Saturday, October 20, 2007

Christian Sinners: Hallowed Be God's Name

I internalize and cover up my sin and weakness because I fear that any failure on my part implies a failure of Christianity.
Of all the ways in which we Christians discredit Christ, our failure to forgive non-Christians may be the most serious; our failure to confess our own sins is part of the same mindset.

When we Christians sin -- when we morally fail -- we do bring public discredit on Christ's name because we bear his name. But hiding the sin restores nothing; it just adds deception and hypocrisy to our repertoire of familiar sins. The way to restore God's honor is to confess, to publicly humble ourselves, to publicly exalt his forgiveness. When we hold up our sins as ours alone and take responsibility for them, when we hold up his mercy as his alone and publicly praise and glorify him, then even our failures announce the good news. When we exalt ourselves, even our successes bring no credit to God.

Time after time we lose our opportunity to announce the gospel to the world: the good news of forgiveness for precisely times like these, times when we have humiliated ourselves and failed painfully and lost all claim to be trusted or seen as worthy. These are the times when people outside the church can best relate to us, times when we could really explain Christ in a way that makes sense to the world at large. And we do not.

Sometimes cover-ups are made rather than firm condemnations of wrongdoing, as with Rome's approach in the notorious "pedophile priest" scandals. In a case with no humility and no accountability, the so-called forgiveness seems anti-justice and hopelessly self-serving.

The evangelical camp has known its secrecy and hushed-up sins too, but has often gone to the opposite extreme: when someone sins and falls publicly, there has at times been a rush to condemn not only the sin but also the fallen person, even in cases of genuine repentance. For people who say we bet our lives and eternities on God's forgiveness through Christ, who count on being redeemed and our sins forgotten, we don't always act like it.

In this age where a lax attitude towards sin is part of the culture, where upholding the reality of right and wrong is part of our struggle, I have to wonder: has forgiveness been a casualty of the culture war? Have we upheld grace and mercy in the same way we have upheld the law? I wonder how much of the hesitancy to proclaim forgiveness to the sinners within our own ranks is because we fear being seen as self-serving, because we fear the abuse of forgiveness, or because we fear being weak in our stand against sin.

Repentance and forgiveness separate the sinner from the sin. Repentance allows us, when we are guilty, to give up excuses and be adamant that our own sin was wrong. It allows us to once again say that right is right and wrong is wrong, abandoning the deception that comes with defending or hiding our mistakes. It is a return to honesty, a freedom from blame-shifting. In repentance we separate ourselves from our own sins, gaining the moral courage to denounce our own sins.

Forgiveness allows us to show that hope to a sinner. It shows freedom from deception. It shows how to condemn the wrong that we did without abandoning all hope for ourselves. It gives hope for redemption and restoration. More than that, forgiveness is an opportunity for us to show love: to show that a human being made in God's image is valuable in our sight, better to be redeemed than condemned.

There is a "gotcha" mentality in the media, where the press goes back and forth like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Next time our enemy falls into the lion's mouth, that would be a really good time for us to offer a word of redemption. Hallowed be God's name.

H/T to Mark at Pseudo-Polymath for a good read of the article containing the lead quote by Matt K. at Common Grounds. As they say, read it all.
I had put on a glossy fa├žade, feigning invincibility and faultlessness. I never revealed my weakness and humanness and thus was not a real person. He saw me as a fake, like a mannequin in Christianity’s window display. My friend’s assessment was right on- my pride and fear kept me from really loving him at all.


P.S. an after-thought said...

Many good points in your posting. Really, too much to think about right now.

But I will add that there seems to be two types of forgiveness. One is for the sinner, ie the person who was hurt forgives the sinner which can help the sinner. The other type of forgiveness is for the person who was hurt. That person can forgive even if the sinner has no knowledge of this forgiveness, ie is dead, in prison, out of touch, etc. That type of forgiveness releases the hurt person from hurting.

Jesus said 7 X 70, which might metaphorically mean infinity, but I take it literally to mean that one must practice forgiveness over and over because of our human tendency to hang on to our hurts, to make our selves seem "righteous" in comparison to the sinner.

Weekend Fisher said...

<< human tendency to hang on to our hurts, to make ourselves seem "righteous" in comparison to the sinner >>

You said it. Way too easy. Victimhood is often the easy road to self-righteousness.