I know what you're going to say, and it's a point we have to talk about: you're going to say that you can forgive someone without ever telling them. You can forgive someone without talking to them again. You don't have to tell someone you've forgiven them in order for it to be true in your heart.
You're going to say that sometimes, it's wisest not to talk to that person again, as in a case where that person has been severely abusive or is unrepentant about the harm they have caused.
To an extent, that is true, and it makes sense in the cultural model of the world. But the cultural model is not always the Christian model.
Christian forgiveness is exemplified in the model of Christ. Period. And I'm not sure how many of us would be satisfied in the love of God and the forgiveness of Christ if the message we had to preach was that Christ has forgiven us all of our sins, but He still doesn't want us in His presence. Because of our sin, it is much safer to keep us at a good distance. Because of our sin, He doesn't want to talk to us ever again.
After all, we are all heinous sinners, the worst of the worst. We all deserve excommunication from God; we have failed to live up to the high standards necessary to live in His presence. And yet...
And yet, forgiveness. And there is just not a Christian definition of forgiveness that includes the continued forsakenness of the forgiven.
You cannot, in Christ, be forgiven and still forsaken.
I know how countercultural this is. I do. I know how hard it sounds. I do. I get that there are individuals in this world who have caused tremendous pain, indescribable pain, to others and how sickening it is in the pit of our stomachs to even think about seeing them face-to-face ever again, let alone speaking to them. Let alone telling them we've forgiven them.
This is part of our trouble with the concept of forgiveness. See, most of us think that forgiveness means excusing the act that was done. That it means proclaiming innocence over the guilty. Even when we say that we don't believe that in our heads, that we know that's not the case, something in our hearts still holds onto this like it's the truth.
Forgiveness is a complicated thing, and it's easier to kind of paint it into this too-big box than to try to articulate the realities of what it really is. So we've let ourselves come to the place where this definition dominates, even when we know that's not the truth of it.
We know, through the Cross, that Christ has not declared us innocent. If we were innocent, there is no need for the Cross; He nullifies His own work and traps us into a circular argument that we can never get out of. No, we are not innocent; we are just as guilty today as we were yesterday as we were two thousand years ago.
What is different is that we have been forgiven. God looks at everything that we've done, everything that is true about us, and He chooses to welcome us into His presence anyway. It's this act of welcome that is forgiveness lived out. Even, we have to add, at tremendous risk to Him. I promise you that the chances that we will re-offend are high. Some would say, certain. Even the most repentant heart on this planet is doomed to fail again; it's who we are.
God never says that's a reason not to welcome us. He never says that's a reason not to love us. He never says that's a reason not to talk to us ever again. He never says He has to "protect" Himself by keeping us at a distance, even though He can use this word "forgiveness" and very authoritatively.
Forgiveness simply doesn't let us keep living forsaken. We are one or the other, but never both. Never.
Therefore, if our forgiveness is genuine and Christlike, then we must have some welcome for the other. We cannot continue to act in deliberate exclusion, we cannot continue to forsake, of one we have claimed to forgive. If we do, we have not forgiven them at all; we have merely used the word to puff ourselves up.
And isn't that what's going on most of the time anyway? (More tomorrow.)
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