I’ve talked about this before, but its been on my mind recently. I was up late and ended up, for some reason, watching a show that was about a bootcamp or sorts for marriages that are in trouble. Again, I’m not sure why – I was in that state where I can’t sleep because I’m bad at sleeping, but I’m too tired to do anything critical or productive except proofread chapters, which I was doing on the floor while watching the show.

One part of the “boot camp” was a forgiveness exercise. It was introduced by one of the leaders of the program talking about how ‘most people have no idea what forgiveness is. They have this notion from church, about forgive and forget, that its the righteous thing to do. This has nothing to do with real forgiveness.’

For him, and for the program, ‘real’ forgiveness takes place primarily for the one who is doing the forgiving, so that they can move on emotionally and let go of pain they’ve experienced in the past. What followed were a few tear-jerking moments between these couples as they tried to let go of their past so that they could move on together.

This got me thinking about God (I know, bad habit, but still). Forgiveness is something we all probably agree that God is about. But what if God forgives us, at least in part, for God’s own sake? I don’t buy the oversimplification that forgiveness is mostly for the forgiver – forgiveness is about reconciliation, about love being stronger than hatred. But it is definitely true that forgiveness is a two-way affair.

This two-way nature of forgiveness is almost never represented in theology. Of course we can never really know what the effect of forgiveness is on God, but theology is the science of things we can’t possibly know for sure.

I use a lot of human analogies for God. I could say that this is because of a strong imago dei theology, which I think is part of it, but also this is simply because a God who exists outside what I can experience and understand has no meaning for me. Human analogies also make sense since one person of the Trinity is a human being. So a lot of the things we can say about a human being, we can say about that “second” person of the Trinity, and thereby about God. (I think Jesus’ humanity is almost always radically neglected by ‘orthodox’ Reformed theologies, but that’s another post)

So what does forgiveness mean for God?

2 thoughts on “Forgiveness

  1. Interestingly, Penal Substitution theory or Satisfaction theory in atonement have a lot to say about this. (The two theories I hate the most). One of the principal reasons that God forgives through Jesus’ atoning death in these theories is so that God can resume a loving relationship with us which had been hindered by God’s own sense of affronted honor. God’s holiness cannot abide sin – it is an impediment to him fully and truly being present with us in love, and thus he forgives in Christ so that he can “move on”.I don’t like these models as you know. Death on a Cross is not forgiveness. But it’s interesting that they talk about this aspect of what it means for God to forgive so he can move on, of their being some obstacle to reconciliation from God’s end, not just ours.


  2. I was thinking the same thing, that PS atonement gets at a similar idea…from the worst possible direction (God requiring torture and death for forgiveness). It kind of makes God more human, in needing forgiveness for God’s own sake as well as ours, but also makes God far more monstrous than human beings are when they seek to forgive.


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