“The Cost of Forgiveness”
It’s no surprise that author and pastor Tim Keller, who spent decades leading a congregation in Manhattan, often heard the question, “Does God really exist?” But in his conversations with New Yorkers he heard another question even more frequently, “If God is a God of love why can’t he just forgive everybody?”
The Christian God, in the minds of many, sounds a lot like the vengeful deities from primitive times who demanded appeasement by means of human sacrifice. Can’t God just accept us if we’re sorry for the wrong things we’ve done? Jesus’ death on the cross-which he said was “for us”-seems outrageous. And unnecessary. A handful of contemporary theologians have even suggested that Good Friday reeks of “divine child abuse.”
As Keller points out, however, any time somebody makes a mistake, somebody has to pay.
If I back my car into your car in the parking lot and crumple your back door, you might graciously choose to forgive me. But somebody has to pay for the damage. Either you will pay for it or I will pay for it. Let’s not fool ourselves for a minute by thinking that forgiveness means simply wiping somebody’s slate clean. That doesn’t happen when real damage has been done.
The Wall Street bailout of 2008-2009 cost almost half a trillion dollars. Washington largely chose to forgive the financial misdeeds of certain organizations because they were deemed “too big to fail.” But someone still has to pay. In this case it will be hundreds of millions of taxpayers, many of whom aren’t yet born, who will be paying for that season of financial malfeasance for a very long time.
Most people understand the damage from Wall Street recklessness and a certain pastor’s careless driving habits in the parking lot. But they draw a line when it comes to what they personally might owe God. What damages have they inflicted that would require something as drastic as the death of Jesus.
Here we need to ponder the Bible’s sober account of humanity’s standing before God. What exactly does the Bible mean by sin? Sin isn’t just doing bad things. It is putting good things in the place of God. Sin means elevating secondary priorities to first place, and thereby trying to find an identity and a purpose for ourselves apart from God. That is the ultimate transgression, and all of us are guilty of it. Our sins have done the real damage. We have damaged ourselves. We have damaged each other. And we have damaged our relationship with God.
Again, sin is not simply doing bad things. Sin is putting good things in the place of God. If we don’t live for God we will most certainly live for something else. And that will ultimately cause incredible damage to us and to everyone around us. If Jesus is your center and Lord and you fail him, he will forgive you. Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you-who breathed His last breath for you. If you receive Him, He will fulfill you completely. And if you fail Him,
He will forgive you eternally.
That’s wonderful news for those of us-and that would be all of us-who have run up a tab that only God can pay.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain