Forgiveness Is Not Enough

Forgiveness is not enough. If sin is as destructive as the New Testament claims, if it’s a condition of the will as well as a quality of the act, if it attempts the absurd, destroys the self, and produces death (see the posts of January 06, 16, and 23), divine forgiveness is only the beginning of salvation. In forgiving sin, God deals with the insulting aspects of sin not by becoming angry and taking revenge but by renewing his standing offer of reconciliation and fellowship. God, so to speak, absorbs, ignores, and neutralizes the insult to his dignity. But what about the damage sin does to others and ourselves? Sinful acts cause damage that sometimes continues long after the act. A person who steals your possessions or injures your body or harms your child sets in motion a cascade of ill effects in the world that may cause damage far beyond the their original intention or control. Such sinful acts affect others at every level, physical, social, psychological, and spiritual.

Suppose for example that someone lies about you so effectively that you lose your job, are abandoned by your closest friends, and your marriage is on the brink of divorce. You determine that you will not allow your enemy’s hatred to evoke hatred in your heart and provoke you to take revenge. Suppose further that your enemy comes to realize his sin, repents, confesses his wrong to you, asks for forgiveness, and seeks reconciliation. You respond by assuring your former enemy that you will not seek revenge and harbor no hatred. Does repentance and forgiveness heal the damage sin has caused? No, not fully. Even the best efforts of the repentant person to replace property and mend relationships cannot restore things to their original state. Repentance and forgiveness cannot replace a lost limb or bring the dead back to life or restore trust to a betrayed heart. It cannot undo past suffering or erase traumatic memories. Our willingness to forgive does not cause us (or others) to forget. We don’t have complete control over our psychological nature any more than we have complete control over our physical nature. Damage to the psyche can be as lasting as damage to the body. We cannot change the past or stop the cascade of cause and effect flowing from past sin.

Human repentance and forgiveness is not enough. Nor is divine forgiveness enough; it is only the beginning of salvation. In last week’s essay on divine forgiveness I asserted this:

“the work of Jesus Christ was not designed to change an offended and revenging God into a loving and forgiving God. Jesus’ suffering is not the cause of divine forgiveness. No. Jesus Christ is the visible, temporal enactment of divine forgiveness, of God’s eternal selfless love for us.”

In the same way, I do not think it is correct to think of the work of Jesus Christ as making it possible for God to heal the world of the destructive effects of sin. Jesus Christ is the enactment of this divine healing. God always has been the creator, the giver of life, the healer of our diseases, and the Lord who “works all things for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). God has determined from all eternity that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Jesus enacted divine forgiveness by willingly enduring the fullness of sin’s insult and injury, without retaliation. What could be worse than annihilating humanity and blaspheming God? Healing impossible and forgiveness unthinkable! From a human point of view, the result of the sin done to Jesus was totally irreversible, completely hopeless. No human regret, repentance, or attempted restoration could change the deed that was done. In the suffering of the cross we see divine forgiveness happening before our eyes and, in the resurrection of Jesus, we see sin’s damage healed and turned to God’s service and glory.

Jesus’ resurrection was not merely the healing of his private wounds and the restoration of his personal life. The New Testament gospel understands Jesus’ resurrection as the beginning of a new humanity, the first fruits of the resurrection of all the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20), and the liberation of creation from its “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). In Ephesians, chapter one, Paul speaks of the mystery of God’s eternal plan “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (1:10). The history of Jesus Christ from his birth to his suffering, death, and resurrection sums up the history of all creation from beginning to end. God’s hidden work in creation, providence, forgiveness and redemption becomes visible and concentrated in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we can see how all the damage, destruction, and death caused by sin, from the beginning to the end of time, will be and has been healed. Christianity reads history backwards, from the future revealed in the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ to the act of creation and the course of providence. Every divine act in creation and providence finds itself fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus Christ is, was, and always will be the life-giving, forgiving, and healing God with us and for us.

Next week: we’ve seen how God forgives insult sin directs at God and heals the damage cause by sin, but how can we be saved from the condition of sin, which the New Testament describes as corruption, sickness, slavery, powerlessness, blindness, and death?

 

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22 thoughts on “Forgiveness Is Not Enough

  1. mmccay1982

    “In Jesus, we can see how all the damage, destruction, and death caused by sin, from the beginning to the end of time, will be and has been healed. Christianity reads history backwards, from the future revealed in the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ to the act of creation and the course of providence.” -Highfield

    I find this summary statement interesting in as much as the article began with the earthly consequences of sin, and the damage and destruction it can bring even in the presence of forgiveness. I agree that Christianity looks forward to the revealed future, and interprets the past and present in light of Christ saving the world, and the hope of the promise of life eternal with God. I further agree that the “death caused by sin” has been healed in the past and present by Christ’s sacrificial salvation of the world.

    Given my experience in this world however, I find dissonance in the idea that the present worldly “damage” and “destruction” resulting from sin “has been healed.” I thought this idea was well stated in the opening paragraph. I believe we have a present and indescribably beautiful healing of the “death caused by sin” and a hope of a future where the damage and destruction will be fully healed as well. There is however sin that is so heinous that I believe that there is no way to consider the damage that results to “have been healed” in this present world. Extreme cruelty towards children, sometimes even to the point of cold-blooded murder, can be found in every nation on this planet. There is a realization of some part of that healing of the damage of sin that only happens on the other side of eternity. The present healing of this damage is not fulfilled, even in the solid hope and trust of future healing.

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  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    Thanks Matt. Perhaps I ought to say that by “have been healed” I mean that in Jesus Christ God has already done healed this human being; and since Jesus is representative of all humanity, his healing is efficacious for all (Romans 5). And we are invited to be united with him “in his death” that we might live in hope that we will be united with him in his resurrection (Romans 8). I was using the language of realized eschatology, examples of which I think we can find in the New Testament: because Jesus has won the decisive battle, the outcome of the war is certain. Hence sometimes the NT speaks as if the war is over.

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  3. Douglas Throop

    The title may have been more aptly named: Forgiveness is only the beginning. The essay does an excellent job delineating what is qualitatively different about humanity following the resurrection. It also goes some ways in answering the question what was Jesus anyway? He was according to the essay a glorified man, purified from all the infirmities sin wreaks upon our human existence.

    On a separate note, I thought of the example of Father Zosima in the Bros. K. in his homilie on Job, asks if he (Job) will ever be able to replace his old children and family? The answer is of course, I tell you he can and that the pain will pass away into silent joy.

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  4. ifaqtheology Post author

    Perhaps you are correct about the title. I considered a title close to this. I try to find a title that both accurately states the subject of the essay and attracts readers to open it and take a look.

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  5. Sara Hope

    “Christianity reads history backwards, from the future revealed in the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ to the act of creation and the course of providence.” Love it!

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  6. nokareon

    Perhaps another source of the enactment of divine healing is in Jesus’ life and ministry in addition to His work of the Resurrection. As Luke emphasizes, Jesus came to heal the brokenness of the world, both spiritually and physically. But how can Jesus’ ministry be an enacting of the healing of the world when He has ascended out of the world? The world still seems almost as broken and sick as when He was here.

    But *we* are the continuation of the healing work that was enacted and inaugurated by Jesus’ earthly ministry. Through the Spirit, we model ourselves after His ministry of healing. This makes imperative the Christ-Follower’s task to be an agent of healing in the world and abiding in the Spirit. It is She who joins our feeble efforts to the healing ministry of Christ. Together with the Resurrection, which foreshadows and inaugurates the healing of the world, it is the Church who makes the healing process present and tangible today.

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  7. Christopher Chong

    I am not saying I should trust my feelings as Scheleirmacher stated Christianity is based on feelings, but I feel healed and restored already just by reading this article.

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  8. Lauren S

    “Even the best efforts of the repentant person to replace property and mend relationships cannot restore things to their original state. Repentance and forgiveness cannot replace a lost limb or bring the dead back to life or restore trust to a betrayed heart.”

    So often I think we like to think we can be self-sufficient, or that with enough work we will be able to overcome all of our circumstances, but it is refreshing to know that this is a task we cannot achieve on our own, and even more refreshing to know that Christ has loved us so much to achieve it on our behalf.

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  9. Katrina

    This reminded me of many of our conversations in my Acts class with Dr DeLong, wherein we discussed how salvation is understood to be the life of the believer, not merely the moment of confession. Thank you for this!

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      Dr DeLong is on to something. Salvation is not simply a moment of acceptance. It is a new reality that becomes our whole existence. I used to think of salvation merely as salvation from punishment, or to put it another way, as salvation from God. I lost sight of the true nature of salvation: God is the savior. The word “sin” is the NT name for the comprehensive human condition that encloses us within ourselves and blocks our fellowship with our Creator.

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  10. Sammantha Lund

    The thought that even divine forgiveness isn’t “enough” but just the beginning to salvation really resonated with me. Loved this read.

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      Consider Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies. Forgiving our enemies is an act of spiritual power, and it is beautiful. But doesn’t that act of grace aim at the conversion and reconciliation of the enemy? If the enemy is converted she or he can also share in the joy of love and harmony! An enemy becomes a friend. The bitter-sweet joy of loving those who cannot or will not love us back is transformed into the pure joy of mutual love! To say that God’s forgiveness is not enough or is just the beginning is not to diminish its wonder or the depth of divine love from whence it came. It’s just to say that God is not satisfied with loving us; God wants us to know the joy of loving Him in return.

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  11. Matt Stinson

    The concept of salvation as an entrance into a “new humanity” really appeals to me. I’m grateful for God’s continuous giving of life.

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  12. McKayla Rosen

    Love this clarification: “…I do not think it is correct to think of the work of Jesus Christ as making it possible for God to heal the world of the destructive effects of sin. Jesus Christ is the enactment of this divine healing.”

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  13. Joel Foster

    Dr. Highfield,
    Thank you for a very insightful reading. Too often we get caught up in “being the better man” and focus on our own forgiveness that we dish out. But I feel, and often find, that we love to get oceans of grace and forgiveness, but when needing to give forgiveness, we often give tiny eye droppers, and assume that its enough on our part. We often try and grow better not bitter, but in our self proclamation, we only grow harder in heart.

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