God forgives. God is a forgiving God. Forgiving is what God does because forgiving is who God is. The two – identity (what we might call character or nature) – identity and action are inseparable in God. Who God is is what God does and what God does is who God is.
And God is a forgiving God . . . hence God forgives. Simple as that.
The problem – the issue, if you will, is our understanding (or our lack of understanding) and even more, our acceptance (or lack of acceptance) of this reality.
Perhaps we would do well to begin with asking what, exactly, is forgiveness?
There is no single answer in scripture. Forgiveness is variously understood as . . .
1. Healing – as in Jesus’ healing of the paralytic in Mark 2.8-12, where Jesus proclaims him forgiven and the man immediately begins to walk. –and–
2. A life-changing slate wiped clean as in Acts 5.29-32, when Peter preaches Christ to the High Council, “God set [Jesus] on high at his side, Prince and Savior, to give Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven.” –and–
3. Restoration to right relationship with God, as in Matthew’s recounting of the last supper, “During the meal, Jesus took and blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples: Take, eat. This is my body. Taking the cup and thanking God, he gave it to them: Drink this, all of you. This is my blood, God’s new covenant poured out for many people for the forgiveness of sins.” –and–
4. Life itself, as in Romans 5.20-21, where Paul proclaims, “All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.”
Forgiveness, then, is a healing . . . a life-changing slate wiped clean . . . a second chance . . . and a third . . . and, and, and . . . a restoration to right relationship with God . . . and life itself.
The best word, I think, to define what God means by forgiveness, is grace – God’s gift to human beings of relationship to God in the absence of any earthly, human reason to do so.
Because God is forgiving, we are forgiven.
God’s forgiving is not consequence free. Scripture is rife with examples of those who were forgiven but who nevertheless experienced the consequences of their actions. What they did not experience – the ultimate consequence – was loss of relationship with God.
As Isaiah says (Isaiah 55.6-7), God’s forgiveness is a lavish thing. It is also a costly thing. The twist, if you will, is that the cost of forgiving is borne by God’s own self in the person of Jesus the Christ, who, in his life and in his dying, took on the sins of the world for the benefit of all humanity. Remember, it wasn’t from the cross, but from the wilderness where John baptized all comers that he saw his cousin Jesus walking towards him and shouted, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1.29).Because God is a forgiving God . . . because in Christ, that forgiving divine nature beheld you and proclaimed you good . . . because God forgives, what you are in Christ . . . is forgiven (Colossians 2.11-15).
The challenge, perhaps, is accepting this enormous thing, this gift, this grace, this reality.
Week in and week out at church, we gather, we chat, we catch up with our neighbors, we settle in, we sing, we laugh, we weep, we pray, we listen, and we experience ourselves forgiven anew. Every week our forgiveness in Christ is proclaimed.
Why do you suppose we have to do it every week? Is it because we’re such bad people that we have to catch God up on what we’ve been up to this week? Perhaps.
But maybe, just maybe, we hear our forgiveness proclaimed every week because we’re a forgetting people, who need reminding again and again and yet again that we are a forgiven people and just what that means.
Does it mean we get to declare a relieved ‘whew’ – avoided-hell-again boy-was-that-a-close-one exclamation of relief – good for another week? Maybe. I doubt it, but maybe.
But perhaps it is so much more than that. Maybe we do this proclaiming of forgiveness every week so that we can recall with greater ease the great love God has for each and all of us . . . the sheer delight God has in each and all of us. . . the divine image God sees every second of every minute of every day in each and in all of us . . . in you and you and you and in me.
Because God forgives . . . you are forgiven . . . know this . . . and rejoice.