A while back, I commented on Dr. Stackhouse’s first post on repentance and forgiveness, which was the beginning of his reflections on Advent this year; I meant to go back when he posted the second part and comment on that too, but other things distracted me, and I’m just now getting back to it. As with the first part, it’s an excellent piece, one which directs our attention to the key truth in understanding repentance and forgiveness: our sins aren’t just between us human beings, they’re between us and God. The Psalmist even goes so far as to say to God, “Against you and you only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4).
This means that when we sin against someone else, or when they sin against us, we aren’t inextricably bound to them by that action; we aren’t enslaved by their refusal to repent, or by their refusal to forgive us if we repent. God is the one against whom the offense was ultimately committed, and he gives us the opportunity to free ourselves from it. We are free to forgive the one who hurt us even if they do not repent, because it’s not up to us to bring about their repentance (or their judgment)—that’s in God’s hands; and we are free to repent and receive forgiveness even if those on this earth whom we’ve hurt will not forgive, because God can and will forgive us, if we truly confess our sins to him and repent. (As Dr. Stackhouse notes, “the Bible says surprisingly little about repenting to each other, and a lot about repenting to God.”)
One of the ways in which our sin enslaves us is by binding us together in Gordian knots of guilt and pain and suffering and shame, knots we often cannot seem to undo no matter how hard we try, even though we were the ones who tied them. In Christ, however, God calls us to repent of our sins and be forgiven, and to forgive one another, and thus to cut that Gordian knot, and find freedom. In so doing, as the Rev. Casey Jones says, we can leave behind this world’s way of life and enter into the life of the kingdom of God here and now. This is good news; this is gospel.
(Note: subscription required for that last article; but the first month’s subscription to Presbyweb is free.)