Monday, November 30, 2015

Forgiving by the Forgiven

That's a very real truth stated in today's graphic illustration.  Let's get right to a verse.

Luke 6:37   Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

Many jump to the first two parts of that verse, most often as a way to excuse their lifestyle, to avoid accountability. That kind of works in their minds because there's no context.  

Like everything else in the Bible, this verse says much more because there is a context.  Sometimes context is based on other verses on the same subject.  Other times, the context comes from surrounding verses.  We'll look at a few highlights of the passage this is in.

Luke 6:31  And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

Luke 6:36  Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Those two verses are the heart of this section of Scripture.  We all have desires as to how we want to be treated, both by men and God.  And we know, from our own attitudes, that it's just not going to happen without a nudge and help from above.  Our flesh is incapable of that kind of forgiveness.  It still lives in "an eye for an eye" thinking.  What does Jesus say about that?

Luke 6:35  But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

Love your enemies and God does the same, being "kind unto the unthankful and to the evil".  That phrase points to the problem and the solution at the same time.  Think back to the book of Genesis and the garden of Eden   Adam and Eve had a perfect environment and they were perfect.  But, having free will, they allowed themselves to be deceived and make wrong decisions.  They and we have been paying for that ever since.  Perfection was transformed by their actions into imperfection.

That transformation made doing unto others as we'd like to be treated an unnatural thought pattern. It meant an effort for us to be merciful.  And our own thinking brings in the scary part of that.  As is so often attributed to Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.".  Think about that one.

Instead of seeing ourselves, despite our flesh, as having qualities and kinship to God, our flesh sees God as being like our flesh.  Look at the gods of the Greeks and Romans.  All with human faults and weaknesses.  And man has continually tried to convince himself he's evolving or learning himself into something better.  All the while having his fleshly decline right in front of him.  So, consciously or unconsciously thinking of God as being exactly the same, is it any wonder that man wants to deny there's a God?

Man's expectation leans in the direction that God, like us, has to have a built in vindictive streak. Add to that the thought that there has to be an expectation of us avoiding that vindictiveness only through our own performance.  As we already pointed out, no matter what we say is true, the evidence is that we can't perform at that level.  Which leaves only two possibilities.  We either recognize being doomed or we deny there's a God so we can avoid thinking about our real fate.

The fact is that our own misunderstanding of God leads to our denial of Him.  Because it feels safer.  It's not.  If we've gotten a clearer picture of God, we realize this passage shows Jesus telling us to be more God-like.  When the Gospel of John talks about God being love, it eliminates the idea of God wanting to squash us sinners like bugs.  But it also doesn't eliminate consequences for our own decisions.  If we steal from someone, we can expect direct or indirect consequences.  We might get caught and go to jail or we might deny God as part of the thinking that led to the robbery. That will get us into Hell.

God's love gives us a better option.  Verse 37 speaks of judgment and condemnation being wrong for us for several reasons.
  1. We have a capacity to discern, but we have no right to judge nor to pass eternal sentence.
  2. God has both the right and the capacity to make those judgements.
  3. Part of the reason for God's right is His love and forgiveness.  God, knowing there would be an issue, already created a solution.  We're already forgiven.  We just need to accept that forgiveness as our own.
Once all of that is clear and we live in that reality, this passage becomes possible.  The Bible speaks of repentance, change to Godly thinking and action, as being a necessity.  Our remorse and repentance aren't things we do to gain salvation.  They're signs we've truly accepted our gift and allow God to work in us.  And that's when this passage becomes our reality.

The forgiveness from us in verse 37 isn't the reason we gain forgiveness.  It's a sign we've already appropriated our own forgiveness and realize what a huge gift that is.  And we can become merciful through God's mercy toward us.  (verse 36) When verse 31 says to treat others as we want to be treated, it's once again being like God.  He created us to be in fellowship with Him.  He wants to be loved in holiness, so He loves us in holiness.

When we read verse 35, loving our enemies is something God is and does.  He loves us.  So, we're called to be like Him in that.  Just as we're supposed to be like He is in being "kind to the unthankful and to the evil.".  Which brings us to a final point.

We want to make Hell into something a just, loving, and merciful God wouldn't allow.  We do that to either deny God's nature or deny Him completely.  And to ignore our own shortcomings.  We do that by latching onto the descriptions of hellfire, darkness, and torment as if God wants a totally dark version of an eternal solitary confinement that's also a torture chamber.  But think with me on this.

God created a solution to our problem before we had the problem.  And He gave us free will so we could choose, whether correctly or not.  Think back to losing a loved one who passed away or to an emotional breakup.  There's a great deal of emotional pain.  And that pain can even express itself in physical torment.  That's mediated by God's presence in the world.  

The nature of Hell is the absence of God.  I believe that's the ultimate reality of Hell.  The flames and torment aren't necessarily physically real.  But, upon going to the Judgement Seat, then Hell, there's the experience of God no longer being present, the realization that the eternal end could have been different,plus emotional and physical torment from that.  In a sense, God isn't punishing people by sending them to Hell.  He's giving them what they want -- separation from God.  Only, after getting what they want, those in Hell realize they shouldn't have wanted it.  And the torment begins, unmitigated by Him, because they no longer have His presence.

Today, right now, we have choices.  If you've already accepted Christ's loving sacrifice, can you really sit by while others unknowingly lose out on that gift?  And, if you haven't started a relationship with our loving, merciful God, do you really want an eternity without grace, mercy, love, and of course Him?

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