forgiveness, in all its danger and ugliness

I couldn’t agree more with Alan Jacobs in his appropriately titled blog post, “grace, not abounding”:

And I get it, or think I do. If you start talking about grace people will seize it, cheaply; hell, they might not only accept forgiveness but demand it. They will abuse the gift — but that’s because that’s what we sinners do, we abuse gifts. Our God hands them out anyway. Again: Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who were hanging him on a cross. Had they asked for it? Did they even want it? Had they undergone a lengthy process of truth and reconciliation in order to deserve it? Everything about the demand for earned forgiveness makes total human sense. But it’s not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” It’s not an ambiguous statement. 

I think most of our projects of reconciliation, when they exist at all, have it backwards. They want a long penitence at the end of which the offended parties may or may not forgive. I think the Christian account says that forgiveness given and accepted is where reconciliation begins. So if we say we are Christians and want reconciliation but do not put grace, mercy, and forgiveness front and center in our public statements, then we’re operating as the world operates, not as the ekklesia is commanded to. 

On the left, we are very inclined anymore – especially in online spaces – to refuse the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. Too often, extending forgiveness feels too much like ignoring or minimizing past mistakes. In a #MeToo world, this instinct is even rational.

But for Christians on the left, our orders are clear: we are called to forgive, radically and dangerously and undeservedly, and then we are called to reconcile. Jesus doesn’t really give us another option. That’s what the Church should look like. Its hard and its messy and it hurts and sometimes people will abuse that forgiveness or ignore it or relapse or whatever. But nevertheless: we forgive, and we forgive again, and we do our best to be in fellowship with our enemies and our persecutors. May we have the strength of God as we go about this task.

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