Friday, June 03, 2005

Does Forgiveness Exist Objectively?

I came across this quote, discussing Jesus' amazing willingness to forgive his executioners, as I was reviewing my materials for VBS. I won't name which company/publishing house the quote is from, but needless to say, it wasn't Lutheran. What do you think of it?

"How could he think of forgiveness for them in a time like this? 'For they
know not what they do?' A person's continued and deliberate ignorance does
not make that person's sin excusable, nor does forgiveness come without
repentance; so Jesus' prayer did not assure the result requested.
Nevertheless, Jesus showed His loving, forgiving spirit, and he became an
example for all to follow (Act 7:60)."

The reason I'm interested in this quote is the phrase, Jesus' prayer did not assure the result requested. Now I certainly agree with the statement preceding, that continued and deliberate ignorance doesn't make a person's sin excusable; and I also would affirm that one does not receive forgiveness without repentance. But what can it mean that "Jesus' prayer did not assure the result requested?" The author apparently meant that those people weren't actually forgiven by the Father, because they did not repent. So even though Jesus willed for the sins of His tormenters to be forgiven ("His loving, forgiving spirit"), the Father had to deny His request, because they never repented. Of course, this could be questioned on at least one account, as the Roman Centurion apparently came to believe that "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matt. 27:54). But what about those who did not repent? Did not Jesus truly forgive them? Or was it only a wish? He was paying for those sins in those last hours of His death.

So we have two alternatives as I see it: 1) Even though they had not repented of their wicked actions, and therefore did not receive forgiveness, Jesus nonetheless had objectively forgiven them, and that forgiveness was available to them. Or, 2) Since they did not repent, Jesus did not truly acquire God's forgiveness for them by His prayer. If the latter is the case, then apparently Jesus' forgiveness was(or is) a non-reality until they activated it by their repentance. In other words, their repentance brought about their forgiveness, not Jesus' love and mercy toward them (which was apparently ineffective without their repentance). Furthermore, this raises a difficulty with the action of Jesus and the Father's will, which are always directed to the same thing (John 6:38). And how does this translate to our lives as Christians, if this is the "example for all to follow"? Does it mean that despite our 'loving, forgiving spirit,' we haven't actually forgiven our enemies unless they repent? In what sense is Jesus' or our forgiveness actually sincere, if we are still holding back guilt against them? No, I believe forgiveness must be objective, even if the person does not benefit from that forgiveness because they have not repented and do not have faith in Christ to receive it. Otherwise, forgiveness is just the empty attitude or kindly disposition described in the quote, yet without the "result" of being held guiltless.

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