search this site

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Get the eNews

* indicates required
Email Format
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    find ben simpson on facebook
    twitter updates

    Entries in Forgiveness (5)


    The Ascension and the Defeat of Shame

    One of the central ideas within Christianity is that of forgiveness. Christians proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and exhort disciples of Jesus to “forgive as they have been forgiven.” But it is not uncommon to encounter those within a congregation who cannot embrace the forgiveness that has been offered to them, or experience guilt because of their inability to forgive those who have wronged them.

    This is most often so because of the belief that our forgiveness is contingent upon our acceptance of forgiveness, or that an offer of forgiveness hinges on our ability to forgive.

    I am not denying that our acceptance of forgiveness lacks importance, nor that forgiveness is a responsibility and command that Christians should obey. But I am arguing that forgiveness received and granted are acts of faith given in response to the action of God accomplished in and through Jesus Christ. In forgiveness, the emphasis should first be upon what God has done. What we do then naturally follows.

    When we do not forgive as we ought, or when we fall prey to the belief that we are not worthy of forgiveness, we do well to consider Jesus. We consider his action upon the cross, where sin and death was put to death. We think of his great love for us, but also for all of humanity. We consider what he has done, and then find the grace we need to act.

    But we also do well to consider the ascension. On the third day, God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. Our redemption was accomplished on Good Friday and established on Easter Sunday. And even now Jesus reigns.

    In The Face of Forgiveness, Philip D. Jamieson writes:

    The resurrected face of Jesus reveals the finality of God’s victory over sin and death. The empty tomb reveals that there is no return to the downturned face. The Father has lifted Christ’s face and we are now called to look to him. He is no mere example of a good man. He is the living Lord who has overcome all things that would harm us. His is the face that would not look away, even on Friday, and now we know on Sunday that we never will stop looking.

    A verse:

    Our guilt and shame no longer rule,
    We need not look away.
    His face of grace beholds us.
    Emboldened by atoning love, his truth it now enfolds us.
    Dying, rising, reigning now,
    It is Thee, Thou art the way.


    It's Hard to Check Yourself

    This morning I awoke, brewed coffee, cooked eggs, and sat down to read, pray, and journal.

    I often use The Divine Hours to give structure to my time of prayer, to further saturate my mind with the words of Scripture, and to use well-worn words as I pay attention to God.

    This week, there is an appointed prayer which reads:

    Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know my necessities before I ask and my ignorance in asking: Have compassion on my weakness, and mercifully forgive me those things which for my unworthiness I dare not, and for my blindness I cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    Those things we need, God knows before we ask. Yet we sometimes fail to present our needs before God either because of pride or ignorance. Knowing ourselves well enough to discern how and why we do not trust God fully is rooted in an evasive impulse that is hard to pin down, though I am quite certain it has something to do with the human condition.

    Prayers like the one above help us humbly acknowledge that we do not always name or know our needs, yet God provides. In prayer we are wise to confess that because of sin we do not always bring our requests to God as we should, and because of our finitude we do not always share with God our deepest needs. The words unworthiness and ignorance, employed so well above, capture this perfectly. We are human.

    Thankfully, that is not held against us, for it is through the worthiness of Jesus Christ that we receive mercy and forgiveness of sin. Our unworthiness and ignorance are overcome by the one who alone is worthy to receive honor, glory, and praise, the one who came to reveal the wisdom of God. We are redeemed through Christ's cross and resurrection.

    When we do not succeed in checking ourselves, God is merciful. God extends mercy in sending the Holy Spirit, who inwardly convicts us of sin and brings to our awareness ways we are called to walk in holiness. While we are held accountable before God as individuals, we have been gathered collectively to the people of God, who exhort us to live as disciples of Jesus and encourage us to live a life of faithfulness. God calls us into a community to refine us. Not only is God merciful when we do not perceive our own shortcomings, God engages us personally and invites us into community to equip us with a deeper knowledge of ourselves. We are then sent forth to serve Jesus in light of that knowledge, loving God and loving neighbor.

    God's mercy is inexhaustible. God is "compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love." Remember your finitude, rest in God, and rejoice in the good news that Christ died for you knowing those things about you which you do not even know about yourself, supplying for your every need, and equipping you for meaningful service.


    Home Is Where Jesus Is

    Elizabeth Vargas and ABC News "20/20" recently reported on the journey of a group of Iraqi Christian refugees, fleeing ISIS and being received ultimately by the people of Slovakia. Along the way, they are helped by the people of Mar Elia in Erbil. The entire report is worth watching.  

    It is a moving human interest story, but is also a really good investigation of religion. Vargas repeatedly alludes to the biblical narratives in her reporting, suggesting that the Christian communities represented are witnesses to the gospel as communities, not simply as individuals. Hospitality is a major theme. So is suffering. When leaving Iraq, Vargas refers to the movement as an exodus, and when the refugees wait to board their plane, it is called an ark.

    Vargas tells us of Christians in the city of Erbil who are part of a small church community named Mar Elia, receiving brothers and sisters from neighboring Qaraqosh. Qaraqosh was once home to one of the largest population of Christians in Iraq, but has been overrun by ISIS forces. Churches have been desecrated and relics have been destroyed. Communities have been displaced.

    In the report, we meet the priest serving the people of Mar Elia. His name is Douglas Bazi. Under Bazi's leadership, Mar Elia established a refugee center, and has extended hospitality to those fleeing persecution and violence. Bazi, once a victim of persecution himself, comes across as a man filled with joy and love. Once the refugees arrive safely in Slovakia and Bazi prepares to leave, he was embraced and the people wept. I was reminded of Acts 20:36-38.

    I watched the entire report, which you can view here. The headline that drew me in, however, was an excerpt from the sixth or seventh segment, showing a conversation between Vargas and a young Iraqi Christian named Myriam. Here is a quotation from the "20/20" report:

    A young Iraqi Christian girl, whose family has been living in a refugee camp after fleeing ISIS threats, says she forgives the terrorist group and shared her hope for the future.

    “Yes I forgive them,” Myriam told ABC News “20/20” co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas, adding that “as Jesus said ‘forgive each other, love each other the way I love you,’ that is what we need to learn. Forgiveness.”

    Myriam is 10 years old.

    Myriam understands the gospel, and its implications for life.

    In Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." I am also reminded of Isaiah 11, and what our world is like for those who receive the shoot who has come up from the stump of Jesse.

    May we learn forgiveness.


    Echoing God's Forgiveness

    All our forgiving is inescapably incomplete. That's why it's so crucial to see our forgiving not simply as our own act, but as participation in God's forgiving. Our forgiving is faulty; God's is faultless. Our forgiving is provisional; God's is final. We forgive tenuously and tentatively; God forgives unhesitatingly and definitively. As we forgive, we always wrong the offender by inadequate judgment and pride; God forgives with justice and genuine love. The only way we dare forgive is by making our forgiving transparent to God's and always open to revision. After all, our forgiveness is only possible as an echo of God's.

    - Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace

    I often tell my students that forgiveness is a radical action, and is central to Christian identity.

    It is all the more radical if it is understood as a response to and extension of God's forgiveness of us in and through Jesus Christ.

    Christ calls us to forgive all people, friends and enemies, for faults large and small. Forgiveness is not always easy. I have enemies, some that do not even know they are my enemies. I also have friends, some who do not know ways they have hurt me. I forgive. And in my forgiving, I acknowledge the incompleteness of my own action, as seen in the grudges I continue to carry, the bitterness that lessens yet remains, and the mixed motivations both known and unknown that plague even my best efforts to release the one who has offended me.

    There are limits to our own efforts to forgive. But in our forgiving, we echo a greater forgiveness extended to us in Christ, who died for us, while we were yet his enemies, to reconcile us to himself.


    The Knowledge of Forgiveness

    But if there is anything in the whole of religion that we should most certainly know, we ought most closely to grasp by what reason, with what law, under what condition, with what ease or difficulty, forgiveness of sins may be obtained! Unless this knowledge remains clear and sure, the conscience can have no rest at all, no peace with God, no assurance or security; but it continually trembles, wavers, tosses, is tormented and vexed, shakes, hates, and flees the sight of God.

    - John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: Volume 1, Book III.IV.2

    I have been reading Calvin for a few years.

    I have been reading Calvin quite slowly.

    In the passage surrounding the quotation above, Calvin raises a dispute with the Scholastics concerning their teachings about penance, classically understood as confession of sin and the receiving of absolution, most often pronounced by a priest. Calvin's frames his opponent's teaching this way: the Scholastics teach that "compunction of heart, confession of mouth, and satisfaction of works" are required to secure forgiveness of sin. Calvin, understandably, takes issue.

    For Calvin, forgiveness of sins is a matter of crucial importance. He calls this "the most serious matter of all." The quotation above presents what is, for Calvin, the primary question standing before religion: first, if the forgiveness of sins is possible, and second, if it is indeed possible, how it can be obtained.

    I gravitated toward the two sentences above for a couple of reasons. First, Calvin urges us to grasp "by what reason, with what law, under what condition, with what ease or difficultly, forgiveness of sins may be obtained!" While a Christian, well-immersed in the narrative of Scripture, might answer "Jesus" and do so concisely and correctly, Calvin suggests that the roots of forgiveness of sins run quite deep, tracing back to matters concerning a grand telos, or purpose, a moral universe possessing a grand, moral law, a human problem in need of a solution, and a call for a standard of judgment by which we might measure whether or not this salvation has been granted easily, or has come about as a result of some magnificent feat.

    There is a cosmic question.

    Second, Calvin says that unless knowledge of these matters is "clear and sure," there is no rest, peace, assurance, or security for any person, including the Christian believer.

    There is also a personal question.

    I do think Calvin is right, insofar as the Christian religion has something important and unique to say concerning the forgiveness of sins, and that keeping this knowledge clear and sure is part and parcel of gospel proclamation. One cannot announce the good news of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus apart from proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. For Calvin, the forgiveness of sins is secured by Christ's work and granted by God's grace. Mercy is extended to us, not acheived by us. Forgiveness, then, is a gift received by faith.

    But I think we are wise to note that establishing that reality deep into our hearts requires a hearty narrative, one that includes God's grand design, his purposes in creation, redemption, and the consumation of history. We must also consider how Christ fulfills the law, and then works by the Holy Spirit to restore and repair the human condition by the power of grace.

    This includes bringing to our remembrance that the salvation accomplished in Jesus not only includes his physical suffering, pain, and death, but also a spiritual victory that assures human beings of deliverance from hell in both the temporal and eternal realms. The assurance of this victory is seen in Jesus' resurrection. Because he has been raised, we have hope.

    The knowledge of forgiveness one possesses can be as shallow as a roadside puddle, or as deep as the furthest ocean floor. The deeper it runs, the more peace, the more rest, the more assurance, and the more security we will come to possess in Christ.