Sunday, March 8, 2015

Who forgives sin?

To suggest to someone that the Christian faith might work better for them in a life crisis than the religion or philosophy they are perceived to hold does nothing but pit one religion against another. It also underscores the American mentality about religions in general, which is quickly becoming the world mentality: Religion is a commodity or product, and as such, religions can be compared and selected based on ROI (return on investment), versatility, customer service, and even by what’s covered in their (limited) warranties. This is especially evident in the world of media and mega-church embodiments of ‘Christianity.’ There are auto rows, where all the car dealers are lined up in one place. There are also, in some places, church rows. Acres and acres of parking and stadium-like worship centers, some boasting as many as six or eight services on a Sunday. Luckily, their main product, ecstatic, entertaining ‘worship’ is usually available only one day a week. Their God has apparently turned tables on the biblical division of time. Instead of work six days, rest one, it is work one day, rest six.

It is not what ‘the Christian faith’ has to offer a man who has been publicly caught in a private sin that will do him any good. At this level we’re still comparing apples to oranges, still some kind of home remedy. Buddhism is rarely practiced, even in America, but there are many people who, admiring some of its ideas and imitating some of its practices as a leisure activity, consider themselves ‘Buddhist.’

Several years ago, having a friendly chat with a cashier at a large book store, a French woman who described herself as a Buddhist, I experienced a little of the depth of her painful past, and patiently listened as she blamed her unhappy girlhood as a Catholic on the Christian God. She actually opened up the chat, noticing I was buying a book on linguistics, and proudly announced that she had a favorite new word, ‘isangelous,’ and asked me if I knew what it meant.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘it sounds like a Greek word, but I can’t tell for sure from the way you’re pronouncing it.’ She offered to write it down, and handed it to me on a slip of paper. ‘Oui,’ I said, switching over into her native French, ‘c’est un mot grec,’ and continuing, I told her it was a Greek word meaning ‘equal to an angel’ much as the word, ‘isapostolos’ means ‘equal to an apostle,’ which is a title, I explained, that the Greek church gives to men and women whose life and work in Christ was comparable to the apostles. Then, switching back and forth between French and English we had a friendly dialogue, talking about what an angel is—‘pas ces bébés à ailes dans les peintures de la Renaissance!’…‘not those flying babies in the Renaissance paintings!’—even talking about Christ, and as I took my leave with a ‘bon soir,’ she said, ‘Hope to see you again.’

If being forgiven for sin were simply a matter of feeling good about yourself again, then, yes, probably any religion or philosophical or self-help discipline would work, and some might work better than others. The thing about Buddhism, for example, and the Buddha, is that though it expresses itself as a religion, it is fundamentally not about God (there is none) but about the unending struggle throughout space and time of numberless consciousnesses to extinguish their illusion of separateness. To follow Buddha and be a Buddhist, you accept that theory of ‘how things are’ and you integrate yourself into it, hoping for the best, but knowing that your life is still, ultimately, your responsibility. Even the Buddha can’t change that.

But being forgiven for sin is not just about feeling good again. It’s about gratitude to our Owner, to the One who made us, whom we acknowledge as our Creator and even more, our Father, because of a new relationship and a new form of being that has been bestowed on us by Someone who is at one and the same time a man and ‘beyond being.’

Being forgiven for sin is to hear that Someone speak His Word into our torn and ravaged hearts,Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.’

Do we do what He says? Can we do it? We try, and yet somehow we fail again. Are we abandoned? Does He leave us in our sins and turn away from us in impatience and disgust? No, He doesn’t. He knows that His work in us, from our point of view, is not the work of an instant, though to Him it is. He worked hard to create us, even harder to redeem us. Do you think after all that, He would turn away from us? No, only we might turn away from Him.

Tell a man who is in bondage to sin not about ‘the Christian faith,’ but about Christ. Tell a woman caught in the act of adultery—or a man caught in it—what the Master says to them, not what you say to them. He is more gracious, more forgiving, more loving than we are. In fact, He is the Only Lover of mankind. The rest of us are just trying to follow Him and do what we see Him doing. Some people said of Him, ‘How dare he presume to forgive sins! Only God can forgive sin!’ True, and we agree with them, but in a different way: No one can forgive like That Man, and that man is Jesus Christ.

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