About ten days ago a concept regarding forgiveness struck me—or, I should probably say, was given to me, and I began to put it into practice. It made such a profound impact on my wife that she kept swearing that I was up to some mischief! She said that I was “a totally different person” and that I must have “turned over a new leaf.”
I had been reading a book of excerpts by George MacDonald wherein he made at least several references to something that he ultimately (in my mind) referred to as ‘a foul doctrine of blood atonement’. (That is not a direct quote because I can’t seem to find it to provide at the moment, but nothing less would have made such an impact on me. Here is an analogous statement from page 183 of the book Knowing the Heart of God:
“Very different is the good news Jesus brings us from certain prevalent representations of the gospel, founded on the pagan notion that suffering is an offset for sin. This mistaken gospel—indeed, no Gospel at all—culminates in the nonsensical assertion that the suffering of an innocent man, just because he is innocent—perfect—is a satisfaction to the holy Father for the evil deeds of his children.”
His statements so shocked me because everything else of his that I had read was a series of strong, beautiful theological expositions. But I could not get around such a statement. It was the bold antithesis of all I understood about the nature of divine forgiveness.
So, giving the benefit of the doubt, I prayed, “Lord, before I finish reading this book, let me understand what this man is trying to explain.” I had yet to read only a few pages further until understanding came—but not in the form of explicit statement—rather in the form of MacDonald’s allegorical explanation of the nature of the Kingdom of heaven, linked, in my mind, to MacDonald’s continuous and unrelenting echo of James (the half-brother of Jesus) that obedience is the very essence of faith—that obedience is the action of faith; that faith is defined by obedience.
On pages 176-179 of the same book quoted above, an excerpt from MacDonald’s book The Curate’s Awakening is given that portrays one character’s vision of how Heaven’s economy works. Without providing the whole vision here, the lesson drawn is that Heaven itself operates on the principle of service or servitude; each person finding his or her greatest joy in acts of service to one another—and, in turn, accepting acts of service from one another. The story contrasted this nature of the
All of a sudden I realized that, just in the same way that obedience is the action of faith; thus so is service—or servitude—the action of forgiveness; forgiveness is defined by service.
Contrary to what we so often think, forgiveness is not merely doffing our mental hats to someone who has wronged us. It isn’t even doing thusly and then trying to act like we’re OK with the events that have transpired, all the while trying to suppress the anger that wells up within our hearts.
Forgiveness requires action. Service is the defining action of forgiveness. Forgiveness without servitude is dead!
I now believe that, for God, forgiveness meant coming to earth in the person of Jesus and treating us—serving us—as if we were still members of the
The practical application of such a concept is obvious: when someone wrongs us and we see them as requiring our forgiveness, we, to truly forgive, must turn around and become their servant—just as God did for us in the person of Jesus.
For me, this means that instead of angrily doffing my mental hat and cleaning up a mess that my wife leaves behind, I ought to leave it alone and go and serve her by taking my “precious” time and doing something as “worthless” with it as watching a “ghastly” Reality TV show with her. It’s crazy, it’s insane, but it works! I guarantee you that after a few rounds of such treatment upon your spouse, they will swear that you’re up to something! They may even think you’re a new person, even though you really don’t think you’ve changed at all!
I have yet to run this whole notion by any bona fide theologians, so I may be proclaiming great heresy here, but it’s incredibly hard to argue with such practical results!
Red flags of potential heresy pop up in my mind because this concept offers such a simple answer to questions such as, “If blood is required for the remission of sins as stated in Hebrews and as modeled in the old covenant sanctuary services, who requires blood—God the Father or Satan?—Or perhaps some deep, unspoken law written at the foundation of the universe?” (In my mind, the latter option is just a cover for God the Father.) Of course, there are serious problems with either response. Yet if servitude is the defining action of forgiveness, then we see that the Godhead simply chose to forgive us; the Father did not angrily demand blood, nor did God owe anything whatsoever to Satan. God simply chose to take the action of forgiveness by becoming servant unto us—treating undeserving humanity as if we were still members of the
Other questions such as, “Why was innocent blood required?” And, “Why was divine blood required?” are also answered by the simple fact that God was the One whom we sinned against, therefore He was the one who must forgive us if forgiveness was to be given.
OK, but what about the whole substitution concept? Again, I would assert that the wrong introduced into the universe by our sin was taken upon the Lamb when He became our servant. As the earthly servant bears the brunt of his master’s hardship, so the Heavenly Servant bore the brunt of the wrong we introduced into the universe by becoming servant unto us. Think of the sin of stealing and how the one who was stolen from, if he should choose to forgive, bears the brunt of the sin—in this case, the loss of money or goods.
Perhaps I am oversimplifying… yet the concept that forgiveness is defined by service seems Biblical. Didn’t Jesus teach the paradoxical greatness of servitude to His disciples at the last supper and in other explicit statements during His ministry?
(How have I missed this concept my entire life? There are many fragmentary hints of it throughout the Bible and in the writing of many great authors such as MacDonald. Surely this idea must be laid out explicitly somewhere in the annals of Christian literature.)
Well…regardless of heresy or oversimplification, this concept has been a great blessing to me not only because it seems to shatter much of what has always been the “black box of forgiveness” in my mind, but also because of it’s profound practical impact so readily realized in my day-to-day interactions with others. I hope and pray that if the concept is new to you as well that it will bless you as much as it has blessed me!