“In the same way, I tell you there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes his heart and life, than over ninety-nine good people who don’t need to change.” – Luke 15:7
My previous post was about my then upcoming French speaking exam. Fortunately, that’s now been and gone.
The structure of the exam was simple. We watched a video, came up with a 3-4 minute presentation about one of the themes in the video, and then had 6-7 minutes of questions about our presentation, the video and general questions. So the first thing I had to do was to figure out a theme.
The video was an interview with a French Catholic priest about his work and his latest book. Part of his work involved juvenile delinquents, and a topic he mentioned in his book was paedophilia within the Catholic Church. This gave me a perfect opportunity to talk about something I know about: sin and forgiveness.
It often seems, whenever someone is badly wronged, that the victim wants justice. This is all well and good; justice is a concept based on moral right and we should attempt to uphold it. But all too often, what people mean by ‘justice’ seems to be a lengthy prison sentence, for the perpetrator of the crime to be incarcerated and never have a chance of reconciliation.
Unfortunately, this looks to go against what the Bible tells us about sin and forgiveness. In Romans 12:19, it says “My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger.”. This tells us pretty explicitly that it’s not our right to punish people – it’s God’s role, God whose anger is infinitely more powerful than our own.
So what do we do instead of punishing people?
Matthew 6:14-15 gives us the answer: we should forgive.
We should forgive others, and we can receive forgiveness ourselves. We have to be careful what we mean by forgiveness. It does not mean that the crime/immorality is OK. We are not just wiping all traces of it from the face of the earth. Instead, the sinner, in asking for forgiveness, must repent. We can then rebuild a relationship with them, and effectively allow them a fresh start. Remember that almost anything (with the exception of one – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, mentioned in Matthew 12:32 and Mark 3:29, but that’s a story for another time) can be forgiven. So what does this mean for us? It means we can forgive almost anything.
Romans 3:23 is pretty clear about sin. “Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard”. Does this not make our perceived notion of ‘justice’ just a little bit hypocritical? If we seek and indeed demand justice for others, we should surely be doing so for ourselves as well.
God’s anger is immense, but so is His love for us. This is why Jesus died for us – so that we could receive forgiveness and restore our relationship with God. It was explained to me once like this: our relationship with God is like holding His hand. Any sort of sin separates us from God, and as such we are no longer holding His hand. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ‘small’ sin, or if it’s a ‘larger’ one – we are still separated from God and so still need to rebuild that relationship, and go back to holding God’s hand. And God’s hand is always reaching out towards us, we just need to turn back to God, ask for forgiveness, and we can hold it again.