Saturday, 27 April 2013
The Problem of Forgiveness, Righteousness, and Self-Loathing
We all fall short of God's ideal completely and absolutely. This reality has sometimes caused us to think that
if we let God know how bad we think we are, he will like us more. We forget that forgiveness is not conditioned by anything we do. If it were conditional no one would make it. Our pride makes us loathe this reality. It is a great and humiliating gift. We so desperately want to contribute something to God's unconditional gift that we will even try to offer the pain of our self-accusation and self-rejection. The prodigal son was not saved because of his humiliation, but because of his Father's unconditional love. We want God to see how unworthy we feel, and the anxiety of our despair and guilt. We perform emotional works of self-punishment because we think this is what God is asking us to contribute. But God's grace is independent of anything we do, even our self-accusation and self-punishment. Forgiveness creates repentance, not the other way around.
When we experience God's unconditional love, we are able to accept ourselves and move forward into a healthier life. The sinful woman who anoints Jesus in Luke 7 would never have overcome her disgust with herself if Jesus had not declared to her, "you are forgiven." This power reunited her with herself and enabled her to go out and love others. We attempt to make ourselves worthy before God, or in falling short we despair at our inescapable failure. Yet suddenly we are grasped by Christ's unconditional forgiveness and the fire of love begins to once again burn bright in the darkness.
The "righteous" cannot help us. They too need and want forgiveness, but they do not think they need that much forgiveness. I admire their attempts to follow the laws of God, but they cannot help the woman in Luke 7 and they cannot help me. I have never felt comfortable in churches filled with "good" people. I seek a love rooted in forgiveness, and the "righteous" cannot forgive. Jesus gave this forgiveness to the woman in Luke 7 who was utterly unacceptable, and he gives it to all of us, it we are open to seeing it. The more we are able to see the forgiveness we need, the more we are able to love as Christ calls.