Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bible Reading and Commentary re: forgiveness

Many people correctly focus on the importance of forgiveness in the Christian faith, and as a principle for humanity as a whole. The Gospels and Epistles are filled with the teaching of Jesus in regard to the importance of and necessity for forgiveness. The Old Testament also discusses God’s requirement for forgiveness, but that is expressed in terms of the Law, where debts must be forgiven, both of monetary debts and the lending of goods. But there is a problem with how moderns have transmuted the understanding of forgiveness in ways that are contrary to the words of the Bible, in black and white, that are plain to be read.

The reason that moderns now misunderstand and actually preach an incorrect gospel is that they hope that Christians are obligated to forgive all sins. Therefore moderns feel that they are easily let off the hook of sin. That is far from true and a very dangerous “interpretation.”

First of all, forgiveness for sin only comes from God, not from humans. Humans cannot forgive each other their sins! Humans can forgive individual wrong doing against one another with one huge exception that will be bulk of my discussion here today. So a human can and should forgive wrongs if it is reasonable to do so. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a parent, for example “must” forgive the murderer of their child. One cannot transfer responsibility for a wrong from the shoulders of the wrong doer onto the shoulders of the victim. So look again with clear eyes at how Jesus taught the “Our Father” prayer:

Matthew 6:12
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

This is one of the two passages that people constantly point to as Jesus teaching forgiveness. But notice that Jesus is consistent in the Lord’s Prayer with referencing the Old Testament viewpoint of a forgiveness of debts. His parables also focused on the forgiveness of debts. No where in the Bible, either Old or New Testament is it portrayed as necessary to forgive grave wrongs of a behavioral nature. I know, as you read this you are burning to point out to me the second example I mentioned above, but hang on for a minute. There is another point to first make about Matthew 6:12. Notice that it is a chain of forgiveness. The one praying forgives another person his or her debts to him or her, and then in return God forgives the one praying for sins. God is still in control of the forgiving of sins! The humans can forgive each others debts, but they cannot forgive each other’s sins.

The Bible teaches, repeatedly, that sin is an offense against GOD. When someone sins and harms another person, yes, one has then harmed a person with that sin, and the harm is legitimate discussion for potentially generous forgiveness. But the sin itself cannot be forgiven by the victim of the sin because sin is an offense against God because it is defiance of God, his will and what he has plainly ordered of humans. Suppose someone robs you. Yes, you can forgive the person for the harm of the robbery, but you cannot forgive them of their sin that violates one of the Commandments. Do not ever forget that. Ultimately God alone judges whether sin is forgiven.

Thus the important exception to what is the Christian credo of forgiveness is that one cannot forgive a sin that is directed against God, even if the actions of the sin are directed toward the person. The obvious example is that prophets sent by God cannot and did not ever forgive those who persecuted them. I know, you are itching to tell me that I am wrong, but no, you are wrong. Prophets cannot forgive those who defy God by refusing his messengers. It is not within their power because their bodies and what happens to them is in the service of God. So it’s not as though “their feelings are hurt” or they are tortured in and of themselves. When a prophet is persecuted it is sin against God to his face, even if the prophet’s body is the one who bears the scars. No prophet can forgive their persecutor; only God can do that.

So now you are not so eager to point out the second example of Jesus, are you? For now you are beginning to understand. Jesus did not forgive his tormentors. He ASKED God to do so. What was done to Jesus was sin against God and can only be forgiven by God. First of all, recall what Jesus said after he had been scourged and is carrying the cross to his own crucifixion:

Luke 23:27-32
A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Now two others, both criminals, were led away with them to be executed.

Now, this was a lot for Jesus to say as he was suffering up the path to Golgotha. Jesus did not say, “Hey, it’s going to be alright, because I forgive them all and so does God.” Instead, Jesus takes the time to point out that they should not mourn him, God’s prophet about to be executed, but they should mourn themselves because as a result really bad times will come. Jesus is the green wood. To understand this you must understand that green wood is freshly cut wood that still has water in it as it is still alive, and thus it is nearly impossible to burn. So Jesus is the living green wood, there as a sign of God’s love among people, with the water of life still in him. Jesus is saying that if they crucify him, the green wood, while he is still among them, how much worse will it be when Jesus has been away from them, the green wood is now gone, and only the dry brown wood that will quickly burn is remaining. So Jesus is warning the women who mourn him that people will deeply regret the sin against God that is the crucifixion of Jesus.

Luke 23:33-34
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They divided his garments by casting lots.

Um, notice that Jesus is not forgiving the people himself. Jesus is not leaning over (as best as he can as he is being crucified after being scourged) and offering forgiveness as he is being crucified. Jesus asks God to forgive them. Jesus does not attempt to forgive them himself. People continually misquote this passage even though it is as plain as the nose on your face. Jesus does NOT do what he cannot do, which is forgive those who are putting to death God’s prophet. Jesus never can or would want to say anything that is misleading, and is anything but perfect in God’s will and truthfulness. So obviously he can not and would not “make a good example by forgiving those as they are nailing him.” I mean, would you actually read the scripture please?

Jesus had previously made the point that sins are the purview of God to forgive, and not humans forgiving each other for sin. That is plain when Jesus actually lists what sins (those against the Holy Spirit) that God will NOT forgive.

Matthew 12:31-32
Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

This seems difficult to understand but it is not. Notice that Jesus is referring to himself as the Son of Man, not the Son of God. Thus he is referring to his bodily presence. Therefore if someone blasphemes Jesus he is wronging another human person, and thus can be forgiven by God, in theory. Jesus is saying that any wrong done against him (foreshadowing the crucifixion) can be forgiven if one repents and God wills forgiveness, as it is a “human on human” sin. However, one cannot sin against the Holy Spirit in a “human on human” way. A sin against the Holy Spirit is a sin that is totally different from a sin against Jesus himself, because a sin against the Holy Spirit is directly against God.

Thus Jesus is underscoring that he is God’s prophet, in human body, the Son of God but also the Son of Man. However, the point that anything against him can, in theory, be forgiven, should there be genuine repentance is only made in order to deliver one of his starkest and blunt warnings. When one sins against the Holy Spirit one is not committing a “human on human” offense, but defying and blaspheming God’s will to his face. This is true even if it is a human-on-human method by which one sins and blasphemes the Holy Spirit.

That is why Jesus says “speaks against the Holy Spirit.” Speaking is a human on human action, where someone is speaking and someone listens. So if someone blasphemes the Holy Spirit to someone else, it’s not like the listener can say, “Wow, you said a really bad thing about the Holy Spirit, but I forgive you.” THAT is the point that Jesus is driving home and it is crucial that people understand.

This is because, again, like killing a prophet, it’s not a matter of hurting the feelings of the listener or bruising, cutting or killing the prophet’s body. Just as the persecution and murder of a prophet of God is a direct sin against God, and not per se against the prophet, blaspheming the Holy Spirit is an attempt to hinder the work of salvation that the Holy Spirit is engaged in, constantly. A Holy Spirit blasphemer is not “hurting the feelings of the Holy Spirit” or of the person who reads or overhears the blasphemy. A Holy Spirit blasphemer is attempting to thwart God’s will to save as many people as possible by attacking the faith through blasphemy. Thus the Holy Spirit blasphemer is saying to God, “No, I will not allow you to save people and reach their souls, and bring them to salvation, because I with my mind and my mouth and my deeds will oppose you.” A Holy Spirit blasphemer is assigning his or herself the role of Lucifer.

So when moronic teenagers get on the Internet and “deny the Holy Spirit” in order to test God and demonstrate that they do not believe, they are totally being childish and missing the point. A Holy Spirit blasphemer works against the saving of souls, not just mouth a stupid test into the cameras. Thus someone blasphemes the Holy Spirit when they tear down and embarrass and profane those who are working for salvation under the inspiration and protection of the Holy Spirit. THAT is what cannot be forgiven because the Holy Spirit blasphemer is attempting to hinder God’s work through the Holy Spirit of the rescuing and saving of souls.

Suppose a nun is raped. That is an example of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and the nun cannot forgive that on God’s behalf. Why? Because the rape is done to degrade and terrorize the faithful and take them off of the path of salvation. The nun can forgive the battering of her body and her degradation, but she cannot forgive the reasoning and objective of the attack and degradation, which was to terrorize and spread disbelief. Thus when someone rapes a nun, in this example, he or she is basically saying, “Look, I have defiled one of your believers. If you, God, actually exist, you would have stopped it.” Thus the rapist is not only a dirty beast of a human, but defying God in order to destroy the salvation of those around who observe the nun’s disgrace.

How do we know this? Again, look at the example of Jesus.

Matthew 27:26-31
Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.

Do you notice Jesus is not “forgiving” them as they rip his flesh off with whips, tear his forehead and head with the crown of thorns, strip him in front of the invited throng of the audience, strike him on the head, spit on him, and mock him? Notice that the soldiers “gathered the whole cohort around” Jesus. They deliberately got together a crowd to witness his mockery and torture. That is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, using Jesus as the mechanism. They degraded Jesus in order to defy and degrade the Holy Spirit, and those are the people who will not be forgiven. Jesus only asks God to forgive those who are nailing him to the wood when he is actually being crucified and raised on the cross. There is, as in everything Jesus said and did, great significance, for both hope but also for dire warning. Jesus did not walk in a procession of forgiving everyone as they did it because he would not and could not. Prophet killing and the degradation of those who preach God’s word is direct sin against God, not human on human subject for forgiveness.

This is why God is asked by Jesus to forgive those who are actually doing the nailing of him to the cross. Jesus does not speak a word of forgiveness during all the torture as lead up to the crucifixion, and he never presumes to forgive sin against God on God’s behalf as the sin is taking place. Jesus warned that some sin, the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit, will not be forgiven. That is why he told the women that they should mourn themselves and their people, going forward, not Jesus himself, because the consequences of such sin will be dire. Jesus could not have been more clear throughout the Gospel of the difference between sinning against him as the Son of Man (and thus the potential for forgiveness though, as we saw with Judas, he did not avail himself of that possibility) and “speaking against” and thus blaspheming the Holy Spirit.