Saturday, April 13, 2013

"God forgives, I don't!"

Before Wolverine got a decent hair stylist ...
(© 1967 Cronocinematografica PEFSA)
No, the guy to the left is not Hugh Jackman in a test shot for X-Men. It's Terence Hill in a still from an obscure and ill-regarded Giuseppe Colizzi "spaghetti western" titled God Forgives ... I Don't! I don't think either Rick Ross or the printer of the T-shirt I saw today had this movie in mind; doubtless they thought they were being clever and original.

The T-shirt, oddly enough, didn't reference the rapper either; I say "oddly enough" because a Bing search of "god forgives i don't" overloaded the page with shots of the album cover. The T did, however, share a common color theme and font with another shirt the wearer's buddy sported, which announced "HATERS ARE MY MOTIVATION". Motivation for what we can only guess.

I didn't have time or opportunity to discuss their fashion (non)sense with them. But the first question would have been: "So ... you've decided you don't want God's forgiveness?"

Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

Of course, these trousered apes may not have been Christian in any sense save that of being "cultural Christians" (i.e., just Christian enough to sing "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" when Christmas rolls around, but not Christian enough to pray). But there are a lot of professed, church-going Christians out there who pride themselves on their Biblical knowledge but who act as though Jesus didn't draw a big "equals" sign between our regard for others and our regard for God.

We see this "equals" sign in other places in Matthew's Gospel: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get" (Mt 7:1-2). "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. ... Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Matt 25:40, 45).

Or we can take the example of the Unforgiving Servant:

Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"
Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
"Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
"But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.
"When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matt 18:21-35).

Anger and hatred are soul-destroying emotions; the person who nurses his grudges nurses a spiritual bondage which shrinks the heart. There's nothing admirable about a person who doesn't forgive, who continually pulls the scabs off his spiritual wounds to keep them raw and bleeding. "God Forgives, I Don't" is a slogan for wanna-be tough guys, for lunkheads who confuse violence with strength and vengeance with justice.

Christians are called to forgive others (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13; 1 Jn 4:20-21). This command to forgive is not conditioned or limited; the more grave the sin, the greater the need for forgiveness and the greater the requirement for forgiveness. We forgive because we are to treat others as we wish to be treated (Mt 7:12). We forgive that we may be forgiven; who does not seek forgiveness by that token rejects it, and who takes it for granted debases it.

We forgive, not because it's the easy thing to do — in fact, it's easy only when you aren't the person most directly hurt by the sin — but because not forgiving hurts us more in the long run. God forgives ... so must we: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48 NIV).