I was reminded of the wonder of forgiveness when reading an excerpt from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity today (which, by the way, if you have not read this book it is one that you should move very high on your personal reading list). In this particular excerpt Lewis is musing on the seeming paradox of divine forgiveness:
Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.
The line that particularly stood out for me today was that God, "unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences." This is a crucial point that we need to understand. When a person sins against us or causes us some type of offense, the eternal reality is that the chiefly offended party is God, not us. As a result, if the chiefly offended party has seen fit to forgive that person, then why would I deny them that forgiveness on my own part?
This is the reality of forgiveness in the Christian life. We love God because He first loved us; we also love others because God first loved them. We forgive others because God has forgiven us; we also forgive others because God has forgiven them. If we want to walk lock-step with the character of God as lived by the incarnate person of Christ then we must love and forgive others, not simply because we have been loved and forgiven, but because the other person we are looking at is loved and forgiven by God. If we want to follow Christ, therefore, we must love what He loves and forgive those whom He has forgiven.
There is no mistaking the challenge that this generates for us because we often must deal with people and situations that hurt and offend and dig at some of our core values and priorities. We see the hurt caused by another and we want to see them hurt in return. We see the insensitivity and selfishness of others and we want to see condemnation rain down upon them in retaliation. In our quest to grow in our devotion to God, though, we must learn to deal with others, not the way our own flesh desires and not as a reaction to how they have treated us. Instead, we must learn to deal with others based on how God sees them, as His divine children and image bearers whom He seeks to be reconciled to Him.
(as published in St. Luke’s weekly newsletter, 10/3/18)