When our children were little and had done something wrong we taught them to ask for forgiveness. We also taught the person who had been hurt to say, “I forgive you.” or “You’re forgiven.” We gave the option because every now and then the “victim” was not quite as willing to forgive as we hoped yet we wanted to affirm that forgiveness from a Higher Authority was always available.
I have grown up a lot during the last twenty-two years of parenthood. Some of the lessons I taught my children needed to be revised and some completely thrown out. Others however, like the lesson above on forgiveness, have held true. In fact, what I once only saw dimly has become more clear with each test of my heart.
My prayer, in teaching my children about forgiveness from a Higher Authority, was first to give them a perspective of justice through eyes of love. Reading A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren has challenged me to think of the Bible in a new way. Rather than as a constitution full of laws McLaren suggests we read the Bible like we might visit the library. In this single volume we find poetry, prose, history, drama, fantasy, and biographies. Together they paint a picture of a creation loved by its Creator.
At the core of God’s love for His creation are two factors–freedom and forgiveness. God loved His creation so much He gave it freedom. Who has not heard the saying, “If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you it is yours forever. If it doesn’t it never was.” Such is the gift of freedom to mankind. Our choice is simple–God’s way or our own. Running a parallel course to His gift of freedom is God’s forgiveness. The Bible carefully explains that while we were still sinners (living based on our own ways) He extended His forgiveness. In other words, we did not ask for it, earn it, or deserve it but He still gave it.
Like most parents I have also tried to teach my children the correlation between actions and consequences. Our best behavior generally has the best consequences and our worst behavior, well if we are wise we will learn from the results. Without the umbrella of love however, the lessons of actions and consequences are harsh. Ultimately they judge and condemn the individual. In order to avoid their brutality we learn to hide, to make excuses, to blame, and to seek retribution.
A recent Facebook conversation got me thinking a lot about all those “bad guys” most of us would say deserve punishment–people like Hitler, Dalmer, and the neighbor who just poisoned your Pekingese. Their “evil” started somewhere. Their freedom was compromised (something was inflicted on them) or forgiveness was never extended for a poor choice they made. They lived with the consuming guilt or shame. And it taught them to hate instead of to love.
Hitler’s hate which resulted in the extermination of millions of Jews and Gypsies and Christians and…began somewhere. A single offense left unchecked, unseen, or excused away. Along a route that ended with Hitler committing suicide, if we look, we would probably find all kinds of judgment and a variety of consequences. What I think we might not find is much evidence of love.
Currently we live with God’s willingness to give us the freedom to choose love. I wonder if His ultimate judgment is also our freedom not to.