Sunday, April 02, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Forgiveness and Fear

In many churches today, one of the readings will be Psalm 130:

 Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
  Lord, hear my voice;
        let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
       O Lord, who could stand?

 For there is forgiveness with you;
       therefore you shall be feared.

 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
       in his word is my hope.

 My soul waits for the Lord,
  more than watchmen for the morning,
       more than watchmen for the morning.

 O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
       for with the Lord there is mercy;

 With him there is plenteous redemption,
       and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

There is a lot going on there, but the couplet that really gets to me is this one:

 For there is forgiveness with you;
       therefore you shall be feared.

Here is the thing: If God is forgiving, why should we fear?

I've pondered this for years. After all, a justice is system inspires fear if it is unforgiving. How could this be different?

My best answer is that God's forgiveness doesn't replace judgment, it replaces punishment. We see Jesus doing this, after all: Over and over he finds people (like the woman in John 8) who are doing something wrong, and he acknowledges it but saves her from punishment. But not from consequences; after all, the judgment of God must be something we fear, even if God's forgiveness saves us from punishment. Many of us know what if feels like to disappoint a parent (I sure do), and this is just a compounding of that dark, difficult realization.

I know that almost universally people want harsh judgment from God or man for those who have hurt them or are different from them. We too often want to exact pain we can observe; it is a human, base reaction to being threatened. But that does not seem to be God's way, if we believe that God's way is what Jesus shows us. As with so many other things, this faith is hard because it directs us away from what we want.



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