When Hope Feels Like a Fool's Errand
"Biblical forgiveness is not primarily a feeling. Rather, it is something that happens between two parties," Brauns writes in Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. "Biblical forgiveness is conditioned on repentance and results in the elimination of guilt. God only forgives those who repent. While some consequences may remain, it would contradict biblical meaning to insist that God forgives everyone unconditionally or that someone forgiven could still go to hell. Still, while actual forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance, forgiveness should be graciously offered to all."
Most biblical discussions of forgiveness speak of God forgiving humans. Yet several verses stand out, including Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13. Brauns explains that the apostle Paul employs more than one word that English translations render as "forgive." In the case of these two verses, the word we read as "forgive" shares the same root as "grace," so we can understand these verses as charging Christians to treat others with grace. God alone retains the right to exercise justice and forgive, though he works through Christians to offer grace. When we remember that unrepentant sinners will endure the torments of hell for eternity, we can find Christlike compassion to love them.
Without their loved ones, the Olson and Winters families will struggle on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet these events Christians commemorate are the grounds of their hope. Good Friday displays the extraordinary lengths God has gone to reconcile sinners.
"Do you doubt that God — who is so committed to justice that he sent his only begotten Son to the cross — do you doubt that he will bring justice to its rightful fruition in the end?" Brauns asks. "Do you have any question that God — who spoke all things into existence, numbers the hairs on your head, and determines the times set for you and the exact places where you live — do you have any question that this God will work all things together for your good?"
The death of a child tests believers unlike anything else. Like Jesus' disciples felt the day after he was crucified, hope appears to be a fool's errand. But when Martin Luther lost his 14-year-old daughter, Magdalena, to the plague, he found hope. As carpenters nailed shut her casket, he exclaimed, "Hammer away! On doomsday she'll rise again."
Collin Hansen is a CT editor at large and author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists.
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