Tag Archives: forgivenes

the forgiveness of sins….and life everlasting

On The Sign Of Jonah, Forgiveness, Repentance, and Reconciliation

The last few lines of the Apostles’ Creed reads:

“8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

10. The forgiveness of sins:

1l. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.”

While I do plan on doing a series on me being historic creed-affirming and what that means as an outlier, very much Free Church Baptist, I want to focus on the last three lines today. I think it’s of most urgency to talk especially about “the forgiveness of sins” part in a violent, unforgiving world with a 24-hour news cycle. Unfortunately, many mainline and evangelical churches discuss “forgiveness” without talking about repentance. As for myself, I know I have personally been in error of talking and writing about repentance while neglicting forgiveness. Specifically in concrete terms, when pastors and Christian celebrities make mistakes or break the law, our very first reflex is to accept apologies in the name of forgiveness, and then once again put that person back up on a pedastal. “Forgiveness” has become redefined as letting the person who has sinned live as if nothing ever happened. Things go back to the way they are. Apologies make a mockery of repentance.

At the same time, the sinned against feel outraged. The sinned against, the victims of the powerful, rightly continue to call for true repentance, that metanoia where the sinner changes not only her/his mind, but also her/his habits. No, things cannot go back to the way they were before. But the Church insists Things Must Stay the Same. But the Spirit sent by the Father and the Son, calls out, saying to us, no sinner, everything must CHANGE.

On anger, very briefly. Anger is a legitimate emotion in Scripture. The problem occurs when we stay angry, when we allow our perpetrators to define us. In a way, by allowing the sun to set on our wrath, the Law and Sin (the Old Creation) continue to remain in power as a stronghold. In Christ, we are New Creations, being conformed to the Image of God. The Great Commandment and the New Creation reconstitute us into new selves, selves determined by the grace of God. Anger can inhibit us from taking action just as much as any emotion can. Frustration is not a guarantor of social change, no more than joy, no more than apatheia, or empathy.

What I love about Jesus is that he teaches us how God is in control of God’s emotions, and how we can be too. Christ Jesus was proceded by the prophetic tradition we witness in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. One such prophet was Jonah. In Chapter 4, Jonah reveals why he ran away from YHWH’s call on his life. “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love, a God who RELENTS from sending calamity.” Did Jonah have a right to being angry? What was his beef with the city of Ninevah? I was always curious why until I read Miguel De La Torre’s Liberating Jonah: Forming An Ethic of Reconciliation. “The Assyrians were the conquerors, rather than the people in some distant place waiting to hear the good news of their salvation. There are clear parallels that link the United States with the empire of Assyria, and Jonah and Israel represent those who exist at the margins of empire and are subject to its mercy or domination” (27).

So we see that God had chose a member of one of Assyria’s victims to call them to repentance, and coincidentally teach them about God’s forgiveness. In the New Testament, like in Matthew 12:38-41, Jesus talks about the Sign Of Jonah. The former enemies of Israel, the Assyrian oppressors, are far better off than Jesus’ generation (under the Roman Empire). The people of Ninevah recognized the goodness and mercy of God, and that brought them to repentance.

What I want to point out is not an androcentric message how dark the hearts of Jesus’ opponents or the ancient Assyrians were. What I want to say is that many Christians pat themselves on the back for making calls to repentance by pointing out how totally depraved everyone is. What would stop a person just turn around, and not affirm a higher power at all, after hearing that message? So with the Apostles Creed , and the witness of Scripture, we can say, we believe in the forgiveness of sins AND the Resurrection of the Body, i.e., the goodness and mercy of God.

Granted, I have often dismissed the cliche “God is good all the time,” because of all the suffering around us. It’s really actually one of the most difficult divine character traits for me to affirm. But the story of Jonah reminds us that God is merciful, God can choose to RELENT, that God is OPEN to our cries. Our suffering does not determine who God is. God’s Goodness, grace, is what defines The triune God.

In the words of Karen Baker Fletcher, “The logic of the Crucified God in Jesus the Christ, who forgives those who kill and offers hope for redemption, points to a better path. It is in this second more difficult and challenging, path that one becomes more than forgiven but more fully in the image of God. The promise of God in Christ is the restoration of full humanity in God’s own likeness deliverance from ALL DISTORTIONS and corruptions of that likeness” (Dancing With God, p108).

The act of forgiveness is an act of hope. God sent the Son to call for our repentance/teach us about the One True, Merciful God in hope for everyone to know God (Acts 17:30). Forgiveness is NOT the act of accepting apologies so things can go unchanged, the status quo in tact. Forgiveness is opening ourselves up to the possibilities of our enemies’ repentance, so that we may be reconciled in restored fellowship. Thus, forgiveness, repentance, and the hope for reconciliation should never be severed. Just as justice and righteousness go together, so too repentance and forgiveness.

Now, I know haven’t gotten to a lot of concrete implications but let’s start with God’s forgiveness. On one hand, Scripture repeats God will forgive our sins and FORGET. God will relent from God’s memory our trespasses. On the other hand, Jesus the Son of God returns in Revelation with his raised heavenly body, filled with scars. The cheap adage “time will heal all things” is not true. That is fatalism and works righteousness, something opposed to grace. Only the Cross of Christ heals, and God doesn’t keep a grudge. So the implication for our own actions is that we as New Creations are called to forgive sins, but always remember the sinned against. As the apostle Paul says, “remember the poor.”

So we should keep in mind the most vulnerable when our church bodies are deciding how to handle issues of corruption, abuse, or integrity. Just as God has given us our free will (the space for genuine repentance and loving relationship with God), churches and communities too should set proper boundaries and safe spaces for the sinned against, for the sake on the whole body.

In this way, we can affirm the Creed, “We believe in

10. The forgiveness of sins:

1l. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.”