I am open to your comments. Even if you want only to comment on the title of this post. I hope you’ll think with me, though, about something that is fundamental, basic, and at the ground of the Christian faith. It’s a long and hard word–forgiveness.
Two quotes are guiding my thought, two quotes and all the words behind and around them. One is from Jesus Christ when he was teaching about what life is like in the kingdom of heaven, scripture’s language for the realm where God controls things. The other is from Miroslav Volf, reflecting on the words and teachings of Jesus.
You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven… (from Matthew 5:43-45a)
Now, Miroslav Volf.
Because Christ died for all, we are called to forgive everyone who offends us, without distinctions and without conditions. That hard work of indiscriminate forgiveness is what those who’ve been made in the likeness of the forgiving God should do (from Free of Charge, pg. 180).
Christians love enemies. We don’t celebrate at their deaths. If anything, we mourn their deaths because we mourn the deaths of those we love. At the heart or the bottom or the ground or the starting point (whatever you choose) of Christianity is the person of Jesus who told his disciples to live in this way. He told us to forgive. Indeed, he told us that being part of his kingdom meant, among other things, the sustained and hilarious and long practice of forgiveness. There are other things which come from Jesus about his Father’s kingdom. There are doctrines that the Church throughout the centuries has developed in response to those teachings. Forgiveness is first.
It is first because the event of Jesus’s coming was an event embodying God’s decision to forgive. God forgave the world and all that was in it when Jesus came. And not only then but before then. The biblical story is a story that begins before the incarnation, the thick word signifying Jesus’s birth. Throughout history God has been pulling creation back to God. Throughout history God has been forgiving, practicing what life is like where God controls things.
God doesn’t celebrate our collective or our individual destruction. God does something else–forgives us, hopes for us, invites us, and works for us. As people of God, Christians should not celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death. Just as we should not have celebrated the deaths of the people he was responsible for murdering. We were horrified then. We mourned then. We complained then. We pressed our political and military leaders then. But we did not celebrate. The hard truth about Jesus and what he teaches is that there is no difference between the life of an enemy, like Osama bin Laden, and the life of the people we love. Indeed to Jesus we love the family member we lost to a murder and we love the murderer.
Tomorrow’s post is about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. And the post after that will be about what Christians should be celebrating, namely justice.