Forgiveness is a funny thing. It sounds pretty cut and dry, but in reality I think we all know there are several types. You have the “forgive and forget” folks, and then you have the “forgive but never forget” faction who sweep past infractions under the rug only until it’s convenient to trot them out again for their benefit. You have the “forgiveness is a feeling” people (who must either be the most charitable people in the world or who never really get around to actually forgiving anyone) and the “forgiveness is a choice” crowd who take heroic steps of reconciliation when faced with conflict resolution.
And then there’s something entirely different; then there’s God.
He’s in a class all His own, the “I forgave you before you even did it” club. Jesus, being a fan of parables, told His followers about God’s forgiveness by telling them the story of arguably the world’s worst son. This son up and decides one day that he’s done with this whole family farm thing, waltzes into his dad’s room and demands that he gets his inheritance–today. That takes some nerve. But wait, it gets better! His father gives it to him, and then the son goes off and spends it all–not on practical stuff or making a good life for himself, but on what is discreetly referred to in the Bible as “wild living”. (I’ll leave it to your imagination what that means.) Well, eventually there’s a famine and the wild child is all out of money and rents himself out to a local feeding pigs. He’s so hungry that he would eat the slop that he’s doling out to the swine but no one will give him any! So he figures, “Hey, my dad treats his servants pretty well. I’m not worth being called his son anymore, so I’ll go home and see if my father will hire me as a servant.” And he does.
Can you imagine the long walk home? The constant inner turmoil, how much that son must have beat himself up over and over again. The speech he rehearsed in his head: “‘Dad, I’m really sorry. Please, would you hire me as a servant?’ No, that’s not good enough….’Father, I humbly beg…’ No, that’s too formal. Ah, what am I going to say to him?!?” It was probably the longest walk he ever took. But while he was still far off, his father saw him approaching:
“His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him and kissed him. The son started his speech, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling out to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time!”
(Luke 15.20-23, The Message translation)
I’m pretty sure if this had happened in the modern day, the son would have thought, “Am I being Punked?” and looked for Ashton Kutcher to spring out of the nearest bush.
Now, there are a few things here that aren’t being said. First off, it says that the father runs out to see his son…….which implies that he was looking for him. It’s not like the son just showed up on the doorstep; the father saw him from a distance and then sprints out to receive him, not waiting for an explanation, not waiting for an apology, just thrilled to see his child alive and home no matter what the reason. Which leads to my second point: for all the father knew, his son was home to ask for more money. But he doesn’t stop and grill him, he doesn’t make him beg forgiveness; he just rejoices. Furthermore, the father doesn’t wait for the son to ask why he’s welcoming him home (probably because the son was stunned speechless, but I digress), he just proclaims his reasoning:
“For this son of mine was dead and is alive again;
he was lost and is found!”
Luke 15.24, NIV
That, dear friends, is how God feels about us. He runs out while we’re still far away, heart pounding, and rejoices when we return! And here’s the kicker (oh yes, there’s more!):
if, as Christians, we’re supposed to act like Christ,
and Christ is God,
and God forgives like this….
(wait for it, you know it’s coming!)
….then that means we’re supposed to forgive like this as well.
I mean, it’s all well and good when it’s God being the hero, but me? You? Us? We’re supposed to just run out and forgive immediately?
It’s almost Advent, and that means that if you haven’t been to Confession in awhile, it’s time to dust off your Act of Contrition and do a good ol’ examination of conscience. Start over with God. Approach Him from far off; He will run out to greet you and welcome you home with a feast. Also consider the relationships in your own life. Fix them. Own up to your mistakes. And forgive with Christ-like zeal.
Then go have ice cream or something to celebrate because I’m pretty sure we don’t have a lot of grain-fed heifers roaming around on campus.