God’s Compassion and Steadfast Love
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old.
The Nature of Christian Freedom
Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
There has been a lot to say regarding suffering, but what about blessing? How does blessing look in the big picture?
Most blessing we receive, like suffering, touches us in unique ways on an individual level. Some receive wealth. Some are blessed with loving families. Others are blessed with honor and meaningful work. However one blessing we all receive is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a pretty common word, and although there may be a few variances in defining it, I think the basic idea communicates across our cultures fairly well. We tend to understand what it is, particularly when we see it or experience it ourselves. Our struggle tends to be knowing how often it is to be applied. Bear with me for a moment though. For the sake of seeing a bigger picture of forgiveness, let us define it as “faithful mercy”.
Forgiveness is mercy in that it is typically used to describe someone not getting what they deserve, but getting something better instead. It is injustice done for the benefit of the one who is guilty. Often, mercy is seen as something good. However, when certain people are convicted of especially distasteful crimes, we often see mercy as enabling evil people to do more evil and thwarting the cause of Justice. Mercy works against the victims of crimes, and there are times when we cannot abide that.
Forgiveness is also faithful in that, once something or someone is forgiven, it cannot be unforgiven. To go back into a state of unforgiveness after being forgiven means you were never really forgiven in the first place. It is why, in the United States, you cannot be punished for the same crime twice, nor can you be tried in the same court twice for the same accusation if you were deemed innocent. In other words, for true forgiveness to occur, there is no reconsidering. You can be found guilty of new crimes, to be sure, but you cannot be unforgiven. This concept, applied to all sins over all time, is where some bible scholars have concluded that you are either saved for eternity or not saved at all, because they do not believe God judges us on individual actions, but only our life as a whole. I’m not totally convinced of that myself. However, I do believe that if God forgives you for something, He will not unforgive that sin later on down the road.
There is probably no greater blessing that we receive that compares with God’s forgiveness, His faithful mercy, extended to us.1 However, there is something that might be even greater. Our taste of God’s forgiveness comes with an expectation. I’m being careful to avoid the concept of “price tag” because the concept of price implies that it would be possible to pay it. It is not. The issue is not that we cannot work to earn it. It is that the resource is not money or service, it is righteousness. Righteousness is a sinless obedience that our propensity to selfishness and rebellion against God disqualifies us from. Our broken past is like a bad credit record that makes it impossible to pay for God’s favor. Forgiveness wipes out past record clean and allows us, for the first time, to actually live righteously. We don’t pay for God’s favor. He is paying for ours. The expectation God has for us is that we will extend forgiveness to others, just as He has done for us.
The result of this is a world that is transformed by faithful mercy, which transforms all who are touched by it. I believe it is one way that we fulfill Jesus’s prediction that we perform even greater things than He did while He was here on earth.
If God has payed for you favor with the life of His Son Jesus, how are you extending that favor to Him?
- Forgiveness is comparable to the blessing of life and creation itself, because it allows for our life to extend forever instead of being ended by death.↩