Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How much can we forgive?

Questions from our Culture:  Week 5 Recap
The Science fiction series Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) spoke about many of the issues of faith that people in our time are wresting with.  It did this by taking elements of  different faiths and dividing them up between the different characters of the drama.  In no way do the religions of the show completely conform to an actual human belief system, but they do have ideas in common with contemporary and even historical faith communities.  The result is fascinating portrayal of a life in a universe with competing religious ideas. We are using this portrayal at Holy Cross to engage some of life's most important questions.  These are not only found on TV but in the Bible itself.  Even better, the Bible begins to lead us to some answers to these life changing questions. 

Are we done here?  

This week's scene shows Admiral William Adama having a painful confrontation with his son Lee.   Both have reached a point where they are no longer able to forgive one another.   They have reached their limits of  endurance to work through the big issues in their lives.   Lee had agreed out of principle to defend Gaius Baltar who had collaborated with the enemy.   During the trial the Admiral had to watch as his own son helped cross examine his best best friend.   The Admiral feels completely betrayed; his son is defensive because his own father questions his honesty and integrity.   They both also have a mountain of experiences with each other in the background.  Both can no longer trust the other, both resort to self protection, both cut the cords that bind them.  Lee submits his resignation of  his military commission to his father,  his father says he doesn't want him around anyway.   

The question that leaps out of the screen is:  how much can I forgive?  When we think about this question we can choose to focus on the big things such as, can we forgive a terrorist, mass murderer etc?   However as powerful these questions are,  it is often the little things that add up that are more likely to stretch our capacity to forgive.  It is also true that as in the clip, those who are most close to us are more likely to test our patience to forgive.  It is why children run away, marriages fail, and friends separate.  

The Danger of Self-Deception

I have found that the biggest misconception about forgiveness in our culture is the idea that it is for the person you are forgiving.  It really is not; forgiveness is primarily for the forgiver.  It frees the person extending forgiveness to be in relationship with others again.  So when we loose the strength to forgive we actually do more damage to ourselves rather than withhold something from those who have injured us. This is precisely why John's letter to the churches calls us to forgive, it is for our own health and well-being.   He writes:  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  (1 John 1:8 NRSV)

It is a sad truth that when become wounded and self protective it is easy for us to drift  into self deception.  Because we become so focused on the misdeeds of others, we forget to look in the mirror at our own misdeeds.   If left unchecked this can lead to contempt.   In the clip we saw that it was contempt that finally severed the relationship between the elder and younger Adamas.   Contempt of others is the most destructive force in all human relationships.  It is to resist the danger of contempt that John wants us to not only look in the mirror, but to do it with the bathroom lights on.  He recommends that, If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 John 1:9 NRSV) A major theme of the book of 1 John is that knowledge of sinfulness-should lead to empathy, which in turn leads to concrete acts of love for those in your community.  God has chosen not to hold you in contempt even though you may have grieved him.   God decided to forgive you through the cross, because despite it all, he wants to be in relationship with us and wants us to be the people we are created and called to be.  Therefore we can extend forgiveness to others because God has done so for us.

Trusting the One Who Can Forgive All 

The Bible is quite clear on the answer to the the question, how much can we forgive?  It answers saying:  God can forgive all, but humans not so much.  John writes again: he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  (1 John 2:2 NRSV).  As sinners ourselves, our own capacity to forgive will be limited, but God being God, has unlimited capacity to do whatever he sets his mind on.  The deeper and more personal answer that affects our daily lives is also very clear, we read:  if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7 NRSV) Simply put, our capacity to forgive is related to the strength of our relationship with Jesus.   

There will be some sins done to you that will be impossible for you to forgive without the aid of God's power.  No human can forgive all,  we will all reach our limits.  However there will be one day a time in your life when you will need to step up and forgive what you thought was once unforgivable.  This where we see that our discipleship practice matters, our worship, our prayer, our Bible reading, service, giving, and witness help strengthen our relationship with Christ Jesus and thus we are better able to forgive others.   It is the primary reason the Amish who forgave the man who shot up their children's school were able to do so.  Their life of Christian practice no matter how strange it seems to us, put them in touch with God who gives the strength to forgive the unthinkable.

Paul once wrote to the divided church of Ephesus: For (Christ)  is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  (Ephesians 2:14 NRSV).  Perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect of our faith and doctrine is how Christ can  bridge the divides that we so often place between ourselves.  Yet this aspect of Jesus' death and resurrection is crucial for us to participate in our own resurrection through him.   Who do we think we just might meet in heaven besides God?  So we live in trust and hope relying on God's power to get us through.  

Stay tuned for the final week: What happens when we die? 

Keep the Faith, 

Pastor Knecht 

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