Hey Robbo: Why can’t God just let people go free? Why does there have to be a cross? Why does receiving forgiveness have a cost?
These are brilliant questions, my friend. It is costly both to give and receive forgiveness. You may have questions like: Let me build up to an answer. Go with me on this , please, the process is just so important.
THE COST OF A DECISION
There is a cost to every decision we make. I love thinking about plans for the future. So many great options, it is exciting to consider them all and weigh them all and imagine the outcomes. But then reality strikes. We can’t do them all, only some, maybe only one. Oh dear, the cost of this decision is that I must let go of all those wonderful ‘possible but impossible’ ideas about the future. I can conceive of much but in time and space reality is different. I have to face what works in reality. To decide anything is an act of letting go of the other options. That loss is part of I mean by the cost.
COST OF CHANGE
There is an even greater cost to see change happen. Have you been involved in making significant change happen? Have you tried and given up in frustration ? All who establish a new business or a new community organisation know this cost. The planning may be fun. The outcomes inspiring, but it’s hard slog doing things day after day with little or no help at first! Then the ones who come along and want the credit without the cost, and the ones who get tired easily and want to close the whole thig down, and the set-backs that seem to discourage you time and time again. Often, the recipients are not even grateful. Yes, there is a cost to make change happen. There is a cost of no change, and there is a cost of change.
THE COST OF RAISING A GENERATION
Consider now the sacrifices that parent makes for their beloved children – the time spent, the exhaustion, anxiety, protection, nurture, working to feed and house and educate them. Multiply that by ten for those who migrate (for whatever reason) to give an opportunity to their children – the sacrifice of migration. Not just the loss of home, friendships and extended family of the parents, but the loss of language, change of authority, loss of culture, loss of respect, and the ongoing difficulty of raising children in a foreign land. In their millions, parents do this. Such extreme acts of self-sacrifice are normal for love and for life.
Consider the cost of a society to raise that generation – employment growth, education, training teachers, apprenticeships, child-protection, sporting codes, music schools and orchestras, maintaining playing fields and schools, libraries, and so on. Now let’s add in the soldiers who sacrifice themselves, and their families who let them go, to defend our culture in times of extremity, war, danger and natural disaster. In their millions they have gone. It is worthy of the greatest honour but it is actually another ‘extreme normal’. Without the extensive costs of all such nurture, our society will cop the costs that come from the damage by feral teenagers, the costs of ignorance, cost of complacency and the erosion of our culture. Growing and nurturing new life normally costs at a sacrificial level.
COST OF FORGIVING
Forgiveness also costs somebody something. If I forgive you for hitting me, I do the work of paying the doctor and letting it all go. If I forgive someone who has broken my window, I still pay for the window, they don’t. If I forgive someone for hating or offending me, I have to do emotional work to let it go and find a basis for establishing a new trust. Forgiveness costs us physically and emotionally.
It is also costly to receive forgiveness from another person. It requires acceptance of our own frailty, taking on genuine humility. Sometimes the loss of egotism can be felt like an humiliation, but it is just us admitting we are merely human. Receiving forgiveness is to be transparent and authentic. It means an ability to give an apology. Pretending we have made no error, expressing the need to be right all the time, are destructive of relationships, families and groups. An ability to absorb the freedom that comes from being forgiven is an essential art of life.
THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS
All these costs above are borne by any who are considering whether or not to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus called it very clearly: ‘If anyone would follow me let them take up the cross and follow me.’ It is a call to change, to love, to be generous, to the way of forgiveness and peace-making and change-making.
All persons need to count the cost of discipleship –decision, nurture, change, forgiveness. Perhaps they need to grieve the losses from going forward with Jesus. Is it pride? Hyper-rationality? Secrets? Autonomy? Sometimes a sexual relationship or money habit is threatened so the idea of living by faith feels at that moment like being sentenced to impossible loneliness and insecurity. The grief and anger is real and it is not helpful to simply dismiss them as unbelief. Empathise first but also encourage them to go forward. God can be trusted. How do we find such a life-threatening confidence in God?
HOW CAN IT BE?
This next section goes briefly into HOW the cost is paid on earth in historical time by Jesus. This may be not relevant to some of you, but bear with me.
All these costs above can be felt as extreme. So an extreme and sacrificial understanding grew to explain them. In the chaos of medieval Europe, they crafted a “moral law” doctrine that made sense of the “debt of cooperation” that we owe to society and to God. To sin was to dishonour God and shame our family. So, to be forgiven meant a penalty must be borne to set things right again. So what is the price that the Jesus has paid that secures our forgiveness? He died upon the cross, one for all, by paying the penalty of obedience that we would normally owe. The injustice of it all – he pays for us – is the very nature of forgiveness as we have seen above. But it breaks the vicious cycle of sin and violence and injustice and re-established true justice for all. That is, everyone can access this relationship with God.
More recently, some do not relate to that sort of structure very well, but there are other ways to understand the cost paid by Christ to make us one with God (Atonement). These are:
· As a Ransom and Role-model from slavery to sin,
· As the proof and promise of friendship with God (New Covenant),
· As the healing salve from the deadness and default-mechanism that come from our rebellious independence (Salvation).
Any of these will do. They all bear witness to the example and the achievement by Jesu s upon the cross, authenticated by his resurrection from the dead and brought to us by the Holy Spirit sent upon all who say ‘yes’ to following Jesus and let go of the costs..
As a consequence the freedom of forgiveness is made open, the promise is delivered, the healing begins, the debt is paid. That is what Christians call salvation – it is a great joy!
In Christian discipleship, I have found that ‘the cost’ is the pattern. It is not just a once-off but a lifestyle of letting go and letting God, trusting in hope, confident because of the promise displayed and achieved at the Cross. In my role as a minister of the church I used to complain that I have to ‘let go’ again and again , time after time. I felt like I had been run over by a road roller. Then I got it. Then the Spirit of God works with me. Without my ego in the way, joy has room to spring up in more fertile ground. That is my life. That is why I am having a wonderful life. Get into it.