There’s a missing piece to grace and forgiveness, a missing link if you will, kind of like Bigfoot. It’s a piece of the puzzle I don’t fully understand myself, so you’ll find no brilliant revelations, no solved riddles here. The best I can do is point out that I keep having this visual of a jigsaw puzzle laid out on a table, but it is imperfect, unfinished, because there are some pieces in the middle missing.
I know the answer to this riddle in some kind of spiritual, ethereal way, but I just cannot put my finger on it, I cannot make it tangible and material. I can however, assure you that there is a piece missing from our puzzle. That missing puzzle piece answers the question, “what is the difference between a Christian and a doormat?”
All in good humor here, but I know perfectly well how to go about being a doormat. Being an endless giver in a world full of takers. Forgiving 70 times 70 and smiling all the way through. And then having to do it all over again, forgive the same darn thing that happened again, because some people are slow learners and have to chump you more than once. Oh I get it, let me tell ya. I spent a couple of winters with no windshield wipers, no side window, and no heater, because someone had vandalized my car. I’ve spent weeks riding the bus, walking, because someone slashed my tires and I couldn’t afford new ones. Those are the more amusing irritations.
We Christians who like our Jesus jukes and our soft grace sometimes seem to forget that forgiveness comes with a steep price, that it literally means to absorb the cost on behalf of another. Somebody else paid the bill. Somebody else experienced the suffering brought about by your actions.
Absolutely we should forgive because forgiveness sets us free. As you forgive so shall your Father forgive you. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And on a spiritual level, an individual level, there are no “ands” after that. There are no “buts.” That’s it, we forgive, even our enemies.
But, “and” is true on a cultural level, on a corporate level, it doesn’t end there! Or at least it shouldn’t end there. There is an “and.” There is a “but!” When it comes to being a petty crime victim for example, I just can’t afford to keep absorbing the cost. At some point, you, the trespasser, are going to need to change your behavior. There needs to be some kind of restoration. You might even have to pay some compensation. Make some amends. Regardless, this kind of a doormat relationship is simply unsustainable.
I sometimes have to tell myself, uh no, they already have as Savior who died for them. He isn’t you.
Romans in the Bible makes some of these distinctions for us, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” And then later the same idea, What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!”
The grace and mercy of Jesus calls us to repentance. He absorbed the cost, so we respond to His generosity, to His kindness. He forgives and forgets too, at least in the sense of putting sin as far as the East is from the West.
BUT, BUT, forgiveness is not just like a giant magic eraser and everyone is all happy again. I mean there is usually a big mess, some of which can never be repaired, So clean up your mess, at least as much as it is possible!
Corporately, culturally, as a larger community, we actually become the sinners when we turn the other cheek to evil, to wrong doing. Forgiveness in this context simply becomes avoidance, a lack of love, and self absorbtion. I’m really disappointed that some of the people I hold dear have not grasped this point, have written long posts I shall simply call refusing to try to understand.
The Catholic church had this huge child sexual abuse tragedy and the SBC is now dealing with confrontations of their own failures to address child sexual abuse. A corrupt system that protects itself, and assorted forms of classism, racism, are still realities in our world. These are the tragedies that come about from this kind of weaponized forgiveness, this perversion of grace where we people demand, support, or encourage forgiveness from the least of these, not as a reflection of the grace and goodness of Christ so much as a way of making sure the problem goes away so our own accountability and need to take action never has to come to light.