Archives For Forgiveness

The synoptic authors recall the sending forth of the disciples by Jesus.

Matthew, Mark and Luke discuss the event with particular attention to polarity. Their focal point is the contrasts between the ‘for, against’, ‘peace, swords’, ‘binding, loosing’, ‘finding and losing’.(Mt.10:14/Lk.9:3-5/Mk.6:811/Acts 13:51)

Within the texts Jesus employs an economic[i] and political rhetoric. We read words like labouring, wages, authority, power, court and persecution.Within this discourse the sender and the sent are engaged in an economic project of proclamation.

This could be viewed as an economic protest that is both transactional and transformational. Words such as ‘value, worth, pay, giving, receiving, work and reward’ all rotate in and around the commanded reordering evident within the text.There is a transaction taking place, it precedes the announcement of transformation. Accompanying the message is exorcism, deliverance and proclamation of true value and true cost.

We read the words “take up your cross” in recollection of the steps taken by Jesus from stable, temple, workshop, garden, cross, empty tomb, upper room, and the promise of His physical reappearing.

When Jesus points to cost it is true cost. We are found or lost in underlying the notions of presence, arrival, departure and acceptance or rejection. Acknowledging presence means we hear the cost of wrath, value, worth, or worthlessness, unforgiveness or forgiveness.

Here we see that life-is-proclamation. It is not just economic but political. The transaction has no monetary value and yet it becomes transformational. These distinctions are about the strategic advancement of the Kingdom of God which lies outside human conjuring.It is given and cannot be purchased.

We, the post-modern hearers of the texts are confronted by the weight of declaration and doubt. This is a heaviness which takes place in the recollection of John the Baptist’s  call to ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand – God has come near’ (ESV)

In the reminder of the horror and shame of crucifixion, and John’s call to repentance, we are redirected to align our thoughts onto the polarity between acknowledgement – acceptance, and denial – and evasion (in a word, rejection).

For instance: we read of dust, feet, and wiping away.

Dust in its Anglo-European context is understood as confusion, disturbance, something worthless, a state of humiliation, particles into which something disintegrates[ii]. For the first century audience, dust would have been ‘symbolic’[iii].Reminding them that ‘divine displeasure rests on any place that refused the Gospel’[iv].

Dust can announce arrival and signify departure.The finite significance of dust is its strength as a silent symbolic act of re-ordering; possibly forgiveness. A loving push-back; an assertive handing back of the hat, label,or false accusation that doesn’t fit.

Dust as a declaration of disturbance points us towards distinctions. The qualitative[v]: God is the majestic giver of life and ‘humanity, in its misery’[vi] runs hard and fast towards and artificial light, believing in the ability and power of self to justify.The proclamation mentioned within the texts are not about preaching the ‘manifestation of God as an idea; but about acknowledging that the revelation of God as a whole is a spiritual reality[vii]

Proclamation here is a declaration of disturbance. Our self-reliance is disrupted; as such we are not left in our sin to wallow – because “God has drawn near”.

We are forgiven, raised and reminded, by proclamation, that this state of forgiveness is not about ignoring deliberate injury.  For sin is not justified or legitimised by forgiveness. Forgiveness acknowledges a wrong, and calls for a response, a re-ordering; change. Otherwise there would be no cause for forgiveness. For the sinner this means that we are justified by the final act of the forgiver.

Proclamation calls us to acknowledgment. Here we experience acceptance and see shadows condemned in the true light of ‘veritas’ and the true cost of forgiveness.  By doing this we drop the dust from our feet, stop feeding the echoes of the past and as a consequence find ourselves moved towards healing.

‘In Jesus Christ God comes forth out of the profound hiddenness of His divinity in order to act as God among and upon us…
…In Jesus the living God has spoken to us in accents we cannot fail to hear’[viii]

In repentance thought and speech must meet deed.We acknowledge the negative but assert the positive. In this sense diverse forgiveness, including the act of forgiving the absence of apology, is like exhaling dust, and inhaling grace. The act of removing the dust from our feet.


[i] Green, J.1997 NICNT:The Gospel of Luke, Wm.B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, p.413

[ii] Merriam-Webster

[iii] Hendrickson, W. 1978 NTC: Luke, Baker Academic p.575

[iv] Ibid, p.575

[v] Kierkegaard’s ‘infinite qualitative distinction’

[vi] Barth, K. 1938 The Miracle of Christmas in CD.1.2:173 Hendrickson Publishers

[vii] Ibid, p.178

[viii] Ibid, pp.182-183

Originally posted 17th February 2014  ©RL 



Quiet thunder shifted from within the gloom

His hands, like blackened skies, slowly eased open,

Salt water is a bitter sweet rain,

.      but tears erode sighs,

.            and if he’s honest, he’ll tell you, that they sometimes still do.

This, the scarred out pouring,

.            and its solemn reminder

.            of a mended heart once utterly ripped in two.


He was the insignificant

The worm

A failed participant

Whose cord was tied round his neck in the womb

Born the cold colour match for the umbilical blue

Deemed an untalented fool

Beaten with words,

.          left to find value in friendless schools

The one aimless wonder

The abandoned son of a broken father

The amusement of pointless punters

Just another pawn in the clanging mix of a jester’s set of tools.


Words fail wherever pain grips the heart

Memories collide.

Though there’s little danger of flammable sparks.

For when Christ’s forgiveness crashes into the past,

the soldier is backed by his Captain;

who is Himself scarred;

is He Himself proven more than fit for the task.



Photo credit: Allef Vinicius


Take that which was left withering.

Call out for the deserted.

Watch them emerge from Holy places.

Look at the put-downs written across their faces.

The stillness of words,

the speechless echoes of what was once spoken to save appearances.

Scapegoats left bleeding,

glasses raised in smug celebration.

Alliances built on smiles, subjugation and people pleasing .

Lies hidden behind smoke screens of charm and self-congratulation.

That, wished forgotten, doesn’t benefit the downtrodden.

Call out for the broken,

the wounded carer,

the grateful soldier,

those branded as lesser.

Help them see that

the way through the night

is by Divine forgiveness and His pierced way to new life.

Like a lantern lit, then wrapped in darkness,

light breaks out through its cracks.

Once hardened lies drip to the floor like wax.

Tattooed hearts transposed into a melody of scars

Each beat a reminder, that the future should never be determined by the past;

Each a lingering memory;

Each memory verse a watchman;

Every ounce of pain turned into a lesson;

Every bit of faith guiding total forgiveness,

Each awakened nerve, calling out against careless forgetfulness.


  Image: sdh_photos

Hildegard of Bingen:

“Rise up, therefore, cry out and speak forth those things made known to you
by the great strength of Divine assistance.”

(Selected Writings, circa 1100s.)

R NiebuhrAfter working my way through Reinhold Niebuhr’s ‘Signs of the times,’ and being encouraged by what I’d found there, I decided to invest time in reading ‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics.’

Upon finishing it, I was left with the feeling that the work was incomplete. Niebuhr seemed to become paralyzed by paradox.

Halted by an ‘impossible possibility’ [his reworking of an early 20th century dialectical term where that which is true as an “impossibility actually becomes a true possibility”] of humanity ever being able live what he calls the “Jesus ethic” or “law of love.”

Through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Niebuhr concludes that humanity cannot entirely live out the instructions of Jesus to “love our enemies and not resist evil.’’ As Niebuhr reads it, resistance to evil is a forbidden act. Any resistance to evil, whether it be through an orthodox restraint of evil via the limitations of just-war, or through a modern liberal lens of non-violent resistance to evil, is a breach of the “law of love;” a breach of Christ’s command to “love our enemies and not resist evil.”

For Niebuhr there is no better example than the impossible possibility of Christian forgiveness. Reducing things, he states that if we were to apply forgiveness in an absolute sense we would have to eliminate prisons.

If it sounds a bit reductio ad absurdum, it might be because it comes real close. What stops it crossing that line is the qualifier in the form of a question that Niebuhr raises: How can we live out justice and ‘preserve the indictment upon all human life of the impossible possibility, the law of love [?]’ [i]  Any action that seeks to restrain or limit our neighbour is resistance and a breach of the ‘law of love.’

‘As a matter of practical necessity and social responsibility, even the Christian is compelled to leave that ethic behind in grappling with the exigencies of a fallen world.’ [ii]

On this, Niebuhr stands alone. Both the pacifist and just-war positions disagreed:

‘Niebuhr’s claim that the ethics of Jesus commands absolute nonresistance to evil has been challenged, at least implicitly, both by Christian just war theorists and by Christian proponents of nonviolence.’[iii]

It might be a big call, but it seems to me that Niebuhr’s gloom smothers His exegetical work. What little there is of it is let down by a restless existential pessimism which seeps into every part of the later chapters.

There is no mention of a loving “no”, loving correction, or even of Jesus’ own blunt words to the Pharisees. Niebuhr frequently speaks of ‘the human spirit’, yet, there is little to no mention of the role of the Holy Spirit. The absence of which only deepens the dark, hopeless tone.

‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ was a disappointing read. In trying to contemporise a contextual relevance of a ‘Jesus Ethic,’ Niebuhr may have built a bridge no one can cross. The intention is there. The thoughts are good, they unfortunately don’t appear to move beyond Niebuhr’s pessimism.

In an attempt to redeem the text and restore my quickly fading new-found appreciation for Niebuhr, I went back to the start. After all, this was written in 1935. Perhaps the gloom reflected the impending doom at the time. So, I re-read through my notes, hoping to perhaps see where I might have misunderstood or missed a deeper poignancy. I sat on my response, gave it more thought and concluded that the echo of pessimism in the text was inescapable. Once I’d acknowledged this I was able to see the real value of the text.

‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ presents the view that no principle driven ethical position wins. All human attempts fail. No human on a human throne can claim absolute moral superiority. That belongs to Jesus Christ. Whilst Christian forgiveness may be an impossible possibility, in Christ, it is attainable.

The strength of ‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ is in how Niebuhr uses the incapacity of humanity to bolster God’s ultimate sovereignty and divinity – His merciful omnipotence and gracious Holiness. The incapability of humanity being able to put Jesus’ words into action doesn’t give humanity the right to dismiss the “Jesus ethic’’.

The ‘’law of love’’ will always remain a critique of the direction of human progress and regress. These commands from within humanity from outside humanity, Jesus commands, therefore, stand as an invaluable reminder of where humanity stands: God is God, we are not.

There is no escape from the responsibility that “Jesus Ethics’’ places on humanity. From Adam, to Jesus Christ, human responsibility is, as it has always been, held to account by its Creator.

I’m on board with the gist of Niebuhr’s arguments for as long as they exist as a critique of the spiraling self-absorbed existential crisis, in theology specifically, and in the West generally; the weakening of thought; the weakening of resolve; the numbing of the masses, seduced by self-congratulation, caressed by false achievement and lured by false security.

‘An Interpretation of Christian Ethics’ challenges this. It challenges any theology that supports selective labels. Arguing against anyone who might unfairly denigrate their neighbor as the oppressor. Where being offended or disagreed with ends with that neighbor being permanently labeled an oppressor, with a complete disregard for the history, situation, or reality of their own fallen humanity.

‘Ideally men seek to subject their arbitrary and contingent existence under the dominion of absolute reality. But practically they always mix the finite with the eternal and claim for themselves, their nation, their culture, or their class the center of existence. This is the root of all imperialism in man […] devotion to every transcendent value is corrupted by the effort to insert the interests of the self into that value.’[iv]

Although only implied, that “God is God and we are not” is Niebuhr’s unavoidable and most poignant take home point. This is what saves ‘An Interpretation of Christian Ethics’. Niebuhr brings forth the scriptural reminder that ‘no one is righteous, not one […] all have fallen short of the Glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ (Paul, Romans 3, ESV)

Niebuhr’s work is a challenge to the Cult of Self. It is a reality check for activism, such as Liberation theology. As such it adds to our understanding of Christian ethics because it recognizes the dangers and limits of non-violence, pacifist and just-war theories.

Which if applied generally as a critique of Western civilization in-it’s-current-state, might perhaps be summed up as:

On future’s battlefield, the Left will not fall because a positive optimism, but because of self-righteous naiveté; the Right won’t fall because they speak the truth, but because of the arrogant way in which they handle it.

 ‘He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.’
(Paul, Romans 2:6, ESV)



[i] Niebuhr, R. 1935; Santurri, E. N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition. (p.59)

[ii] Santurri,  E N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Niebuhr, R. 1935 Westminster John Knox Press. (introductory essay)

[iii] ibid.

[iv] Niebuhr, R. 1935; Santurri, E.N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Westminster John Knox Press (p. 85).

Image: R. Niebuhr


forgiveness is empowerment

Related Reading:

Confronting Disagreement Responsibly: The Real Content & Value of Forgiveness

Breathing Forgiveness

The Blast Radius Of Forgiveness

Grasping Existence As We Are Grasped By Forgiveness

Breathing Grace

‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ (John 8:31-36, ESV)

Breathing Forgiveness

December 13, 2013 — 1 Comment

Advent day 13: Forgiving the absence of apology

Late last night I read this word from ‘Franciscan Flowers’. I immediately started thinking about how relevant it was to advent.

Let go and forgive
the many roads past.

let go and forgive
those who wounded and scarred you.

let go and forgive
the negativity that often blinds you.

let go and forgive
yourself, often fragile and tense.

let go and forgive
the lack of acceptance of yourself.

let go and forgive
the many troubled waters of your life.

let go and forgive
your struggle with inner anger and depression

let go and forgive
your fears and often restless spirit

let go and forgive
your holding on to hurt,
yours and others high expectations.

let go and forgive
the circumstances, that keep coming back to blind your thinking.

let go and forgive
so my forgiving heart can be yours.

let go and forgive
as you have beautifully begun.

let go and keep forgiving
my new life is my gift to you.

let go and deep forgiving’
i love your vulnerability and honesty.

let go and deep forgiving
it’s the way to my happiness and peace.

– Sister La Donna Pinkelman OSF   Sylvania, Ohio

I have wrestled with the art of forgiving, being forgiven and seeking forgiveness.

When you are hurting, have been deeply hurt, and have hurt others because of it. Who doesn’t battle with the angst of absent apologies?

Admitting where, we as broken individuals went wrong, no matter how small, is an offering of grace. Apology and forgiveness do not empower the aggressor. Instead forgiveness disarms them, and motivates us towards right response in light of God’s acts for us. This does not imply that we ”let go and let God” because forgiveness is an offering that places us in participation with the divine, an alignment with God’s grace, not because we are gods, but because ‘God does not will to be God without us’ (Karl Barth).

These themes: repentance, anticipation, invitation, responsible reconciliation and hope.

All are about life, breath, relationship, and response.



Bridging the Unbridgeable

December 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

Advent day 12: Peace, Goodwill and Reconciliation.

Original design_picmonkey_GVL_RLquoteDecember12122013Advent

A common ground of understanding is the impetus that moves a relationship from the barbarism of blame and “put downs”, to the effective deliberations of civil discourse. Moving beyond current understandings does not mean removing boundaries. Instead its primary goal is to secure a mutual reciprocity between people in order to establish a respectful line of communication, and therefore mutual benefit.

We can do this whilst keeping a firm hold on our wits. However, there can be no real peace without forgiveness and understanding.

Meaning, if we truly are a victim, we do not forget the abuse, rather we apply an understanding to the act of forgiving. This should fuel our momentum towards emotional and psychological liberation. Not as it does in some cases, fuel a victim politic.

The reverb of abuse can linger long after the abuse has stopped.  Sometimes these effects prolong suffering and deteriorate what opportunity there is to reconcile ourselves to the truth. Coinciding with this is easily giving in to the temptation of avoidance strategies.  For example: reactions such as: “the silent treatment” – a deviancy control technique and passive aggressive tool. Or covert-aggressive put-downs strategically placed into comments, smug remarks or throw backs like answering a question with a question.

These “echoes from the past” exhibit themselves in “negative patterns of behaviour”, such as addictions, rage, resentment, a plethora of failed relationships with otherwise well-balanced people, and the list can go on.

To say that there can be no peace without forgiveness and understanding is to recognise that the desire to establish peace and understanding must be generated from a source outside ourselves.

We, sinful, broken human beings need help.

Bridging over a chasm of hurt deemed unbridgeable is to reject nothingness. We overcome this abyss by acknowledging that we are enabled by God to do so. An unbridgeable bridge may manifest itself in the recognition that identifies a need for professional counselling, medication or a period of mourning to allow us to grieve the loss of relationship well.

Along with this Gospel ethics (grace and law) teaches us to reach for forgiveness in the power of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit,  ‘keeping the commandments and holding to the testimony of Jesus’ (Rev.12:17, ESV). Total forgiveness does not entail forgetting the abuse or remaining in a cycle of abuse. Rather, it translates in responsible, just actions that move the abused to safety and towards healing.

John writes:

‘they have conquered by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony’ (Rev.12:11)

Humans are certainly not powerless outside this because of Jesus the Christ. However, attempts to singularly take on forgiveness without God will overtime lose effectiveness.

This is because it is a rejection of grace; a facade of strength packed inside the image of self. It eventually breaks self, condemns self and alienates us from the community that surrounds us.

Inside the paradigm of broken relationships there comes a time to move on. With or without the bridge of mutual understanding; as difficult as this may be. Being at peace with ourselves; reconciling the past by accepting God’s peace with us is an important step in the process of making a full recovery.

Rejecting grace, on the other hand, surrenders our God-given power. Consequently we become overpowered, beaten and burdened because we failed to acknowledge that on our own steam, we are unable to sustain honest and necessary change.

Paul makes mention of this in his letter to the Corinthian Church writing

‘According to the grace of God-given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ‘ (1 Cor.3:10 & 11)

As a scholar once said:

‘Jesus Christ is grace in the flesh’[i].

In Christ, God builds a bridge deemed unbridgeable. He reconciles us to Himself and asks for our gratitude and relationship in return because:

 ‘under this name He has revealed Himself. According to Scripture the One who bears this name is the One who in His own ” I ” introduces the concept of sovereignty and every perfection. When the bearer of this name becomes the object of our attention and thoughts, when they are directed to Jesus Christ, then we see God, and our thoughts are fixed on Him.’[ii]

It is in Jesus the Christ that we find the concept of God. Not in elevated opinions drawn from our own presuppositions, or preferences about who we want God to be.

The special message of Advent is that God makes Himself known to us.  Within this is the invitation to recognise Jesus the Christ as the invisible God made visible (Col.1:15-20).

[i] I forget the source for this. I think that it was John Webster, or Karl Rahner.
[ii] Barth, K Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer Kindle for PC Ed.