Forgiveness: The Shocking Surprise Gift


You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:6-8

“Just forgive everyone and move on.” We toss around the word forgiveness so often that it’s been largely emptied of its meaning. It’s come to suggest roughly the same as “just blow it off and keep going.” It’s not really anything very important, just one more step or technique in our self-help, do-it-yourself culture.

But our pop-theology of cheap forgiveness shouldn’t shape the way we understand the forgiveness of God. There’s nothing cheap about it. It’s the most profound and costly commodity on the theological market. It was made available to human beings only after the most remarkable and expensive transactions in human history were accomplished.

God provided a way of overcoming the most deadly disease in the universe. It’s called sin, one of the least liked words in the English language. We find it so offensive to our modern tastes that we use almost any other word in our conversation (and our preaching) to take its place.

But the reality is there all the same. Sin is the thing that can keep us from entering the kingdom of God. It has the power to condemn us and it eats away at everything good in the world. It spoils life on every level and its affects can be seen every night on the evening news. Our culture uses other words to describe its various manifestations: greed, lust, violence, arrogance, megalomania, hatred, betrayal, deceit, malice, ruthlessness, and much more. These evils are the visible, tangible fruit of the most basic evil, the prideful turning away from the will and purpose of God.

For the curse of sin to be removed from us required a Herculean act of God, the willing absorption of its consequences into the Son of God. Jesus took our place in the judgment of it, just like any good and loving parent would, if necessary, choose to be the lightning rod for their child’s pain or suffering. This happened on the cross.

So God’s forgiveness is a costly and profound gift. For us human beings, it’s given voluntarily from one person and eagerly received and desired by another. It can’t be just an incidental, quick-fix move to avoid profound changes or transformations on the part of the forgiven. No one can enter the kingdom of God without it. And no genuine reconciliation between people can occur without it. We all know when it’s real and when it’s not.

In a nutshell, forgiveness is the shocking surprise gift that God as judge grants to anyone who truly wants it, and all the credit for it (even wanting it) goes to him and none to us. Such amazing grace is most amazing to those who have the most to be forgiven.

John I. Snyder
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