What type of justice does God ask of us? Under what circumstances is forgiveness possible? The Christ Church 2017 Lenten reflections are built upon Marjorie J. Thompson, Forgiveness: A Lenten Study. In a rather chicken/egg dilemma, in Chapter 6, Thompson examines the relationship between reconciliation and forgiveness. At the same time, she places this dilemma into the American cultural context steeped heavily in a Western European sense of Justice, which tends to be more punitive than redemptive. Consider a triangle in which the three corners are entitled Redemption, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation with all three corners touching the outside circle of God’s Grace and Love. Humanity exists within the core of that triangle, not always able to connect with the circle of God’s love because of confusion around those corner points.
In many instances, the punitive aspects of our cultural fabric get in the way of real redemption. Threads of the punitive nature woven into our cultural fabric emerge in Old Testament verses like, “an eye for an eye”. What role does the forgiveness angle play in our reconciliations with others with whom we have shared disagreements, hurts, or actual injuries? The parables of Jesus speak often of repentance and forgiveness. Can we forgive ourselves or others without evidence of some sort of repentance? Does punishment play a role in this diagram at all? Does punishment lead to repentance? The need to enact some form of punishment to lead a wrong-doer to repentance has been a basic cornerstone of our American Criminal Justice system? But does God demand repentance? In several of the parables, Jesus’ admonition to “Go and sin no more” infers that the sinner has acknowledged a wrongful action. The version of the Lord’s Prayer we recite at Christ Church asks God to “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. Do we really mean those words as we recite them? Whose forgiveness is being sought here, ours or God’s?
These are difficult questions. Part of our Lenten goal is to be reconciled in our relationship with God. Does that first require us to be reconciled with those who live and work around us? Let us set aside some time during our Lenten journey this year to ponder each of these questions anew.
Friends and members of our Christ Church family have prepared these daily reflections as a means for you to consider how forgiveness informs your faith walk during this holy season. They are a richly diverse group from many different geographies around our nation and globe, formed by a wide variety of traditions.