One of the more persistent criticisms I have heard of traditional atonement theology is that we are asked to do something God does not do. Namely, we are asked to forgive in grace but God, who forgives only after the punishment of sin in Christ, does not simply forgive in grace. I contend the idea misunderstands atonement and how we forgive.
We do not have the resources to forgive. “The only way we can forgive is by letting God renarrate our lives in the context of the metanarrative of Jesus, who forgave his enemies and even died for them” (110).
My own way of saying this: We simply extend the forgiveness we have experienced; we don’t forgive by choice (simply) but by absorbing the Story of Jesus as the Story that Forgives. So, in effect, we only can forgive because God has taken care of sin, extended grace to us, and we then extend that grace of forgiveness.
What is your church doing about forgiveness as a discipline in the church itself? Are you a forgiving and reconciling community?
James Bryan Smith’s newest book addresses corporate, or “church spiritual disciplines”: The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love (The Apprentice Series). His 5th characteristic is forgiveness and reconciliation.
This chp begins with a beautiful story of a young man who was abused, who attempted suicide, and who found God’s healing graces, and who uses the image of emerging from a caterpillar to a butterfly. The story is powerful and worth your time to get a copy to read this story.
The core of the possibility of healing and learning to forgive is to embrace the Story of Forgiveness. Smith believes we are not to forgive in order to feel better but to learn to live out the Story of Forgiveness.
Jesus calls us to extend the forgiveness we have received (Matt 18:23-35) but we do not earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others.
Two caveats from Smith about forgiveness: we need to keep appropriate boundaries. Keep private things private. He has good illustrations of each.