Sunday, July 23, 2006

The grounds of forgiveness -

Can anyone give me a good answer to this question: On what grounds does God forgive sin?

I'm particularly curious as to how people were forgiven in the Old Testament, and before Christ's death. Evangelicals will often say that God only forgives us because of Christ's sacrifice. But then on what grounds is Christ able to teach his disciples "...if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you..."? Matt. 6:14.

One idea I've heard is that of forbearance - that God basically reserved judgment until Christ died, sort of so that Christ's sacrifice could be applied retroactively. Maybe, but this kind of strains the text of the Lord's prayer, and numerous places in the OT when it says that God forgives people their sins. (E.g. Psalm 130:3-4 "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.")


Travis and Michelle said...

Hey Kenny,

Travis and I are happy to hear that you are have found the joy that comes with marriage and that you married a girl from Nebraska! We hope we can meet her someday.


-Dave said...

I'm still a fan of forbearance, at least in the long run. If we allow that there could be a difference between Ultimate-Destiny Forgiveness and You-Didn't-Strike-Me-Down-Where-I-Stand Forgiveness, then passages like Ps 130:3-4 make sense. The author is allowed to rejoice in God's forgiveness, experienced even as a common grace (no more wiping the world out with a flood being a good example).

I believe the Levitical sacrifices provide a good support for this point: sacrifices that cover a limited ammount of time, repeated as a reminder of the cost of sin, giving more basis than God simply postponing judgement because he feels like it.

But that God will not respond in righteous anger towards the sin of the earth by wiping it out with a flood does not preclude him from responding in an eternal sense.

But to answer your question, the best response I can muster is that it's because he chooses to. Why should the cross be an acceptable sacrifice for my sin, except that God has said that it is?

Perhaps the answer might lie in a reciprocal question: on what grounds do you forgive someone who wrongs you? If your wife were to be unfaithful, would you forgive her? Why or why not? Gomer and Hosea provide a valuable look at what sin and forgiveness are for God.

Kenny said...

I guess forebearance is satisfying at the theoretical level. What bothers me about it is the way it shoehorns NT theology into words that don't seem meant for it. Like, if someone in the OT were comforted by Psalms of temporal forgiveness only to be told that eternal punishment still awaited them (aka 'God put down the lightning bolt, but He's stoking the fires of Hell'), that would seem to be not very comforting after all.

Also, from a theoretical perspective, how does Christ's statement 'if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Father will also forgive you,' fit in with the notion that forgiveness only takes place based on Christ's sacrifice. I suppose one could say that you can't qualify for Christ's blood without first forgiving those who've sinned against you, which is a part of true repentance.

What always bothers me about these attempts to harmonize different verses or bits of theology is that it forces us to give a piece of scripture an unnatural reading. If I'd been there when Jesus taught the Lord's prayer, I would probably go away thinking that in order for me to get my sins forgiven, all that was required was that I also forgive my debtors.

-Dave said...

Perhaps no lightning but still hell would not be comforting, except that what I think they found most comforting is not just "I'm forgiven" with a feeling of "I got away with it," but with a sense of "You're a pretty awesome God to be concerned with forgiving in the first place." The same character is behind both.

That God doesn't destroy the earth, smite every evildoer, and leave this a smoldering rock shows his nature to be one that isn't just sitting back waiting to hurt us where it really counte - Eternal Damnation.

On what grounds can God cast sins as far as the east is from the west? The sacrifice of Christ. Why does he do it? Love, I reckon, though that is far too small a word to use in so a grand context.

Does the "forgive us as we forgive others" clause imply causality (to get this, do this)? I think it shows more of an internal consistency: how can we ask for forgiveness if we are unwilling to forgive others? I think a better "forgive, or else" example would be the man who was forgiven an unpayable debt beating a man who owed very, very little.