God’s way to life; and if you close your heart to forgiveness, why, then you close your heart ot forgiveness. That is the point of the terrifying parable in Matthew 18, about the slave who had been forgiven millions but then dragged a colleague into court to settle a debt of a few pence. If you lock up the piano because you don’t want to play to somebody else, how can God play to you?

That is why we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That isn’t a bargain we make with God. It’s a fact of human life. Not to forgive is to shut down a faculty in the innermost person, which happens to be the same faculty that can receive God’s forgiveness. It also happens to be the same faculty that can experience realy joy and real grief. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


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