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.
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.