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Monday, January 14, 2013

God's prodigal grace and mass murderers

"I wouldn't forgive someone who killed my kid." That statement changed the direction of our conversation at church. My response is to consider what Jesus taught on his sermon on the mount.

Jesus teachers his followers how to pray. The second half of the prayer is focused on evil and our culpability and responsibility in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 "...and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."


We are indebted because of our wicked deeds.
Others are indebted to us because of their wicked deeds towards us.
We need to be forgiven by God. God's forgiveness of us is conditional on our forgiveness of others. We need to forgive those close to us who hurt us. We need to forgive those whose names we do not know, yet they cut us off in traffic and nearly killed us. We need to forgive those, a plural pronoun, who sin against us, another plural pronoun. As I've argued before, in this prayer, when I pray it, I am asking God to forgive the sins of others, who I don't even know, who did things against people I don't even know. It's a prayer by the church worldwide, for the church worldwide, to the God who forgives when asked.

But what if the sin is intentional, malicious, downright evil?

Jesus also addresses that. 21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5 I'm convinced Jesus is boxing us into a no-win situation. Only Jesus can "win" when we deal with fools. The only way that doesn't lead to hell is the way of the cross, forgiveness. Forgiveness gives up the right to vengeance. It does not give up justice, but it removes the personal aspect of the crime. Jesus talks about this even more.

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matt. 5

This is worse/better than justice. It's grace. Reminds me of a story written by Victor Hugo. I think there's a movie or something out about it. It's where the rubber meets the road of the Golden Rule. When I sin, I have my excuses. If you are hurt by my actions or my words, I believe you are making too big a deal out of it. Give me a break. Jesus wants me to give everyone a break, even the guy, stealing my silver. I don't have silver, but I do have electronic devices.

In a sense, most crimes are against humanity, if not all of humanity, at least the part of society where the criminal acted. So we have set up courts which adjudicate on our behalf, even though hardly any crime in the courts is against us personally. Collectively, we are all hurt, even in the tiniest way when crimes are committed. When a thief takes from someone downtown, someone I don't know, and may never meet, our community's trust is weakened. But if that thief has taken from someone in the church, when I pray, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors, I am forgiving someone who hasn't done a thing to me personally, but has hurt a fellow believer.

Murder is so much worse than theft. What is a Christian to do when someone is trying to kill you? Jesus talks about our enemies as well.

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt. 5

This gospel appeared in written form after the young church had already experienced official persecutions, lynch mobs, stonings, and other terrors.  The new believers, under attack were reminded of their Lord's instructions to love those who are killing them, their friends, and their family. If not being killed, they were being enslaved, ostracized, and disenfranchised. That still happens today. But Jesus' followers are told to not hate their enemies, but to love them, even the mass murderers.

As documented on this blog, a few years ago, most of my reading focused on genocide. From Joshua of the Bible, to Genghis Khan, to Columbus, to Native Americans, to Stalin, to Hitler, to Mao. In our modern parlance, genocide is classified as crimes against humanity. It is a good thing when mass murderers are stopped and incarcerated. Many do not ever get stopped and live out their deranged lives. (See The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, which used to be a great website, but now you have to get this book in your hands to see it all.)

Without forgiveness, there is only justice. If there is no Bishop Myriel, then the world only has Javert. Apart from the cross, a foolish, shameful, dishonorable, instrument of grace, there is only the justice of hell. The pain of the cross is short term, hell is forever. The humiliation of forgiveness, even for those who murder children, brings release through pain. Unforgiveness only brings crippling bitterness, a hell on earth.

Freedom is in forgiveness, even when applied to those diabolical evil doers in our world. It's not easy. But nothing worth doing is easy.

An important addendum:
When we are vicitimized, Christians do not need to stay in that situation, because of these verses. Jesus, repeatedly tells people to flee from persecution. So don't be stupid, pretending to be holy. Flee if you can, if you are in an abusive situation.

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