Proof of God

Jesus didn't pick His metaphors lightly. Jesus is the Word after all, so every word he spoke was chosen with complete precision. He could have picked any symbol in the universe, yet he said “turn the other cheek.” Why? Clearly He intended us to think in terms of being willing to allow another slap. Does that mean He wants us to be slapped? Of course not. But Jesus does want us to remain within arm’s length—slapping distance—of each other.

At this point, some people always want to fly to worst-case scenarios, so please understand I do not mean that an abused wife should continue to allow herself to be beaten. But real forgiveness always involves some level of engagement—as much as possible within the confines of good sense. This is true because God is love. Everything God does and every command God ever gave can ultimately be traced back to a desire to nourish loving relationships between us and our neighbor, and between us and Him. The one thing that makes a loving relationship impossible is to push a person completely out of your life. The entire point of forgiveness is remaining open to reconciliation. Anything less than that is a counterfeit forgiveness, which is to say, a lie.

If Jesus’ metaphor means anything, it means you cannot forgive a person from beyond arm’s length.

Another important aspect of forgiveness is the fact that it’s a choice, not a process. We may need to make the choice a thousand times, and that choosing and re-choosing may look like a process, but in fact it is not. We are commanded to forgive. The command came with a promise and a warning, in order to teach us it is not an option, not a suggestion. It is a sin to disobey. To call it a “process” is tantamount to calling obedience to any other command a process. “I’m working on being faithful to my wife.” “I’m working on leaving other people’s possessions alone.” “I’m working on telling the truth.” These are morally identical statements to “I’m working on forgiving.” There is no middle ground, no process involved. There is only the choice to obey Jesus in this area in this moment, or not.

Finally, at no time has God ever commanded anyone to do anything impossible. This means God’s will for us is never contingent on God’s will for someone else. Forgiveness is a choice. Repentance is a choice. The two choices are completely independent of each other. I have no moral right to wait on your repentance before I forgive you. On the contrary, I am commanded to forgive you, period. I am commanded to forgive whether you repent of what you’ve done or not. The same is true of repentance. I must repent of my sins against a neighbor, whether that neighbor will forgive me or not. These are clear commands. But reconciliation is not commanded, because such a command would be beyond any individual’s ability to obey. Reconciliation requires not only my obedience, but also yours. Again, God never makes one person’s obedience contingent on another’s. Relationship is what we get when forgiveness meets repentance, but forgiveness and repentance each stand alone as the moral obligations of the parties involved. Both are commanded; neither is contingent on the other, and both are pleasing to the Lord.

Forgiveness may well be the most difficult of all of God’s commands, because it demands a total denial of pride and it leaves no room whatsoever for illusions or half measures. Why does God expect so much? As Dale Cramer wrote in his beautiful novel, Levi's Will, “God is love. Love is the proof of God, and forgiveness is the proof of love.”

Posted byAthol Dickson at 8:11 AM  


Garrett said... March 29, 2010 at 1:09 PM  

Building on the very good points in your post I’d add that God’s commands are always in our best interest, though we may struggle at times to appreciate the benefits. So it is with forgiveness, we must forgive in order to be free; free from anger, from resentment, from pain. In forgiveness we get a chance to glimpse God’s heart, his love for us and his desire to turn our trials into joy.

Kay Day said... March 29, 2010 at 3:19 PM  

I agree completely. And I appreciate your post. There is a lot os skewed teaching on forgiveness among Christians.

Lori said... March 29, 2010 at 6:41 PM  

Ah beautiful post and you nailed it at the end what I was thinking while I read, "I have no moral right to wait on your repentance before I forgive you"..."But reconciliation is not commanded, because such a command would be beyond any individual’s ability to obey. "

Love this and I like the saying of keeping them no further than arm's length. I have not heard that said before.

Meg Moseley said... March 31, 2010 at 12:58 PM  

I like the reminder that "forgiveness and repentance each stand alone as the moral obligations of the parties involved." That puts it in perspective, very clearly.

I also love the quote from "Levi's Will." That's one of my favorite books.

patti said... April 2, 2010 at 7:07 AM  

Beautiful post for Good Friday.

Athol Dickson said... April 2, 2010 at 10:15 AM  

Garrett, I love what you wrote. Forgiveness is indeed a chance at freedom from the bitterness of resentment and anger (which hurts only us). How twisted the world is, that we so often don't see it that way, but resist the freedom of forgiveness and cling to the very things that cause us pain.

On this Good Friday I think particularly of the ultimate model of forgiveness, Jesus on a cross saying, "Father, forgive them."

To forgive an enemy in the very moment that he kills me...Lord, may I one day be that faithful, and that free.

Anonymous said... April 13, 2010 at 8:01 AM  

Your words on reconciliation bring an odd comfort to me as I remain estranged from an adult daughter who has pushed me out of her life. It certainly does take two willing people to reconcile and we're a long way away from that. But the beauty of my repeated choice to forgive her is that my heart does not harden in the hurt. It stays softened and compassionate toward this angry young woman. That is a gift from God and as Garrett said, I am free because of it. And I can let the prodigal go in love.

Laurel said... May 20, 2010 at 3:51 PM  

I agree that forgiveness often requires rechoosing, every time I'm tempted to resent that person, perhaps years later.
Excellent post. Thanks, Athol.

Tim George said... May 22, 2010 at 12:34 PM  

Good thoughts, as always, this time on forgiveness. I think one of the reasons people find it so hard to forgive is because they have an innate knowledge that forgiveness is a contract. When God forgives, he determines to remember the matter no more - as far as the east is from the west. We don't won't to forgive because in doing so we have to let go of the matter. We have to trust God to deal with the situation. Our autonomy is often more cherished that our relationship with God or others.

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