Forgiveness! A key concept in Christian theology, an important term in the New Testament, a powerful element in mental health, a healing reality in our lives and relationships, forgiveness is also puzzling and mysterious. Because we use the word so easily and frequently yet spend so little time exploring or understanding the terms, let’s give it a closer look.
One problem is the Bible! No, it’s not that the Bible has it wrong; the problem is in our choice of Bible passages to remember. One of them has a long history in Lutheran liturgy: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9) Others include, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5) and “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
In those verses and a number of others, confession and forgiveness stand side-by-side. From that simple fact has grown the understanding that confession is a requirement a necessary condition, a prerequisite if forgiveness is to occur. But is that true? Is that the way forgiveness works? Or are those verses rather words of encouragement, reassuring us that “the Lord is merciful and gracious…,” and that we are to approach God not as felons before an angry judge but as children coming to a loving father? Is it possible that our view of confession and forgiveness serves not so much to accomplish forgiveness as to restrict it and leave us in control? Think about it … and we’ll say more next time.
We are in the season of Lent – a season with a long tradition in the church. The name comes from the “lengthening” of the days as we move into spring and toward Easter. Because Easter is a “movable” festival, based on a combination of the arrival of spring and the date of the full moon, Lent can begin in February or March, and Easter can fall in late March or in April. Lent was originally a time of meditation and instruction, then moved to a season of focus on Christ’s Passion, and within the past century has gradually become again a season of meditation and instruction.