Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Selling Jesus: 10 Reasons why I will not be seeing "Son of God"

First "The Passion of the Christ".  Then The History Channel's "Bible" series. Now this happened.

You'd think a movie telling the life story of Jesus Christ would actually make someone like me happy that Jesus is getting some more PR in Hollywood, right?  Dead wrong.

I have vowed not watch this movie just as I have with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (*a collective gasp is heard from the evangelical community* "Did he really not see it? How is that possible? I thought he was Christian?")  Here are my reasons.

1)It's biblically inaccurate. Just from the trailer I saw Jesus saying and doing things he just flat out never said or did in the Bible. Since when did Jesus invite Peter to "change the world" with Him? Since when was the paralytic man healed outside of someone's home and not dropped through a roof by his 4 friends? When did Jesus tell a huge crowd of people that their hunger for righteousness would be fulfilled through Him? If the two and a half minutes of trailer I saw was already packed with many inaccuracies, I am dreadfully afraid of what the entire movie will be like.

2)Jesus' Character cannot be portrayed.  The unfortunate thing about the Bible is that it isn't written as a screenplay.  It leaves much to be interpreted as to how Jesus carried himself (was he generally outgoing and talkative or did he mostly keep to himself? Did he walk with his chest out or did he try not to attract too much attention?) and how he said things (his tone, inflection, use of sarcasm (if any), emphasis, as well as many cultural things that are simply lost in translation.)  All Jesus seems to do in this movie is stroll around smirking performing miracles with all the flair of cheap parlor tricks as the crowd "oohs" and "aahs".  From the trailer, it seems like Jesus is some upstart young talent out to make a name for himself in the local business, gathering followers to "change the world" with the total end result being he seems like an arrogant, self-reliant, and self determined corporate suit. Actually, I think I saw that movie already: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2357129/

3)Jesus looks too good.  Yet another fair-skinned hipster Jesus who seems to look nothing like the people around him. Can't have Jesus looking like he was actually born in the Middle East now can we (lest we simple minded Americans think him a terrorist...)? But hey, at least they made Peter believable. Is 53:2 describes Jesus' appearance to us as this: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him."

4)It turns Jesus' name into a brand and the Gospel into a commodity. The bottom line is that the only reason you make a Hollywood Blockbuster like this is to make money.  Jesus is a household name nowadays and if you can capitalize on on the "Jesus fans" out there willing to shell out money to see a movie about him you can make a quick buck.  You don't have to care about biblical accuracy or the gospel or even know who Jesus is to make money off His name nowadays. I did find it a bit ironic the trailer showed Jesus flipping over the tables of the money changers in the Temple courts...

5)Would Jesus see this movie? No seriously, would he approve of this? Would you even bring Jesus with you to sit right next to you as you watched it?  Does this movie serve to honor Christ and glorify God, pointing people to the love of God the Father? Would any of the Gospel writers consider this retelling of Christ's life as "inspired" by the Holy Spirit?  I didn't think so.

6)It renders the Bible as just a fictional story for our entertainment.  Without even having seen the movie, I am certain there are parts of the Bible that didn't make the final cut either because they were too boring (Jesus retreating to pray on the mountain alone? Yawn.) or too challenging ("I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me", "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.", "And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell", etc. Basically anything with life transforming power).  "Jesus, I want you to entertain me so that I may never be bored and that means you need to stop making me uncomfortable.  I want palatable, feel good Jesus who says nice things please!"

7)It is absolutely worthless as an evangelism tool because it preaches the wrong Jesus. If this movie is all the exposure of Jesus someone gets in a lifetime then they are going to walk away believing Jesus was someone completely different than who he actually is.  Even if by dumb luck someone sees this movie and decides to give their life to Christ because of it (by dumb luck I mean miraculous intervention by the Holy Spirit), they are going to spend more time correcting misconceptions of who Jesus is when they actually get to meet Him. I've seen it happen too many times where people are introduced to either "Fire and Brimstone Jesus" or "Feel Good Jesus" and decide to follow "him" all the while not realizing who they are following is an impostor who pales in comparison to the Real Jesus. Coincidentally it is the same reason I oppose Street Preachers and the use of tracts. It's quite an awful bait and switch.  Better luck sticking with inviting your friends to Bible study (worked for me!). Some would argue that it doesn't matter so long as in the end they are saved but its akin to choosing to either go 50 rounds with Mike Tyson to get into Heaven or eating chocolate cake. Doesn't matter so long as you are in heaven, right?

8)Jesus Christ Doesn't Need Better Marketing.  For a little over 2000 years people have been coming to trust in Jesus through the written Word of God because in it contains the power of God.  There is absolutely no need to dress up the gospel to make it all fancy, dramatic, and suspenseful to reach a wider audience and spread Jesus. What this movie exemplifies is Christianity in American cultural captivity, the kind of Christianity that tries to keep people in the pews by keeping them entertained with flashing lights, live music, and feel good sermons.  You don't need the Holy Spirit to have successful American Christianity or to make money.  However, if you want to reach people's hearts and transform lives, then you absolutely cannot add to or subtract from God's Word "for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes."  Anything else is just trying to sell you something.

9)It's rather ignorant of the cultural context of Jesus' time. It feels almost very little to no thought was put into getting the historical or cultural contexts right.  I mean sure, you got the Romans and High priests in there, but a lot of it seems so stereotypical or made up.  Of course I would expect anything made by the History Channel to contain actual history anymore, but they aren't even trying to cover it up anymore.

10) It shows crucifixion, but not the Cross.  I'm sure the movie will do well in depicting the historical circumstances surrounding Jesus' death but what it misses is the meaning behind it. I'm going to let David Well explain this one:
There is a distinction between the crucifixion and the cross. The former was a particularly barbaric way of carrying out an execution, and it was the method of execution that Jesus endured. The latter, as the New Testament speaks of it, has to do with the mysterious exchange that took place in Christ’s death, an exchange of our sin for his righteousness. It was there that our judgment fell on the One who is also our Judge. Indeed, he who had made all of creation was dishonored in the very creation he had made. And yet, through this dark moment, this fierce judgment, through this dishonor, there now shines the light of God’s triumph over sin, death, and the Devil. And in this moment, this moment of Jesus’s judgment-death, God was revealed in his holy-love as nowhere else. -(God in the Whirlwind)
Sadly, if you aren't already a believer, seeing this film might cause you to actually understand less about Christ than you did already.

That's my list.  I'm sure I can think of more things, but this will do for now.  Now, what I definitely would see is if someone took a Gospel (let's say Mark) and turned it into a screenplay, following it to the letter, word for word, without adding details, but being both culturally and biblically accurate as an educational tool to help people understand Jesus better and his cultural context.  Until then, I'm just going to keep doing skits and acting out Bible studies in small group (which tends to be way more fun and effective than any movie anyway).

Friday, November 8, 2013

Racial Reconciliation in a Racist Society

noun: racism
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

Many people when asked what a racist looks like will point only to things like the KKK member or a Neo-Nazi.  They believe that racism only occurs when people are discriminated against or when hate crimes are committed.  While I do not doubt that these things are inherently racist, they encompass only a small part of what racism really is: a way of seeing the world as being divided into "races" each with defining characteristics. To that end I set out to show that in fact the entire American society in which we live is racist.

 We are brought up and socialized from a young age to see race.  We are taught to believe in the stereotypes that our society and media transmits.  "Asians are like this..." "Blacks are like that..." Those who come to America from other countries are quickly introduced to our race classification system.  A Nigerian coming to America will quickly find qualities and characteristics attributed to him on the basis of his skin color whereas a white Albanian will also find characteristics projected onto her much to both of their confusion.  We forge mental patterns and expectations to how a "white" person behaves and how a "black" person behaves and how "Asians" behave so much so that we coin terms like "Wigga" (A White person "acting Black"), "Twinkie" (An Asian person "acting White"), "Oreo" (A Black person "acting White") to describe them.  I hope that the ridiculousness of such a practice is self evident as the way a person behaves has little to do with their skin color and everything to do with the society in which they found themselves being raised.  A "Black man" born and raised in Japan cannot do anything but "act Asian" (specifically Japanese).  Is he any less of a Black man than an African American kid growing up in the heart of Philadelphia? They have nothing in common but their skin color, but yet are perceived to share commonalities in racist eyes.

I don't want to say that there is no basis for stereotypes, however there are some huge differences between observing patterns or cultural trends and making sweeping generalizations based on race.  "Asians are good at math" is a racist statement.  "Asians tend to do better than their peers in the area of math due to the culture's high value on education" is an observation based on empirical data.  "Black people love soul food like fried chicken and watermelon" is a racist statement.  "Blacks living in the south of the US more prevalently enjoy soul food as part of their historical and cultural heritage" is an observational statement.  Do you see the difference? Anytime we try to attribute any characteristic, whether positive or negative, to a given skin color (i.e. race), we are being racist.

And to tell you the truth, racism affects every single person who can be attributed a "race".  The statement that "White people are ignorant of other people groups" is a racist statement and does much injustice to those "white folk" whom I have known who are aware of their cultural context, especially those who have not grown up in America or have been missionaries to other countries. Of course I, as a Vietnamese/Scottish man, have met my share of culturally insensitive Whites.  However, I have also met my share of culturally insensitive Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, etc. to the point where I can say confidently that cultural insensitivity has nothing to do with a person's skin color and more to do with their culture of origin and upbringing. All people, regardless of their own background, hold the capability to be racist and more often than not hold views that would be classified as racist.

Now that we are all on the same page and in the same racist boat (i.e. American society), where do we even start in taking about racial reconciliation because the fact of the matter is if you've ever experienced hurt or injury due to racism, it is more difficult to not think about yourself and the world in terms of race.  When a prominent pastor makes an off color joke that is offensive to Asian people, I find myself hurt not because the joke had anything to do with me or was even directed at me with malicious intent, but I am hurt because I realize "That's how he must see me."  When hurts are dealt to me for no other reason other than my "race", they internalize so that "my race" is now part of my identity, something that brands me as different or deficient or in some cases superior somehow.  We must never forget that "racism" was invented for to sole purpose of justifying the maltreatment and abuse of our fellow human beings in a manner most convenient to their oppressors whether it be in Colonial America or Nazi Germany or South Africa during the Apartheid or even in India's caste system. It's the same psychological wounding as when a child is abused sexually and starts to think of herself as a sexual object because her sense of self is broken.  

It is truly difficult to transcend race categories when you are continually hurt because people continue to view race as something real just as it is difficult for those who have been abused to break out of a victim/oppressor mindset while the abuse is ongoing.  Likewise, those victimized on account of their "race" will go on to view others in regards to their "race" and perpetuate the same faulty worldview that sees race as a valid category for people.  Racial wounds can only be healed when someone comes along and says "Listen, you are more than your skin color.  The amount of pigment in your skin has nothing to do with your personality or your humanity although people have made you feel that way.  You don't have to fit into anyone's expectations of you based on their perceptions of who you should be.  You have likes and dislikes, personality, and style different from anyone else on this planet let alone the same "race".  If anyone tries to tell you what you are or who to be based on how you look, you tell them one thing: 'I know who I am and who God made me to be'"

The only way I see forward towards racial reconciliation is this: We must stop thinking in terms of race.  We all do it consciously or unconsciously in our snap judgments and you know what? That's OK! That's what we've been conditioned to do. What isn't okay is not admitting to it so that we can learn and grow.  Trying to pretend you aren't racist in America is like pretending you aren't a sinner!  We must be humble enough when we hurt others due to racist thoughts to say "Hey, I have to confess that I have always thought [insert race here] were like [insert stereotype here] and I admit that I assumed that was true of you too without even getting to know you.  I am sorry that I did that, but I want the chance to get to know you for who you are."  They may be hurt at first (or already hurt because they are the ones who had the courage to bring it up to you in the first place), but humility and confession leads to reconciliation and understanding. We all must learn to stop ourselves when we catch ourselves making assumptions about others based on the way their skin color looks and then correct our assumptions.  It takes vigilance on our part to weed out racism and to adopt a new pattern of thinking and grace to forgive others when they err.  That is why I believe Jesus Christ is the only one who is the king of reconciliation with grace enough to help us all come to see each other not in terms of our skin color or nationality but as fellow children of God for he is the only one who tore down the dividing wall of hostility that separated us from God and each other.  He alone transforms our hearts and minds so that the only race left is the only one He created "The Human race".

When people ask me what race I am, I don't answer them anymore.  In the world's terms, I am "biracial", but most people when they see me just flag me as Asian.  I grew up in a Vietnamese home and thus have some Asian values and tendencies, but I also have been through the American school system and have many "white" ones as well.  In my neighborhood were many Black and Puerto Rican families.  Being biracial and growing up in a multicultural environment you realize that you are never fully anything and a little bit of everything.  My behaviors are eclectic and mixed, borrowing from every culture I've come in contact with.  My experiences in life are few, but varied.  In any given situation people might say I'm "acting black" or "acting white", but in reality I'm just being myself.  I am not any race. I am John Dao. Pleased to meet you!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Biblical Feminism

In my mind there has been a great tragedy that has taken place in our society under the guise of equality. Our young girls are being told that in order to be successful women they must be independent, make their own money, have a successful career, be sexually assertive/liberated, compartmentalize her emotions but still be tender, raise a family, keep a well ordered house, and have dinner on the table by 5 o'clock. And how have our young men responded to this "We Can Do It" mentality? "Alright, you can do it." 

Somehow as a culture, we have shifted all of our expectations from our sons to our daughters so that they shoulder all the weight and responsibility whilst our sons prolong adolescence simply because nothing is demanded of them. Men have lost their role in society while women do all the work because "it's more equal" this way. What we are telling our daughters is that "you must be men and be women too" and we are telling our sons "Go outside and play while mother takes care of business". Women aren't allowed to feel like women because they are too busy being men also, and men don't feel like men because they are busy being boys. This isn't equal at all.

Before the second wave of women's liberation hit in the 1960s-1980s, women were expected to be in the home while then men worked and attained higher education.  Due to gender bias, men were viewed as having a more important role in society while women were relegated to a more docile and subservient role.  Any life a woman had, she had inside her home but her life revolved around her husband and her family.

The second wave of feminism sought to address this, but in my view has only perpetuated an undervaluing of femininity. To elaborate, second wave feminism sought to push women into the workforce to show that women can compete in "a man's world".  But there is a large and unintended consequence in that the value of a housewife, instead of being elevated in society, was only further diminished.  Women who did not prove their worth by competing with men in the marketplace and chose the subservient role were looked upon as enslaved, as if they are less than women who broke free from the mold.  However, the hidden message is that women must prove themselves equal to men by showing society that they can do all that men can do.  That is how women will become important and equal with men.

Take a step back.  What kind of mentality is this?  It is one which assumes that women are less to begin with and must prove and fight and struggle to become equal.  It is a mentality which states that a man's role in society is more important than the woman's role (traditionally) so a woman must claw her way up the ranks of men to make something of herself.  Who typically has this mentality?  People who have been oppressed and treated as lesser always feel that they must prove themselves, to fight and struggle.  African Americans face this same mentality in feeling they have to make something of themselves in the "White World" and be successful according to "White standards" and African American women twice over.  We as a society today still honor the man's role over the woman's role, its just that we have women competing to be counted equal among men on the man's playing field according the the rules men set up.  It is no wonder women struggle to prove themselves in this arena (though some certainly have succeeded).

The irony is that few men feel like they have the need to prove themselves in the woman's world of running a household, raising kids, or cooking dinner.  If a guy is a stay at home dad, it is usually because it is out of necessity or because he is out of work or maybe out of enjoyment, but never because he wants to prove that he can make it in a woman's world.  Men don't feel the need to be "equal" with women in this arena because we know women just do it better and we're fine with that.  That is why you find studies showing that although more women are entering the workforce, the amount of men staying at home remains virtually unchanged.  Women are performing both roles.

I want to compare women in America (who have historically been oppressed) to women elsewhere who have not been made to feel inferior but instead honored and valued.  Most often in these societies, the men go off together to hunt or build or gather resources, taking most of the day leaving the women the role of cooking, cleaning, and looking after children. This is out of necessity.  The value of the woman in society is unquestionable as without her, the men cannot do their jobs either as they cannot both be home and away (which is expected of women in America to both work and tend the house resulting in much of the household running to be outsourced).  Their value is immeasurable and the differentiation of roles allows their society to function as a whole.  If they did not do what was expected of them, it was life or death.  A woman was resourceful and hardworking, faithful and diligent to the task at hand, responsible, wise, and discerning. A good woman was esteemed by many (particularly her husband) and found pride in her abilities and her work.  If she needed to work to bring in more resources for the family (say selling fish at the market), she did so with pride and with her kids in tow.

And was she docile and subservient? At times when she deemed it appropriate, but never would her opinion not be heard especially when it comes to family matters.  Her husband may make the decision, but always in consideration to her wishes and insight.  She is respected as an authority in her own right and older women are often revered in the community as leaders for their wisdom and guidance.  She doesn't feel the need to prove her importance in society, she knows that she is important not in spite of being a woman, but because she is a woman.  Her femininity is a strength to her, not a hurdle to overcome, and she is empowered and a force in her own right.

Feminism, in an ironic way, has treated femininity as an obstacle rather than something to be affirmed and embraced.  Women are to be respected for what they are, not for what they think they should be.  They shouldn't be made to feel like they have to compete with men to receive esteem and recognition, but instead be honored for the amazing, resourceful, intelligent, wise, discerning, and hardworking people they already are.  As a man, I must apologize for us all in how we've taken women for granted and have oppressed and devalued you.  I am sorry that we've forced you to try and find your worth outside of who you are as women.  You are invaluable to us and we appreciate you deeply.  Through thick and thin, you have been our faithful companions helping us out of sticky situations time and time again. Thanks for being you!

So in short, let's all work to honor and value women for who God made them to be, starting with the ones closest to us. Let's empower women the right way by allowing them to feel the honor and prestige of being a woman instead of only honoring them when they perform as men or only for their looks (another topic that deserves a separate apology).  You women are awesome.  Stay classy ladies!

I want to just leave off with some verses of Scripture which really capture and affirm women. Probably the only time I'm going to quote the Message, but I like their take on Proverbs 31:10-31:
10 A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds. 11 Her husband trusts her without reserve, and never has reason to regret it. 12 Never spiteful, she treats him generously all her life long. 13 She shops around for the best yarns and cottons, and enjoys knitting and sewing. 14 She's like a trading ship that sails to faraway places and brings back exotic surprises. 15 She's up before dawn, preparing breakfast for her family and organizing her day. 16 She looks over a field and buys it, then, with money she's put aside, plants a garden. 17 First thing in the morning, she dresses for work, rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started. 18 She senses the worth of her work, is in no hurry to call it quits for the day. 19 She's skilled in the crafts of home and hearth, diligent in homemaking. 20 She's quick to assist anyone in need, reaches out to help the poor. 21 She doesn't worry about her family when it snows; their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear. 22 She makes her own clothing, and dresses in colorful linens and silks. 23 Her husband is greatly respected when he deliberates with the city fathers. 24 She designs gowns and sells them, brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops. 25 Her clothes are well-made and elegant, and she always faces tomorrow with a smile. 26 When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly. 27 She keeps an eye on everyone in her household, and keeps them all busy and productive. 28 Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise: 29 "Many women have done wonderful things, but you've outclassed them all!" 30 Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God. 31 Give her everything she deserves! Festoon her life with praises!

Monday, November 12, 2012


I wanted to clear up what I believe to be common misconceptions of holiness. Holiness has nothing to do with what we've done or failed to do, much like our righteousness. It isn't something you can work for nor is it something you can obtain by obeying laws or doing good works.  Being holy doesn't even mean that sin is absent from your life (though for sure holiness puts to death sin in the flesh to make us alive in the Spirit).  So what is really meant by Christians when we call something "holy"?

There exists to us only one thing that is in and of itself holy, and that is the Holy One, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That is, to say that anything is holy is to point to the Holy One as maker, reconciler, and sanctifier of his creatures.  Thus anything we call holy must in some way gain its holiness from such a Holy One.  The Church is Holy because God is the Holy One in our midst.  Christians are holy because they possess the Holy Spirit who indwells among them.

Paul calls the Holy Spirit a mark, seal, or a guarantee on a persons' life that sets them apart from the world. (Eph 1:13)  That is the definition of Holy, to be set apart for God's purposes and thus obedience (having the mind of the Spirit talked about in Romans 8) to the Spirit is key. Many people believe that since obedience is required for holiness, than being holy is something that you are responsible for but the result of such a theology is something akin to Puritan legalism.  When it is up to us to be holy we will always fall short.  Therefore there must be a reliance on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because we absolutely cannot obey apart from Him, else the law would be sufficient and Christ's death in vain. Those who possess the Holy Spirit belong to Christ and obey his voice, constantly repenting and returning to Him. The constant repentance from sin is a mark of holiness, not an indication of its absence. Thus the concept of holiness is a relational concept to be understood from how the Holy Triune God relates to himself and to creation.  Holiness cannot be separated from God's work of election, redemption, and sanctification.

Think about those without the Holy Spirit, do they repent and feel conviction? Do they hear the shepherd calling them? They cannot because they have not been drawn by the father and have not repented and received the Holy Spirit. If ever you meet a Christian who is stubborn and rebellious, living in sin and disobedient to the Spirit, truly I tell you he is no Christian. Every Christian knows the voice of Christ speaking through His Holy Spirit and obeys.  The presence of God opposes sin whenever it is encountered, so if a person is holy (i.e. God's spirit resides and  works within them) sin is put to death. This is always the case.  Therefore the difference between a holy and an unholy person is NOT the amount or presence of sin, but whether or not that sin finds its opposition in the holiness of God.  God is for our good and naturally obliterates anything that comes between the creature's life with God.  Sin is opposed to God's work as savior and sanctifier because it seeks to destroy the creature and therefore God opposes it whenever the two meet.  God destroys sin by fellowshipping with humanity.  The other side of God's putting sin to death is bringing us back to life in the Spirit.  It is a constant death and resurrection.

God's holiness does not refer to his being "wholly other" or radically different than anything in creation (though certainly that is true).  People say often that the reason God hates sin and cannot bear it is because of the fact that he is holy.  This is a radical misunderstanding of what is the biblical account.  God does not oppose sin because it offends Him or his coming into contact with sin would somehow defile his holiness. In reality, the holiness of God is the reason why he draws near to us as sinners!  God opposes sin because it seeks to destroy the life of his creation.  God's holiness is not what distances or separates him from us, but what has caused him to condescend to dwell (tabernacle) with his people.  This is seen clearly in Jesus Christ, the perfect image of the invisible Father, who eats with sinners and tax collectors.  This is a God who calls and makes for himself a people to be holy as he is holy.  This is fundamentally a God who seeks to create a Holy Nation by wishing to dwell among his chosen people.  This is God who elects as the Father, saves as the Son, and sanctifies by the Holy Spirit.  Our holiness as Christians comes directly through how our Holy God has chosen to relate to us.  God's holiness does not keep him bound from ever fellowshipping or dwelling with sinners and locking him into pure separateness.  Rather, as the Holy One, God is the one who does not simply remain in separation, but comes to his own people to purify them and claim them as his own.  God has defeated sin once and for all so that it no longer has power to destroy that which God has created for those who are found in Him.  We are holy because we are in Christ and Christ is in us.

In summary, God's holiness has everything to do with God's role as creator, savior, and sanctifier and little to do with our works or the presence of sin.  God convicts us of our sin not so that we can say "Ok, I'll work on that so I can be holier."  It does not depend on us.  A filthy rag cannot wash itself.  God is the one who sanctifies us, he is the one who makes us holy because he is holy.  Galatians 3 makes great reading on this.  Holiness is not grasped through relying on the law but only through faith. It describes how God interacts with his creation.  You are holy if you belong to Christ, no ifs, ands, or buts.  This is really good news!  Consequently, there is no such thing as degrees of holiness.  There is only holy or unholy, no holier or holiest.

Much of the content of this article is through my own personal reflections of Scripture and a book entitled "Holiness" by John Webster.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Cost of Forgiveness

It is no secret to us that when crimes are committed that someone ultimately has to pay the price.  Retribution is the natural outcome of sin as no sin goes without the notice of a righteous God.  We even see in the end times the angels coming and separating the weeds and the wheat, weeding out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil and throwing them into the fiery furnace (Matt 13:41-43).  Justice will be done as the existence of God demands it. The justice we employ in America is the same retributive justice.  It is a justice that demands the transgressor pay for his actions.

But there is a second side to God as retribution is not his only option.  God is not only just, but merciful, generous, loving, and compassionate.  He is a God who relents at sending calamity and forgives the sins of his people.  But how can this be?  In order for justice to occur, sin and evil MUST be paid for and called into account.  The one who did wrong must be brought to answer for his crimes.  The law demands it.  I demand it!  Evil doers should not get away from the hurt they've caused for that would be more evil than the evil itself.  The man who steals from me or wrongs me must pay me back everything he owes and more!  He is in debt to me until I see fit to release him.  How is it that justice is done when evil goes unpunished?  How can such a God exist, that both forgives transgression and yet calls it into account as to be just?

There was a man who owned a convenience store, and every day he saw a boy come in and take a few snacks, put them in his bag, and walk out without paying.  Eventually he had had enough.  Angrily, he confronted the boy and emptied out his bag, all of the stolen snacks now scattered on the counter.  As he went to call the police to have the boy arrested, the boy burst into tears and cried, "Forgive me please!  I am sorry, I will never do it again!"  Having compassion on him, he put the phone down, reprimanded the boy, and sent him home with one of the snacks.  He never saw him again, but he had a feeling his days of stealing were over.

Now the question is, "Who pays for all the stolen goods?" 

A wise man would answer, "The storekeeper."  

So it is with our Father in heaven, against him and him alone we have sinned (Ps 51:4).  He, in choosing instead to forgive us of all our iniquity, has chosen to bear the penalty on himself.  He is the one who was robbed, but he in choosing to forgive us thieves has bared the cost of it all and gives us for free what we would have gladly stolen.  He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the cost of all our sin.  On him was the wrath of God laid as he was crushed for transgressions (Isaiah 53:5).  Justice is done because the price has been paid, this time not by the transgressor, but by the one who was transgressed.  To forgive someone, then, is to pay the cost of their sin.

So we see two forms of justice: retribution in which the sinner pays, and forgiveness in which the one who was wronged pays.  Let me take this a step further.  Jesus calls us not to the way of the world, which is retribution, but to forgiveness.  In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."  In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus says, "Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”"

Having been forgiven, we are clearly not to resort back to retribution as our primary model of justice else God will also treat us according to as our sins deserve and to no longer have us covered leaving us to pick up the tab which we cannot pay (unless it be with our lives in Hell).

Having said this, forgiveness is not easy.  We cannot pay the cost of forgiveness in taking the burden of someone else's sin upon ourselves.  We are not Jesus, nor do we have to be for Christ died once for all sin.  Going back to the parable I told, what if the storekeeper was having a hard time providing for his wife and two young children?  What if business had been bad lately and the creditors were threatening to take his store?  What if what was stolen wasn't just a few snacks, but thousands of dollars?  Who could afford to forgive then?  In fact, is forgiveness even possible with these circumstances?

What needs to be realized is that Christ isn't asking us to forgive out of our own abundance and generosity, but out of His.  In the parable of the unmerciful servant, the servant owed his master more than he could pay back in a lifetime while the servant's servant owed what was probably like 20 dollars today.  It was out of the generosity of being essentially given millions of dollars for free that he was supposed to forgive 20 dollars.  It is out of the grace shown to us that we are to extend grace to others.  God knows our needs and provides richly and generously for all of them so that we are able to forgive in every circumstance.  God provides for us emotionally, physically, materially, spiritually, mentally and in every way possible that which of us can say we have nothing with which to forgive others?  No, God has given us the riches of his grace and it is out of what God has given (not what we have in ourselves) that we give grace.  We love because we were first loved by God, comfort because of the comfort given to us, are generous because God is generous to us and forgive because of the richness of His mercy in forgiving us more than we will ever know.

However, you must understand that forgiveness for this reason is a process.  I am not asking you to go out and forgive the man who abused you growing up or the one who cheated you out of so much immediately.  It is out of the grace you receive that you forgive and if you have not that grace do not even attempt saying the words "I forgive you" without meaning it.  The process of forgiveness first begins with receiving the depths of the forgiveness God has given you.  Spend time with the Lord and as he richly empowers you and meets your needs, you will naturally be able to say, "You know what?  Now that I have Jesus I release you of any obligation of debt that you owe me.  It is nothing compared to what I have in Christ.  Whatever hurt you've caused me Christ has healed so that I don't need you anymore to give me anything.  You are forgiven and may the peace of Christ be with you."  In a sense you are saying, "Now that I have all the richness of Christ, I don't need your pitiful twenty dollars anymore as that no longer will satisfy."  I tell you the truth, you will forgive all sorts of things, even the most painful of things, after spending time with the Lord and knowing the riches of his mercy and glory and the depth of his love and understanding.  After inheriting spiritual wealth beyond your wildest imagination, 20 bucks just doesn't matter anymore.

May God bless this word.