“I am very, very slowly coming to terms, not just with the fact that I am a sinner, but mainly with the fact that my situation is hopeless.” So I wrote in my last post.
Haven’t you always known this? I mean, isn’t this a clear teaching of the Scriptures and haven’t you heard this since you first became a Christian?
Yes, you are absolutely correct. But there is a world of difference between being taught theology and being taught by theos Himself, which, in Christian terms, is the Spirit of God. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” Theologians don’t teach the truth; the Spirit does.
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Here is a recent entry in my prayer journal:
All day long, I have struggled with arrogance and self-promotion. People all around me have stumbled over my sin in visible ways, running into it as if it were a brick wall. Why do I behave so badly? God cannot be blamed. He has done nothing wrong. He decorated my day with good things only, good things for me, and good things for other people in my life. And all I do is use and abuse those things which God intended for good. Continually.
I can only give thanks to God for those good things and ask Him for forgiveness for the way I have so badly handled them. How do I go on? How do I proceed? I know that tomorrow, despite all my promises to myself and to God right now, I will repeat my offenses or invent new ones. Yet, even now as I pray, while I realize that I am perfectly righteous before God, at the same time, I know that my standing with Him has nothing to do with me or my efforts.
In the world in which I live, offenses require justice, if not repayment; they cannot go unpunished. Murderers are imprisoned; fraudsters are fined; spouses demand an apology, if not penance: “I’ll make it up to you.” There is no possibility of freedom, of being let off the hook, until justice has been served.
The gospel, the good news, is that God forgives. Freely. But I cannot accept it. I must pay for my wrongs. That is the human way. That is what we do, every day, with the people whom we harm and wrong and sin against. Somehow, we make up for our wrongs. In the least, we feel bad, feel sorry. One way or another, we must make up for our offenses. God asks for no such thing. But, it can’t be. The world simply does not work that way. Forgiveness in return for nothing is not possible.
Three days later, I wrote in my journal:
I need to stop kicking myself for my failures. Such behavior indicates that performance expectations are driving me, adherence to a law. Grace and freedom must rule. But they don’t. God help me.
Forty years of sound theology has not taught me the truth. I can recite the propositional truth regarding grace and freedom. I can quote chapter and verse. But, I cannot live it. The Spirit of truth is the only One who will lead my soul into the truth that will change how I see myself in relation to my Creator, in the depths of who I am.
Here is how it is happening. Every day, I bring my sinful self into His presence and, there, every day, instead of finding condemnation, I feel His loving gaze upon me. There is never a hint of condescension from God, of how I have hurt Him, or offended Him. I do not even have a sense that He forgives when I recount my sin. I do not hear Him say, “I forgive you,” because His forgiveness precedes my confession. He does not forgive because I confess. He forgave me before I even started talking. He just listens and takes pity. And loves.
Figuratively speaking, I get away with murder. Considering that the rest of the world does not work this way, it is nothing short of scandalous. If anyone would not allow me to get away with murder it would be a holy God. Yet He is precisely the one who lets me “walk.”
Even more outrageous is the fact that He expects me to forgive the same way and to the same extent that He does: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There are no exceptions: self-centered, self-willed, liars, cheats, frauds, haters, hypocrites, slanderers, the malicious, the arrogant, the mean and angry, mockers, drug-users, porn purveyors, murderers, warlords, dictators, terrorists.
Theologians cannot teach me to forgive. Only the Spirit can do that, showing me the way by forgiving me first. In so doing, the Spirit welcomes me into the Great Scandal.