Reimaging Forgiveness: Finding A Way into the Easter Story

I have started this book (Forgivness: An Alternative Account by Matthew Ichihashi Potts) as part of my Holy Week reading.

In the introduction Potts makes the proposition- “If forgiveness is real, then it’s a problem.”

He goes on to say,
“Forgiveness as it is typically understood definitionally defies our ethical vocabulary and destabilizes our moral foundations… Forgiveness resists rationalization.

To wonder about the problematic possibility of forgiveness at all is to presume some limits to our moral language, some gaps in our moral models… I suggest that any “real” forgivness will and must challenge the assumptions and test the boundaries of our moral instincts themsleves… What forgivness actually reveals when it strains our moral sense is not its own unreality or impossibility but the hidden limitations of our moral reasoning.”

These words from this mere introduction has already been unsettling me in a big way. It’s tabled all sorts of questions in my mind. Like, if love of God and love of other cannot be separated or treated as two seperate ideas, what about God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others?

At the root of the words scandalous nature is the idea that it is “offered without any condition at all.” Take this away and word becomes meaningless. I do wonder though. In our efforts to systematize the idea of forgiveness in scripture as part of a necessary process of salvation, I wonder if we have inadvertently reduced the word to a mere function of God’s doing while also limiting it to a truncated form (as in, God can only forgive if He is first satisfied by something).

On the same level, I wonder if reducing and truncating the word in such ways necessarily muddles what it means and what it looks like for us to freely forgive as God forgives. How can we forgive others freely if we perceive Gods forgivness, as it is in much of western theology, to be attached to certain prerequisites, be it moral behavior or imputed righteouness?

I have no idea yet where Potts is headed with his treaties, but his initial words about forgiveness, which reframe it in light of our limitations in moral reasoning, might require us to reimagine one of the central facets of the Christain faith- the saving work of Jesus in the death and resurrection- beyond the limiting capacity of our systematics and within the land of the living.

What if, rather than making forgiveness of one’s sins the point of the Gospel, we make the work of Jesus in establishing the kingdom of God the point of the Gospel. What would it look like then to see forgiveness not as the saving act but as the outflow of this kingdom way? What if rather than tying forgiveness to theories of satisfaction we instead see it as something freely given SO THAT we might then experience the liberating work of Jesus in our lives and in this world? What if, rather than tying it to theologies of satisfaction we instead tied it to participationist theology, rightly freeing the work of God in Jesus from the whole grace versus works Protestant hang up altogether?

Just some thoughts.

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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