Monday, January 12, 2009

Forgiveness and Luke 23:34

rotsaP leoJ has commented on my last post about Christian forgiveness.

I respond:


Thank you kindly for your thoughts. I did say this was an exercise in discernment. :-D Let me try to see if I can form an explanation that satisfies both of us.

1. The way I interp the Willis' intentions is that they withhold the consolation of forgiveness from the imprisoned Gov. in hopes that it will play a part in stimulating him to repentance.
I don't think that "do not feel capable of forgiving" is a fair way of describing their state of mind at all. That link branches off to several others, and I read them all, so that might help you understand them as well.

You said:
our forgiveness cannot be predicated upon the other fellow ceasing to sin.

-In most cases, I agree - see Point 1 of the post.
-In certain cases, I disagree, but I would restate it to say "predicated upon the other fellow more or less explicitly repenting of his sin", rather than "ceasing to sin" - the "70 times 7" thing would knock out the "ceasing to sin" part.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, the prayer goes; and we are forgiven - that is, the penalty of our sins is satisfied - long before we have the capacity to repent.

No argument there at all. But on the grand scheme, forgiveness of sin is ACQUIRED thru repentance and faith.

it violates the example both of Stephen and of Christ, forgiving those who obviously were not close to repenting.

It is true that their examples present a difficulty for my position. I'd say a few things in response.
1) Christ - Lk 23:34. That verse is actually a textual variant, interestingly, of at least questionable origin.
As for Stephen, I'd say that he was following Christ's example. Possibly, in fact, since the Acts psg is not in question wrt textual crit, perhaps it was copied back into Luke by some scribe a little later on. Or perhaps Christ did indeed say that or sthg like that from the Cross, but it wasn't in the autograph. (Both of those are proposed as possibilities in the NA27.)

2) The situation is that Christ is being nailed to the Cross. This is the ultimate and infinite injustice, that the sinless and holy Savior should be put to death by sinful men for hypocritical and untrue accusations, mostly just to get Him out of their way. God has responded in the past to such blasphemy and horrifying disobedience by the following actions:

-Causing flaming brimstone and fire to swallow up a few entire cities
-Killing everyone on Earth with a flood
-Causing the ground to swallow up Korah and 100s of others
-Sending a plague to destroy 1000s of others the day after Korah
-Sending burning serpents to kill 1000s of others on a different occasion
-Utterly wiping Israel (N Kingdom) and later Jerusalem off the face of the Earth
-Ditto with Tyre
-Ditto with Nineveh

etc. So I see a parallel there, between those great sins and the great destruction that followed. Jesus is interceding for humanity, to this effect: "Father, we both know that this is an infinite injustice; there is no question it's worthy of obliterating the entire planet with a wrathful explosion. Yet do not do that, I pray. Do not destroy, but let us be patient and save for ourselves a people for our own possession." Sthg like that, specifically related to the horrible act of crucifying God.

3) John MacArthur suggests (I seem to recall) that He is interceding for those who are participating, and who would eventually repent and believe.

4) 1 Cor 2:8 - the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Ignorance of the Law is no excuse, ultimately, but it does play a part in mitigating certain consequences.

2. presumably the Willises do not imaging they are delivering Gov. Ryan over to Satan.

Yes, but I'm not trying to apply the considerations from every "don't forgive absent repentance" scenario to all of them.

3. of course no-one can forgive offenses to other people, conditionally or otherwise. The condition of the person seems highly irrelevant.

Perhaps it is irrelevant, though I don't know about highly. I think I was relating the idea of withholding forgiveness to the idea of confronting the offender and asking them to repent. Obviously, if one forgives the offender unilaterally, no confrontation takes place. And of course, as you said, a 3rd party has no standing to forgive anyway.

4. I submit that such formal arrangements for the constitution of the church are not directly intended to govern individuals.

I'd be inclined to agree, so I could have made that a little more precise in terms of differentiating between how we treat fellow blvrs and how we treat unblvrs, it would appear.
If we direct the idea straight at intra-church relationships, however, I think this is still highly relevant b/c a grave offense against a fellow blvr will need to be dealt with for the good of the offender and the church itself.

Like the Willises, again: I see no reason to suppose that Gov. Ryan is legitimately a brother subject to the discipline of their church, so what on earth are they trying to prove by withholding forgiveness?

Yes, I agree, no ch discipline is possible here. But I think you are leaving out sthg I tried to emphasise. I should think this paragraph from the post answers:
And let us remember the distinction we made earlier about the freestanding commands not to remain angry, not to let bitterness take root in us. It is all about the attitude of the offended party in these cases – we don’t want the offense to remain, we want to forgive, but we postpone and withhold forgiveness b/c it bolsters the possibility of a better outcome in the future for the offender. This motivation is out of love as well, and this fits very well into God’s overall scheme for forgiveness of humans.

so are they just going to try to wait him out until Ryan becomes a Christian?

Keeping in mind the caveats I mentioned, this is kind of a crude way of putting it, sort of.
Ryan's repenting of ALL of his sin before Jesus' Cross is the best-case scenario. For him to at least say that he did wrong and apologises for THAT sin, I should think it would suffice for forgiveness to be extended, since that's the example of Scr. One hopes and prays for the former with a ready heart to forgive when true repentance is offered.

If sincerity is to be the test, no non-Christian can ever really repent

I should think this comment confuses sincerity with full realisation of the gravity of the offense.
They may not know how bad their action was, but they can know that it was bad and that they are sorry for it.

What about people who cut them off on the interstate?

Really, I think my post is sufficiently clear to be able to differentiate between the offense the Willis family suffered and being cut off in traffic. This strikes me as a bit of a cold comment from you, and that surprises me a bit.

Anyway, I hope that helps. As always, more discussion is welcome.


rotsaP loeJ said...

First off, I certainly didn't mean to insult you with that bit about the interstate at the end, so I am very sorry if that came over the wrong way. Nevertheless, I confess I am not really sure, based on my re-reading of your post, how you distinguish between the grave offenses and the traffic violations. Is it a question of the relationship between the parties, or what? The Bible appears not to speak very clearly on the matter - to my knowledge, at least - and I should be obliged if you would.

A clarification and two points:

a) when I said "do not feel capable of forgiving" I meant it in the broadest sense, which is to say morally capable. In other words, they don't feel they may properly forgive him. It was not intended as a slur upon their charity.

b) In re: ceasing to sin, I maintain that sincere repentence for wrongdoing really does require salvation. Of course one needn't be a Christian to feel guilt, or even to be emotionally undone by someone else's pain. The literature of perfect pagans is full of such piety. But you are talking about repentence, and it seems clear to me that this is the one thing which sinners, as such, are quite unable to do. After all, if sinners could repent, would not salvation be a rather easier affair?

(Of course they can repent; but then they cease to be ontological sinners. And their repentance presupposes and is directly caused by a prior act of grace - i.e. particular forgiveness... but I digress. What I want to say is, the concept of a repentant sinner who remains a sinner seems, frankly, a little flaccid to me.)

Tell me if you agree. I would say that the repentance of a murderer, or a coveter, or a thief before man cannot be separated from his repentance before God. If it is repentance in the first place, and not simple cowering or posturing, and he truly sees his deeds as evil (not merely inconvenient) and himself as justly blamed (not victimised or cutting a deal); in such a case I say the man with whom we have to do is unambiguously saved.

c) Aside from that point, there is a sort of textual mincing here which makes me a little uncomfortable; here is the kernel, in my view, of our disagreement (or perhaps confusion). I see very clearly in Scripture that forgiveness is to be withheld in a very rigidly defined context with precise guidelines: the offender must be among the brethren, the offender must have been approached on multiple occasions by multiple people, the elders must be consulted, and so on. There are numerous discussions about this in the New Testament, with the avowed intent of goading the recalcitrant believer to repentance. Thus far I am with you, and as it were second the motion.

What I do not understand, however, is on what grounds you apply these sorts of commandments to those outside the church, as in the case of Gov. Ryan. It strikes me as an inappropriate extrapolation, but doubtless you have your reasons and I should like to hear them.

So it seems we have two main tensions. First, I am not prepared to concede that a non-Christian can repent, at least not in any biblically meaningful sense of the word. Second, I do not follow your apparent jump between the intra- and extra- church communities.

Does these objections make sense? Please let me know if you feel I have muffed your position.

Rhology said...

Hello sir,

No, I certainly didn't think you meant to insult anyone. At most it was an unintentional insult to the Willis family; I thought your comment was unnecessarily harsh towards them. They lost 5 children! It's this guy's fault! Let's cut 'em a little slack here.

You said:
a) when I said "do not feel capable of forgiving" I meant it in the broadest sense, which is to say morally capable. In other words, they don't feel they may properly forgive him.

I would agree if we say it "they don't believe it is best to forgive him absent his repentance to his guilt in this act".

I'm not 100% sure how to distinguish between grave and non-grave offenses, to be honest. All I know is that the Bible does, but it doesn't give any hard and fast rules for doing so that I'm aware of.
-The Mosaic Law punishes some offenses by death and others by non-capital means.
-Jesus said "...he is guilty of a greater sin..."
-Jesus said " have neglected the weightier portions of the law..."
Etc. Agreed?

I maintain that sincere repentence for wrongdoing really does require salvation.

I agree that sincere repentance **before God** is part of salvation, yes.
Before men for certain things, I don't know if I can agree on that. Why do you say that?

if sinners could repent, would not salvation be a rather easier affair?

It's one thing to repent of all one's sin before God and another, I should think, to do so when confronted with one's sin.
Do you think that all unbelieving men who cheat on their wives, are caught, and then spend the next 4 years (say) in intensive counseling remain unrepentant of their adultery?

Of course they can repent; but then they cease to be ontological sinners.

Not if God doesn't forgive them, and God only forgives when one repents BEFORE GOD and asks for His forgiveness in faith. N'est-ce pas?

There are numerous discussions about this in the New Testament, with the avowed intent of goading the recalcitrant believer to repentance.

Kind of. 1 Cor 5 ends with Paul handing over the unrepentant sinner to Satan "... that his soul might be saved". The whole point of ch discipline is to treat the unrepentant offender "like a pagan or a tax collector", b/c he has proven by his behavior and stubborn unrepentance that he doesn't really care for Jesus at all! So if and when he comes back, it's like he's actually getting saved this time around, as opposed to last time when he was faking. Does that make sense?

What I do not understand, however, is on what grounds you apply these sorts of commandments to those outside the church, as in the case of Gov. Ryan.

I can understand your recalcitrance.

1) Did Peter forgive Simon Magus, or did he retain his sins, as it were?
2) One of the things I was trying to deal with mentally before I presented this was the question: Shall we be more forgiving than God? So, maybe you could help make progress towards that - are we indeed to be more forgiving than God?
3) Keeping in mind all the caveats, including the one whereby we remember that this is geared for their best, if they are confronted, they may repent, what is the problem with this?

rotsaP loeJ said...

Does the Bible distinguish between offenses in the manner you suggest? You are certainly right to say the Mosaic law code has different punishments for different crimes, but that is the structure of a civil theocracy, and I do not see why it must represent the divine table of values. I mean, on a practical level, God wanted to keep at least a couple of dozen Hebrews around, and if his law code punished everything with stoning the covenant people wouldn't last long. On the other hand, when he gets round to talking about sin as such, he declares in so many words that its penalty is death, and (pace Mr Alighieri) draws no observable distinction between Seneca and Caiaphas.

On the other hand, Jesus does employ the phrase 'greater sin', so perhaps you are right after all. (Incidentally, I have never quite understood what he means to say to Pilate there - is it that Pilate's authority makes him less culpable for the crucifixion, or that Judas' lack of official status as a minister of secular justice increases his?)

But "weightier portions of the law" is a question of letter vs. spirit (the pharisees were using technicalities in order to justify being jerks), and doesn't really obtain - it's a matter of interpreting the Law, and I have already raised the question as to how applicable the Mosaic code is to the present question.

This is not something on which I feel comfortable being very positive. But I'll give you one for three - this matter of ranking sins is made more difficult by the fact that Jesus isn't really interested in it; his great point is that 'unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and pharisees you are not fit to inherit the kingdom of heaven.'

But okay, supposing there are sins that are more grave in the sight of God. I do not exactly see how that would affect the present discussion. The Biblical examples that touch on our forgiveness and the various intricacies of Church harmony say nothing of the gravity of the offence. It is always "if you remember that your brother has something against you", and the something is resolutely left to our imagination - my view is that the "something" may be anything at all, so long as it creates relational tension.

On a related point, an excommunicated person must be a Christian. I don't agree that the excommunicant can have been faking.

The whole point is that the disciplined person is a brother who will be now treated like a stranger. If the leadership of the church consider that he wasn't a brother in the first place; if he is simply a pagan, they certainly will not separate him off - they'll invite him to Bible studies. Indeed, excommunication can only reasonably apply to Christians (or those whom we credibly believe to be Christians; obviously we may be wrong) - or else, as Paul said, we would have to go out of the world.

And this, I say, is because non-Christians are not capable of real repentance outside of God's transformative work, so threatening them with excommunication (your idea about withholding forgiveness seems indistinguishable from this to me. Is there a distinction you're making, or would you simply say the one is a more formal version of the other?) makes as much sense as threatening them with violence.

I'll try to explain a little more clearly why I think this, and then you can tell me if it makes any sense. We might split the question; first there is the point about repentance in salvation, and whether it be pre- or post-. Second is the contrast between repenting to God and repenting to man. Second point first.

I concede readily enough that there is a distinction of audience - I may pray and repent of a thing to God without ever actually getting around to repenting to the person whom I have offended. Although this would raise questions about the sincerity of my repentance before God; at any rate we may speak of separate acts of repentance. My point is that they are inextricably connected.

Repentance is a necessarily selfless and virtuous action. If I repent, I take full and personal responsibility for my infraction, and I don't leave myself any excuse. Further, I must acknowledge the objective basis of my sin, which is why the common "I'm sorry if you were offended" is a shallow imitation of an apology: repentance entails an actual moral wrong in a universe where such things are as tangible as bricks.

Now of course everyone knows the moral universe in which we live. But to repent is to admit not only that such a scale exists, but that in it you have been weighed and found wanting. And the status of a sinner is such that he suppresses this knowledge with all his power, for otherwise how could he live with himself? When he ceases to suppress it he becomes a Christian; by which I mean that he admits that God is God and he is not. This conscious concession is a necessary precondition to virtue, and it is precisely the thing which sinners are not capable of making.

Now, as I tried to point out earlier, just because sinners are not virtuous does not mean they have no feelings. A man who cheats on his wife and is not completely hardened may perfectly well feel horrible about it, and he may do any number of things to make it up to her. But repentance, like love, is not simply a matter of experiencing particular emotions or performing certain actions. And so, in your example, I would say that an unregenerate man may spend his entire life in therapy, or buying flowers for his wife, or tap-dancing for all the difference it will make: we will know he has stopped making excuses to himself and really repented when he acknowledges the real order of the universe and becomes a Christian.

Now, you may disagree with my definition of repentance. If you've another to suggest I'm certainly open to discussing it. Like the fellow said, I have no command from the Lord; this is just how things make sense to me.

The other facet of the repentance question concerns salvation; and in a sense we're both right, just addressing different aspects. That is, there is no such thing as a person who actually repents before God who is not saved. Everyone who repents does so only, as it were, under duress, like in that poem by Donne. A sinner becomes a saint only if and when God decides to make him one; although the proximate, and maybe even the efficient cause of his conversion is his own repentance, the final cause is God's grace that forced him to do so. So... yes he has to repent first, but he couldn't repent unless God had already decided to forgive him. Not sure if that helps us in terms of the present issue...

As to your three questions at the end:
1. I do not know what you mean. I do not think that Peter was in a position to forgive Simon in Acts 8, properly speaking, because Simon didn't do anything to Peter. Peter rebuked him for his sin, but told him to repent to God, and Simon responded by asking Peter to pray that God would forgive him. I don't see the connection. Could you make it a little clearer?

2. I would say yes, certainly, and of course. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; but our part is to forgive. Our forgiveness is inspired and encouraged by the infallible sword of God's sacred justice.

3. The problem, in short, would be that it seems unbiblical. From my perspective, you are taking a highly specialised procedure intended for the Church and making it normative. I don't think we should go round baptising unbelievers, and I don't think we should excommunicate them either.

Rhology said...