I remember sitting in a church service over a decade ago in which the preacher was talking about how the forgiveness of God was a “free gift.” The irony was that he then went on to tell the congregation all of the things they needed to do to receive God’s forgiveness. It was something else.
In my mind, when something is free, it is free.
And the forgiveness of God is radically free for all.
In my previous two posts I have discussed how every single person in the past, present, and future are unconditionally and preemptively forgiven by God.
And this forgiveness is not dependent upon anything we can do on our end, whether it be through our contrition, our tears, or our repentance. The forgiveness of God presently surrounds us and holds us and continually invites each of us into a whole, complete, and harmonious relationship. When we turn into that forgiveness, we actually penetrate into something that has always been with us and surrounded us and invited us. And it is this kindness of God that leads to our repentance, or our change of mind toward God that unites us with God, and then through this relationship, causes us to experience personal transformation.
Of course, the inevitable question is, “Why does it matter whether God forgives us unconditionally and preemptively, as opposed to conditionally and reactively?”
And at face value, that is a fair question.
Is this not simply a question of the chicken or the egg? Or, of what real, practical consequence is this argument, anyway? Who cares if God’s forgiveness is unconditional and preemptive or conditional and reactive. It’s the same either way, right?
To me, the distinction and practical implications of the unconditional and preemptive forgiveness of God are absolutely essential and here is why.
A quick look at faith in the United States indicates people, by the droves, are leaving churches (and faith by proxy) for many reasons, but one reason in particular. They can not reconcile a temperamental, finicky, and retributive god who is lovingly adored by many within the churches with the consistently loving, forgiving, and merciful Jesus we see in the Gospels and that Paul writes about in his letters.
Throughout the New Testament, we find that the nature and character of this God revealed in Jesus is not the bloodthirsty, ready-to-throw-people-into-hell-for-eternity monster we have been led to believe by many Evangelicals, but rather a forgiving, self-sacrificing God who will go to any length, even death, to demonstrate unconditional love for us. And it is this love that unconditionally and preemptively forgives each one of us and that longs for relational union with us, which has always been the point. This is one of the primary reasons why this forgiveness message is so important, because people have been running from the angry tyrant god who has to be satiated or else he will send everyone to hell, rather than understanding rightly the self-giving, relational God demonstrated in the life and teachings of Jesus.
And I believe that, in light of discovering this true heart of God, our understanding of what forgiveness actually is (unconditional and preemptive), rather than what we have been told to believe it is (conditional and reactive), actually begins to reengage those who have walked away, rebelled, or never been interested in faith because of the temperamental god caricature.
Additionally, understanding rightly the unconditional and preemptive forgiveness of God then begins to establish, for future generations, an authentic understanding of what the true heart of God is. Again, not the vengeful, blood-thirst god that doles out forgiveness conditionally like a miser, but rather the God that unilaterally and unconditionally forgives and who is always pursuing us in love.
I believe it is absolutely essential to have people rightly understand that God is way more generous in grace and forgiveness than they have ever been told, rather than to maintain an erroneous and misleading status quo which increasingly causes people to disengage because of their misunderstanding of who God really is. Setting the record straight on this is incredibly important because people will finally be able to see the true heart of God, maybe for the first time in their lives.
Lastly, this understanding of God’s unconditional and preemptive forgiveness matters because Christians ultimately extend that which they believe has been extended to them. And as long as Christians believe that God only forgives those who ask for it, those who deserve it, and those who are repentant, then they will do the same with other people and other groups. And this really matters for how Christians see, and treat, others. To me, this is single-handedly the most important reason for people to understand that God is unconditional and preemptive in forgiveness, because it truly affects how Christians view and treat other people.
For instance, if my sister did something, for which I believed that she needed to ask my dad for forgiveness, but my dad already unconditionally and preemptively forgave her, what right would I have to continue the finger pointing, accusing, and holding it against my sister?
Since my father had already forgiven her, ought it not change how I see my sister (as forgiven), how I see my own position (as not any better or worse than my sister’s), and then how I am not in a position to no longer accuse, condemn, or be hostile toward her? Ought it not cause me to be as forgiving to her as my father has been to her, since he has already unconditionally and preemptively forgiven her?
So it is worth asking.
Is this what we see from Christians in relation to other people whom they view as especially “sinful?” Or what we see from Christians in relation to how they view special “sin groups?” Do Christians treat others as already forgiven by God, or do they still harbor condemnation and unforgiveness to those they believe do not deserve it?
Understanding God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness is not a matter of subtle nuance or simply a chicken/egg discussion without any real world practical consequence. This distinction matters so much right now.
It matters for how Christians view and then treat other people, especially the LGBTQ community, drug addicts and abusers, the homeless, and those in our country illegally, to name a few.
And if you say that they don’t deserves the forgiveness of God then I would simply say, “Who deserves the forgiveness of God?”
Not one of us deserve the forgiveness of God.
So who are you to dictate the limits of how God forgives?
God has unconditionally and preemptively forgiven all people, all people, all people, for all time! Go and do likewise! Invite every forgiven person in the world to a seat at the table, so that they may discover and awaken to the beauty and life and kindness of this self-giving, relational God, which leads us all to repentance, which leads us all to a change in our minds toward God, and then into beautiful, relational union with God, which leads to transformation in our lives.
Forgiveness changes everything.