Tuesday, April 08, 2014

When to forgive?

This is a follow-up to an earlier post. I linked to this article:

A number of commenters raised theologically confused objections. In addition, Pastor Todd Pruitt (a contributor to Ref21) also fielded theologically confused objections on Facebook.

i) Let's begin with a general observation. Forgiveness, especially among humans, involves two parties: the offended party and the offending party. I'm referring to an objective offense (i.e. actual wrongdoing), not subjective offense ("I'm offended by your statement. I find that personally offensive").

Let's take an illustration. The Columbine massacre. Who is even in a position to forgive Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris? 

The only folks who are even in a position to forgiven the killers are folks who were wronged by their actions. In principle, that would include the students (and a teacher) they killed or wounded. If some of the dead students were Christian, they'd still be in a position to forgive them after the fact. Other parties who were wronged would include parents and siblings of the dead students. Or dear friends. 

Random TV viewers who tuned into the coverage aren't even in a position to forgive the killers. 

Moreover, that's just a that's just a prerequisite. A necessary condition. That doesn't mean those in a position to forgive the killers ought to forgive them. 

ii) There are commenters who fail to distinguish between unconfessed sin and impenitent sin. Confessing every sin we ever committed is not a precondition of forgiveness. The larger issue is contrition. It's not so much a matter of particular sins, but whether you view yourself as a sinner in need of forgiveness. Do you have a penitent attitude? 

iii) Some commenters cited Mt 6:15. 

a) Here there's a failure to distinguish between qualified and unqualified Scriptural statements. Many unqualified Scriptural statements are implicitly qualified. Scripture often speaks in generalities. But then we have statements on the same topic which include caveats or conditions. The qualified statements qualify the unqualified statements. 

Unqualified statements about forgiveness are like unqualified statements about prayer. You have statements in Scripture which promise that God will give you whatever you ask for. But there are other statements which specifically or logically qualify those promises. 

b) Moreover, citing Mt 6:15 to prove unconditional forgiveness proves too much, for God does not, in fact, forgive everyone. 

iv) Some commenters cited Lk 23:34.

a) To begin with, the textual authenticity of that verse is quite uncertain. For instance:

Most editions of the Bible footnote textually suspect verses. It's striking how many readers pay no attention to the footnotes. Do they not bother to read the footnotes? Do they not grasp the significance of what the footnote says? 

b) Assuming that Lk 23:34 is authentic, it only applies to unwitting sin. It doesn't cover those who sin defiantly. 

c) Unlike humans, God has the prerogative to forgive what one person did to another person. Third-party forgiveness. That's quite different than a TV viewer who  presumes to forgive Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris for what they did to someone else's kids. We aren't God. We don't have the same prerogatives. 

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