Alan Jacobs on Forgiveness

Forgiveness, one may say, is the fundamental core of Christianity. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and so on are fruits of the Spirit.

But Christianity’s uniqueness comes from its relentless — relentless — insistence on forgiving when it is not deserved. Alan Jacobs puts it better than I can:

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. 

It feels impossible, in our current moment, to pursue a Christianity with such blatant, awful forgiveness and grace. It feels wrong. We ought to ask ourselves why.

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