Christian churches aren’t dispensers of forgiveness

Published 9:55 am Friday, March 2, 2012

Across the Pastor’s Desk

David Hernes, retired pastor, East Freeborn Lutheran Church

I hope to say as simply and clearly as I can the basics of the Christian faith.

There is a Creator. Everything that exists came from the Creator. It is legitimate to speak of “our Creator” because we humans also came from the Creator. The Creator created all kinds of beings. But the Creator is the Ultimate Being — and can hardly be anything but awesome. Our Creator’s heart is pure goodness and unstoppable love. (I remember a man saying, “You can make the damnest mess possible of your life; you still can’t stop God from loving you.”)

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This means that only good could come from such a heart. And how could we humans help but love such a Creator with everything within us? The fact that such love is commanded of us as the “first and greatest commandment” must mean that that is our true nature. We were made to do that. And love for our human family would be just as natural and effortless.

Our present condition shows quite the opposite. Human inhumanity to humans is horrendous. And love for our Creator? A world-wide drought. How many people would say, “The love of my life is God”?

Our whole human history presents serious challenges to the belief that our Creator is good. There are even stories in the Old Testament that trigger questions about the Creator’s love for everyone equally.

But the basic story of the New Testament is quite clear.

In about the year zero BC/AD, a human baby was born in Bethlehem. The labor-delivery room was a stable. The bassinet was a manger. The mother was a peasant girl/woman.

Some folks who knew the Old Testament saw this birth as the fulfillment of ancient promises.

This newborn, named Jesus, grew to manhood in obscurity. Then at age 30 he began to preach and teach about the Creator (whom He called “Father” and “God”) in such a convincing way that some folks began to see Him as more than mere mortal. And, what’s more. He began to claim the deepest connection possible with His Father — oneness.

If you know the story, you know that His actions and claims rankled some important people, who decided that the world would be better off without Him.

The result was that He died at age 33, executed as a common criminal, in shame and disgrace, as an “enemy of the people.” In seeming total failure.

But He didn’t stay dead. Christians believe that on the third day He came alive. And is the Christ, the Savior of the world. That He was actually “God in human flesh’ — the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. His return to life spelled the ultimate defeat of “sin, death, and the power of the Evil One.”

And Christians believe that His own claims were accurate — namely, that His death was a sacrificial death for our human family. That His death restored our human family to our “Father.” That His death took care of all the evil that has run rampant in human hearts and history since the Father’s plan got derailed. That there is forgiveness for every sin and every sinner.

The Christian message is that “every human has been died for — every sin paid for — by Jesus.” This message is offensive and troubling. “Jesus died for me? I’m not that bad.” Or, “Jesus died for me? I’m not that good.” When heard and understood, this message triggers a universal, personal prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” There is not a single “bargaining chip” involved. What false pride for any of us to think who we have any grounds for bargaining with God!

The Christian church has not been commissioned to be the “dispenser” of forgiveness, controlling and managing it. Churches and individuals are invited to live in that mind-boggling forgiveness ourselves first, and then be conduits of that forgiveness to our love-starved and forgiveness-starved world. It is the only ultimate answer to all the evil in the world. It is the “oil,” without which the friction of life will bum everything up.

So that’s how I see it and say it today. I invite you to think about how you see it and would say it. It is impossible to do justice in words to such a radical message.