Posted by: Dan | August 11, 2005

Proclaiming Forgiveness and Living Peaceably

If one actually takes the time to study Jesus as he is portrayed in the texts (instead of studying the texts through the lenses of various faith traditions) one is struck by the manner in which Jesus proclaims the forgiveness of sins. You see, unlike most of contemporary Christianity, Jesus did not go around telling people that they needed to have their sins forgiven. Rather Jesus proclaimed that their sins already were forgiven. My, my, wouldn't that change the way in which Christians proclaim the gospel today — what would happen if we were to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, instead of proclaiming that people are in need of the forgiveness of sins?

Of course there is a way in which the Church has done this already. In Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about “cheap grace” and the ways in which the Church uses forgiveness to white-wash society and exonerate those who are seated comfortably in positions of privilege, wealth and power (that means the likes of you and I). Of course when the Church does this she engages in exactly the opposite of the proclamation of Jesus. When one looks at who Jesus is talking to when he proclaims (and embodies) forgiveness one realises that it is those who are damned by society that are privileged with this message. Those who fit comfortably into the corrupt social system — those in the positions of social and religious power — are the ones Jesus talks to about judgment. To the “damned” Jesus says, “you are forgiven.” To the “saved” Jesus says, “you need to remember that you will be held accountable one day.” It seems that we've gotten this message backwards. To the “saved” we say, “hooray, we've made it into heaven.” To the “damned” we say, “Woe to you for judgment is coming.”

Yet it is the very proclamation of forgiveness that enables the “damned” to live transformed lives. Forgiveness is an agent of reconciliation and when people are reconciled they are enabled to live new lives. If we do not offer such people forgiveness we offer them no alternative to the life they are already living.

This is why forgiveness must be at the heart of Christian attempts to live peaceably. Recognising the reality of sin Christians are able to live honestly within reality and not settle for a peace that is premised upon lies and injustice. Thus the Church must be able to engage in confession with the world — being honest about herself — in order to create a space for others to be vulnerable. It is the existence of a forgiven and forgiving people that creates the hope for a real and lasting peace.

…there is revealed that reality which is the ultimate and only tolerable ground of any community of peace, the forgiveness of sins. There is a community of peace for Christians only because one will forgive the other his [sic] sins. The forgiveness of sins still remains the sole ground of all peace.
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords

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