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Jesus’ Forgiving Spirit

8 June 2007

As some of you know, qb and his fam damily disaffiliated ourselves from Hillside (formerly Paramount Terrace) Christian Church here in Amarillo about a month ago, which for qb also meant relinquishing his role as chairmyn of our beloved Bible class, known as “King’s Couples” (KC). From years long before qb and Jenn yoked up with KC, KC has been a powerful voice within the larger body for transracial outreach, transdenominational unity, service to “the least of these” (as well as, “especially to the household of faith”) and dogged defense of the nuclear family, marriages and children. In large measure, that heritage resulted from the humble and quiet (but bold and unapologetic), example-based leadership of a supremely pastorally-minded couple whom I will call “Steve” and “Melissa.” Steve had been our teacher until February of this year when he was precipitously and summarily dismissed from that post.

Steve’s dismissal, in my judgment, was a terrible injustice and was carried out in a ruthless, impersonal and degrading way, and it has reflected so poorly on our elders and our senior “pastor” (imagine a contemporary application of Ezekiel 34) that a significant percentage of KC has left the church. Anger and bitterness reign among many of us, but we remain devoted to one another even though we are now, physically, scattered across a number of other congregations in town or drifting aimlessly from one to the other. When Steve and Melissa were dismissed from any leadership or service roles in the church, I tried to hang in there as class chairmyn to shepherd the class through the mess. On the face of it, I failed in that task, and I resigned about a month ago when we pulled up our tentstakes and moved on.

All along, I have been trying to figure out what God is doing and get in step with it, hoping against hope that I could, through seeking God’s will, help all of us come to grips with what has happened, learn what God wants us to learn from it, and walk victoriously through it. I am no champion at that, but it has been an obsession with me because the KC family is scattered and disoriented. We need a context for understanding and for moving forward.

Over the last couple of weeks, it has become increasingly apparent to me that our focus has been diverted from Christ, where it belongs, to each other, our “issues” and our corporate sense of injustice. In the meantime, I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s _Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places_ – amazing work by a deeply thoughtful, pastorally minded scholar! – and have been struck afresh by the centrality of the Lord’s table to life in community. It has seemed to me that we must return to Jesus’ passion in order to recover that which has been lost, first through a reacquaintance with His body and blood and second through a reacquaintance with those seminal things He imparted to His disciples to equip them to carry on His work.

It is truly astonishing to observe the emptiness of self that so vividly characterized Christ during His final week. In the last several days, I have been impressed with Luke 23:34, which is familiar to all of us: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The “forgive them” part is the easy part to understand; this is Jesus, after all. But “they know not what they do” is a much harder pill to swallow. So much of what we observe as injustice appears, on its face, to be the result of bald, premeditated or self-conscious evil, calculated or at least recognized as such. When I sin, I walk into it wilfully and knowingly, knowing fully (if not actively hoping for, in some cases) the consequences of my words or deeds or choices. I *do* know what I am doing. And because I know what I’m doing, it is easy for me to conclude that others do, too. As a result, Jesus’ words in Luke 23:34 are flattened into what my mind thinks of as a pious-sounding, psychological delusion that helps me make excuses for others who sin against me. Jesus’ words sound like a ploy, a technique, a coping method designed to get me to overlook the plain truth of the matter so that I can forgive. In short, I lie to myself in order to gin up the gumption to forgive.

The inevitable result: my forgiveness is superficial; I know better. Those who sinned against me knew precisely what they were doing and what would result, and they did it anyway. Jesus’ words on the cross sound nice and all, but they don’t ring true. My forgiveness is therefore grounded in a self-delusion, and I cannot buy it in the core of my being.

What’s more, to teach Luke 23:34 from this perspective means essentially to distill Jesus’ teaching to a tidy, psychological principle: when your brother sins against you, try your hardest to think of him as unable to see what he is doing so that you can excuse his action as an unintended consequence of an innocent, well-meaning perspective. A moment’s reflection on that will, in turn, impress you with its superficiality, its transparent absurdity. In the strictest sense possible of the word, that principle is *incredible*; it cannot be taken seriously.

And so Jesus’ words on the cross in Luke 23:34 demand that I think more deeply about that whole mess. What is Jesus doing? Is He serious, or is He just playing psychological games with us to get us to feign forgiveness? Is this Jesus’ version of “fake it ’til ya feel it” spirituality, or is there something more?


One Comment leave one →
  1. Will permalink
    12 June 2007 12:25 am

    I must say, that is some sticky mess that got thrown at you. I have some words to say on this that I hope will help.

    First, your forgiveness is not based on what they do to you, but what the Father did for you. This is the first step toward understanding how to react in this situation. (Matthew 18:21 – 35) We forgive because we are forgiven.

    Second, Jesus said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” because they didn’t know what they were really doing. “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
    (1 Corinthians 2:7-8 ESV) Also, Jesus demonstrates His love for them (love keeps no record of wrongs suffered 1 Corinthians 13) by dieing for even these who’s sin would be unpardonable if He had not interceded (Romans 5:8).

    Third, “Let the dead bury the dead, you go preach the gospel.” (Luke 9:60) You want to focus on Jesus? Take up your cross and follow Him. Where did Jesus go? What did Jesus do? Where you see Him go, Go. What you see Him do, DO. Proclaim the gospel of what Jesus has done! Show them that there is forgiveness of sins. The church today focuses on self, you go focus on what Jesus gave His life for! You say you love Jesus? Do what He says. Forgive others as the Lord forgave you. Here is a shocker! Read this:
    And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
    (John 20:22-23 ESV)

    Don’t read it with the religious eyes of the self righteous, but read it for what it says. Live it.

    Peace to you in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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