But They Are Sinners!

 Yes, God has forgiven all people, for all time (and you can read that post here if you missed it).

I know this may sound different than what you have heard from preachers and church people in the past, but the forgiveness and embrace of God is so much deeper and so much wider than any of our finite minds can even comprehend. And there are many people who struggle to understand a God who unconditionally and preemptively forgives everyone, even when they don’t ask for forgiveness.

But that is who this God is.

Too many times, the religious try to create God in their own image. And this little god ends up being as stingy and conditional in doling out grace and mercy and forgiveness and love as those who created it. This little god ends up being a sad projection of their own disunion with God.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul makes an appeal to this church by telling them that the motivating force that compels them is the love of the Christ. And it is this singular force that has, not only changed them, but has changed how they view everyone in the world.

Again, the motivation for those in the Christ is love and it changes how we live and how we see others.

He says that since the Christ died, all have died. And since Christ was raised from the dead, we should all be raised to a new brand new life.

Therefore, in light of this new reality, we no longer view anyone from a worldly point of view. We no longer hold a single trespass against anyone. We no longer have enmity or hostility toward others. Because the old ways have gone and new ways have come. All things have been made new. This restoration has already started. And we are all invited into that reality as we are.

God’s peace has already been given to all. Past tense.
God’s forgiveness has already been given to all. Past tense.

And all we can do is receive it, be immersed in it, be restored to God in light of it, and be transformed through it.

To the religious, the major obstacle to God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness is their belief that sin can only be forgiven when a person is repentant, or when one confesses their sins. But it is this misunderstanding of sin by the religious which has created an incredibly finicky god who has the audacity to tell us to unconditionally and preemptively forgive everyone, including our enemies, but who can’t quite live up to that standard himself.

I find that god inconsistent and unbelievable. So there must be more to the story.

Interestingly, close to eighty-percent of the time the word sin is used in the New Testament, it is used as a noun.

This is interesting because we typically hear people talk about sin as a verb.

They describe all of the bad things we do that make God angry at us. And inevitably, when people focus on sin primarily as a verb, they get obsessed with saying this sin is worse than that sin, this sin can be overlooked but that one can’t, and this sin is unforgivable but that sin is okay (since we are all doing it).

But the original Greek word for sin, as a noun, is hamartano and it means to be without a share in, or to miss the mark, or to stray.

Sin is a position in which we find ourselves. It is a position out of alignment with God, or in disunion with God. And in that place of disunion, we are the opposite of shalom, the opposite of wholeness, completeness, and harmony in all things. It is the road that leads to destruction.

And this begins to open our eyes to the central issue.

It’s not that we are horrible wretches for committing all of these terrible sins every day. It is that we are in a position of disunion with the Divine. And when we live out of this disunion, out of this broken relationship, it very naturally begins to look to unwhole, incomplete, and inharmonious. It is the natural consequence of us living out of shalom.

That is why God’s intention has always been to get rid of sin, or to remove the relational barrier between us, because we were always meant to be in union with God, to be in relationship with God. We were always meant for wholeness, completeness, and harmony with God and with all things, because that is where life to the fullest is found.

That’s why the wisdom of Paul ought to be so eye-opening to each one of us today, because he echoes this exact point when he says that we all fall short of God’s glory. We are all in the same position, equally. We are all in a position of disunion from God, equally. There is not one single person who has a position that is any better or any worse than another. We are all in a position of disunion and have missed the mark of the Divine. And in this position, we are not presently sharing in this shalom. That is sin, as a noun.

So when religious people begin creating these crazy hierarchies of sin and telling us that certain people or groups are worse than others, telling us who’s in and who’s out, all it does is alienate and devalue people. It sends a message that the religious are good and righteous and all the rest of us sinners are bad and unworthy. And all that does is create more judgment and condemnation and anger and hostility. All it does is build up more walls of division between us all.

The point is that when the religious view sin primarily, or exclusively, as a verb, they fall back into that old way of labeling, categorizing, ranking, and then dividing. And it completely misses the big picture that we are all in the same position and that the heart of God has always been an invitation back into relational union with every single one of us equally.

Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Equally.

So when we begin to see sin correctly, as a place of disunion, we more accurately understand that we all stand in the exact same place together and there can be no hierarchy of sin or worthiness. We are all disconnected from the Source of Life, and we are in that place together.

Hard stop.

And once we begin to understand this simple truth, it is the place where humility and grace can begin to come to life and shine. It is the place where everyone is welcome to the table of invitation together without exclusion. It is the place of remarkable beauty and breakthrough. It is the place where all the broken pieces of the world can begin to come back together as one.

It’s possible that all this talk of everyone being forgiven is giving you heartburn, because you keep thinking of Acts 2:38-39, which specifically states that God’s forgiveness is conditional and is only given when a person is repentant and baptized. I get it. But I want to share something very eye opening with you about that passage.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter is preaching to the crowd and says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

From the outside looking in, it sounds like Peter is telling the people that in order to be forgiven, they must first repent and be baptized and then, and only then, will they be forgiven by God.

And that is the way countless numbers of Church leaders and Christians have taken that verse over the centuries. It is viewed as a conditional transaction between God and a person. In essence, the forgiveness of God will only be given when you say the right words, have a repentant heart, and are baptized in the water.

But here is the crazy part.

In that verse spoken by Peter, the word translated as for is the Greek word eis.

Eis means a motion into, penetration, union.

So what many have always read as this conditional transaction between people and God is actually a movement we make into something that is already there, something that has already been given, something that already surrounds us. And our acts of repentance and baptism are the faithful movements we make that penetrate into, and find union with, a forgiveness that had been given long ago.

God’s forgiveness is not being withheld like a stingy miser. Nor is it dependent upon you being good or perfect, or going through the right steps. God’s forgiveness is already here. It has already been extended to all. It is right in front of you. The invitation into shalom was sent long ago. All you have to do is enter into it.

If this truth has been withheld from you, or if you have received something very different than this message of radical invitation and inclusion, please let me tell you that the grace and love of God has always been surrounding you, even in your disunion, even when you have felt disconnected, and has always been inviting you back, as you are, into loving union with the Source of Life.

But there may be some of you, maybe a lot of you, who are reading these words and still carrying around so much pain and so many wounds from past church experiences or past dealings with religious people.

I am sorry and I understand.

But.

No matter what you may have been told.

No matter how badly you may have been treated.

No matter the judgments and accusations that may have been thrown at you.

No matter if you may have been told that you are not worthy or not redeemable.

No matter if you may have been told that God will never forgive you.

Let me tell you emphatically, once and for all, that you are loved and you are already forgiven, as you are.

Every one of you.

Past tense.

Done deal.

God loves you and has always been inviting you, as you are, into shalom. Inviting you, as you are, out of the wreckage and into a new beginning of life and love and beauty and wholeness and completeness and harmony. Inviting you, as you are, into the full immersion of an entirely different present reality. And God is speaking your name to let you know that you have always been loved as you are, that you have always been worthy as you are, and that in this embrace of the Divine you are being made whole.

I rarely say this, but when I do you know I mean it. Praise God!

Brandon

All Are Forgiven

I remember talking to a lady several years ago who had been abused by her father as a young girl and who was, understandably, still dealing with the mental anguish of the abuse as a middle-aged woman. She had reached a point in her life in which she no longer wanted to live in the bitterness and anger of her past. And she was ready to forgive her father.

But he had died a decade before.

I explained to her that forgiveness can happen at anytime and that it does not require two people to come together, agree with one another, or for the other person to accept the forgiveness. In fact, the other person does not even need to be alive to forgive them.

Forgiveness is, very simply, a change in one’s heart disposition toward another, that moves from a place of anger, bitterness, and resentment to a place of compassion and mercy. It is a heart posture that no longer holds enmity or hostility or condemnation toward another, but that manifests from a place of compassion and mercy into a loving grace.

And to that end, forgiveness is never dependent upon another. Forgiveness is always self-generative. That is why forgiveness can never be transactional, or an “if you do something for me, then I will forgive you” proposition. It is only, and always, the posture of one’s heart toward another. And to that end, forgiveness is always a one-sided affair. It begins and ends with you and you alone.

That understanding of forgiveness was a huge revelation for her (and it may be for you as well), as she was then able to forgive her father, even though he was no longer alive. Through her forgiveness, she was finally released from the hostility that had been consuming her for decades.

But it seems that, like my friend, many people do not fully understand forgiveness and do not understand the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. In fact, my explanation of forgiveness may be different than how you have always understood it.

You may have always thought of forgiveness as a verbal sentiment withheld until an adequate measure of contrition, remorse, or tears have been poured out by another. And that is completely understandable, because that is the model of forgiveness we have been culturally-conditioned to understand, especially in our churches. Within that model, forgiveness is conditionally given in exchange for one being sorry, with one side holding the ultimate power of forgiveness or unforgiveness and the other side needing to prove they deserve it.

But what we find in Scripture is actually something very different than the conditional, reactive forgiveness that holds power over another. In story after story, and account after account, we discover that the forgiveness of God, demonstrated through the life and teachings of Jesus, is unconditional and preemptive. It is always unmerited and given before anyone ever asks for it. And there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to earn that kind of forgiveness. Again, it is birthed out of compassion and mercy that becomes a loving grace which is given regardless of one being sorry. And it is precisely this unconditional and preemptive forgiveness, this kindness of God, that can lead to repentance, or a change in one’s mind that leads to inner transformation.

But many miss God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness because they project their merit-based value system on to God and/or look at the Bible as a mechanical process to be exactly followed, or a mathematical equation that only equals forgiveness if all of the numbers are added up correctly. That completely misses the heart of God’s forgiveness, and the forgiveness we are to emulate. Forgiveness is neither a mechanical process to follow nor a mathematical equation to get correct.

God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness has always been God’s first move toward restoring a relationship with each of us. And if you have missed that then you have missed the entire point of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is not, as many believe, the essential head nod of God given to grant us access to a future heaven. God’s forgiveness is the first step toward a whole and healed relationship with us. Forgiveness allows for the repairing and mending work in our relationship to begin. For the two to become one. For that which has been divided to come back together. For wholeness, completeness, and harmony to be realized in our relationship. That is what reconciliation is. It is the process that slowly begins to build trust, heal wounds and divisions, and make relationships whole again over time.

But while forgiveness can happen immediately and is always one-sided, reconciliation takes time, maybe a lifetime, and necessitates the willingness of both sides to work toward reconciliation in the relationship. But there is no guarantee that both sides will be willing, or able, to work toward a reconciled, whole and healed relationship in this lifetime. But that is always the hope and longing of God- that in light of God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness, all will be reconciled, all will be made whole and complete, all things will move toward perfect harmony, and that shalom will be obsessively pursued.

Interestingly, that is why followers of Jesus are referred to as ministers of reconciliation, rather than ministers of forgiveness. Because God’s forgiveness has already happened. Every single person in the past, present, and future has already been forgiven by God. Past tense. That is the Good News. And now, in light of God’s forgiveness for all people, we are those who announce that there is no enmity, hostility, or condemnation from God toward anyone. There is only love and forgiveness and open arms that welcomes back every prodigal, to be reconciled to God, to be whole and healed in this relationship with God and then with all people. That has always been the point- forgiveness that leads to the reconciliation of all things.

God’s forgiveness is completely a one-sided affair and was demonstrated at the cross of Christ for all people, for all time. So in every way humanity has believed, or continues to believe, that a sacrifice is necessary on our part to be at peace with an angry god, it was God who finally put that faulty assumption to rest, once and for all, by giving a peace offering to us.

Rather than a power play that holds forgiveness or unforgiveness over our heads until we are contrite and remorseful enough, until we have offered enough sacrifices, or until we have shed enough tears, the forgiveness of God stands alone and is unconditionally and preemptively self-giving and self-generative, birthed out of God’s great compassion and mercy into a loving grace for all.

The forgiveness of God has never been dependent upon any single person climbing the ladder of worthiness or attaining higher levels on the fictitious relative sin scale. The forgiveness of God is here for all, surrounding us every moment, waiting for us to live in light of it, longing for all things to be reconciled. And it is that forgiveness that was demonstrated perfectly at the cross of Christ, to show that in any way we may have believed otherwise, there is no absolutely no enmity, no hostility, and no condemnation from God toward us.

There is only and always forgiveness for all.

Brandon

Read the next post But They Are Sinners!

From the Valley of the Shadow of Death

This post is an excerpt from my book Learning to See Beauty in the Wreckage, which will publish later this year.

I often think about the grief my grandparents experienced when an aunt I never knew died as a one month old baby to whooping cough.

The anticipation of pregnancy.
The joy of a new arrival.
The excitement of each new day with your baby.

But then.

The grief of losing your newborn.
The sadness of what could have been.
The despair accompanying each passing day.

After Judy’s death, my grandparents visited the cemetery each Sunday. It just so happened that the cemetery was next to a church. And while my grandparents were not people of faith, the church family would join my grandparents in their pain and suffering, comforting them, consoling them, and walking alongside them in their loss.

Through their loving kindness and compassion, my grandparents began to follow Jesus.

And man, this story tears me up everytime I share it, because my grandparents were not planning to have any more kids once Judy was born. But as a result of her premature death, they decided to have one more child.

That child was my dad.

And I am only here on this earth, very literally, because Judy died as a one month old baby.

It is tragic and horrible and beautiful. But these are the tensions we hold together right now.

Let me be clear. God did not make her die. God did not need another angel. God wasn’t testing anyone’s faith. God didn’t have a better plan for her. God was not sitting on high like a great marionette orchestrating this death for some greater good.

We live in a world that is suffering under the weight of immense pain and suffering and death in the present. But even in our pain, even through our suffering, even in the throes of death, God is there with us, surrounding us, holding us, hurting with us, grieving with us. And even in the most painful and horrific situations, God can still bring healing, still bring life, still bring transformation, and still bring hope.

God does not cause death. But God can bring life and beauty from it.

For all the pain my grandparents experienced. For all of their sufferings. For all of their grieving tears and burdened, sleepless nights and heartaches, did they know that I would be sitting here, writing these words of life and love and hope to each one of you?

And is it possible that the same eyes that shed tears of sadness on the fertile ground will one day shed tears of joy for the seeds I have planted in that ground?

Is it possible that their days of great loss and great sorrow can be redeemed, at least in a small way, through a lifetime of gratitude, joy, and blessing that I experience and pass on to others?

Is it possible that a young life did not pass away in vain but can be honored with what I do with my life, how I live it, and how I pass it on?

Beauty can, and will, come from this wreckage and devastation.

Suffering, as an end destination, is nothing but wreckage and devastation and hopelessness. It is a wasteland where nothing good is found and where misery and brokenness reside. It is the valley of the shadow of death.

But suffering, as a transformative passageway, is the ground upon which beauty flourishes, where hope is birthed. It is the morning light, the dawning of a new day, from which the first hopeful rays break over the distant horizon of the valley that causes the darkness to flee.

You may not trust these words now, but there is hope in your pain and suffering.

From the outside looking in, pain and suffering as a transformative passageway where beauty begins to spring forth, is completely counterintuitive. It is upside-down thinking to the logical mind. But for the contemplative seeker, for the humble mystic, it is the power of God that brings life from death.

Again, it’s not that we actively seek out painful situations, or enjoy our sufferings.

Suffering is a natural inevitability of this life experience that we all will face and enter into at some point in our lives.

But there is an awareness and trust that begins to develop within the contemplative seeker and the humble mystic in understanding that no matter the degree or type of suffering we are experiencing, there is something beautiful at the core of our being, at the very center of our humanity, being birthed deep within us, that transforms our pain and suffering into something extraordinarily beautiful. We are being forged with a depth and resilience into something invaluable and useful and magnificent when we are willing to face our pain and walk headfirst into our suffering, in a posture of humility, that leans into the Spirit.

For it is in this place where the transformation begins, both within us and then ultimately through us for the benefit of others.

Peace…

Brandon