‘Happy the man whose offence is forgiven, whose sin is remitted. O happy the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no guile.”
The psalmist rejoices in a divine forgiveness that runs throughout the scriptures and is the bedrock of our salvation. Let us never forget that it is the free gift of God’s forgiveness, rather than our feeble efforts to make amends, that restores our relationship with God. We frequently speak words of forgiveness without truly appreciating the gulf that divides our limited forgiveness from the creative power of God’s forgiveness.
Human forgiveness tends to be an amnesty, an accommodation that can never fully restore the broken relationships of the past. Divine forgiveness creates anew the heart of sinner. Such forgiveness not only renews the broken relationship with God. It opens the future to a deepening relationship with God and with each other. Such is the forgiveness proclaimed throughout the Scriptures. It is the gift of God’s grace, a grace that demands of us the humility of repentance and the trust of faith. We cannot presume such forgiveness. It comes to us only as we positively engage with our own sinfulness and the wonder of God’s mercy.
The second Book of Samuel sets before us King David’s adultery and his attempts to hide his crime through the murder of the innocent Uriah. The dramatic circumstances surrounding these offences demonstrate the tendency of sin to hide itself at any price. We are reluctant to confess our sins, even to ourselves. Nathan dramatically confronted King David’s sin. ” Why have you shown contempt for the Lord, doing what displeases him .”
There can be no forgiveness without the honesty that confronts our sinfulness. Only when David had confronted his sin, ‘I have sinned against the Lord,’ was his heart open to the Lord’s forgiveness.
Luke’s account of the sinful woman who anointed the feet of the Lord contrasts human and divine forgiveness. The Pharisees who sat at table with Jesus could not reach beyond the woman’s sinful past. They would never concede that such a woman might take her place in their presence. Jesus, on the other hand, welcomed the woman. He restored her place, entrusting himself completely to her ministrations. This wordless exchange between Jesus and the woman revealed the dialogue of divine forgiveness. When we fully acknowledge our sinfulness, entrusting its vulnerability to the Lord, our hearts are created afresh in the image of God’s love. ” For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.”
Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians takes us to the heart of divine forgiveness. When sin has destroyed our relationship with God, we cannot, of ourselves, rest-ore that relationship. “We acknowledge that what makes a man righteous is not obedience to the Law, but faith in Jesus Christ.”
Paul continues to describe divine forgiveness as the grace that enables selfish hearts to die to self and to live for Christ. ” I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me.”
The divine forgiveness that is ours in Christ Jesus is not an uneasy amnesty. It is the new creation that breathes the life of Christ into sinful hearts.