“Being Forgiven”

We have entered into one of the most sacred seasons of the Christian year: the Lenten season. During this season those of us who consider ourselves to be the Disciples of Christ Jesus focus our attention on the journey of Jesus to Calvary to seek to find new meaning in that event for our lives.

Among other things, the cross is symbolic of the forgiveness of God for our sins. That reality is capture in that moment when Jesus, while impelled on the cross, raises His voice and pleads to God on our behalf, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34)   By all indications, Jesus is imploring God to forgive us for the wrongs we have done.  But suppose these words of Jesus are not really a plea to God on our behalf; suppose these words are more a revelation about God and His forgiveness.

As I have come to understand it, forgiveness is not something we earn or merit; it is not something we are awarded because our conduct deserves it or merits some special recognition.  Instead, forgiveness is an expression of the unconditional love of God.  It is an act of God’s amazing grace; it is an expression of God’s eternal and never-failing mercy; it is the free gift of God offered and extended to us whether we ask for it or not.  Isn’t that how grace is understood: the unmerited favor of God that reflects the unconditional love of God for us?  Unconditional love is exactly what it claims to be:  love that has neither conditions nor requirements; neither stipulations nor qualifications; neither limits nor boundaries.  Forgiveness is not ours because we are sinners who find ourselves in need of forgiveness and ask for; forgiveness is ours simply because it is what the unconditional love of God does.  That is what John captured in what some have described as the Gospel in one sentence: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)  I understand these words to mean that God does not send His only son into the world so that He can make His forgiveness possible for us ; God forgives us and sends His only son into the world to make that forgiveness known to us.

There is however, one thing of which we must be aware.  This is a free gift.  Like any other gift the value and benefits of that gift cannot be experienced and enjoyed unless it is received and accepted by the one for whom it is intended.   As life changing as unconditional love may be, its life changing power cannot be forced on anyone.  So the question is not if God forgive us; the question is are we willing to receive the gift of forgiveness that God has already made available?  I am of the opinion that when Jesus seemingly makes that plea for forgiveness from the cross, it is not so much a plea; rather it is a declaration of the availability of God’s forgiveness. That is what lies behind Richard Rohr’s definition of forgiveness. He says forgiven is “Fore-given meaning being given beforehand-before you earned it, were worthy of it, or maybe even asked for it.” It is the gift of God.



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