” . . . God likes us so much that he has, in a sense, made available in our midst a way to dis-entangle us from the mess we inhabit, before we even knew that it was a mess, and instead has invited us to share with God, at the same level as ourselves, in making something entirely different, together.”
–James Alison, Undergoing God: dispatches from the scene of the break-in
“What about justice?,” is a question I have fielded often. If God’s forgiveness is indeed endless (or so I say), how will that lead to justice? Doesn’t forgiveness let offenders off the hook? How will things be made right?
These are reasonable questions, often conveying the deepest respect and compassion for those victimized. Such queries also have deep connection with notions of personal responsibility. And they can also give voice to our manifold anxieties about holding systemic structures together (whether it be worldly systems of authority and their distorted “justice,” or binary theological structures like heaven/earth). As someone who has always been passionate about justice and Jesus, I take such questions seriously.
1) It seems to me that we remain imprisoned, to a substantial degree, by a reward/punishment paradigm, constricting our imaginations and visionary potential. Worse, we think of punishment as a core concept vis-a-vis justice. Not only is punishment a poor mechanism to facilitate the healing of a wound, it may very well shut the door on future chapters of God’s emerging wholeness.
Grace baffles us and messes with all our cherished equations. And eternity, rather than being our reward, is the astonishing realization of God’s fullness! I mean, Christians of all temperaments confess God as eternal, but we balk at the revelation that God’s love is just as eternal, and thus, unbroken.
2) When I teach about forgiveness, folks are sometimes concerned that what I am teaching does not take sin seriously enough. I must congenially beg to differ. God’s forgiveness takes the reality of sin far more seriously than any of our theological constructs.
Too often we have reduced concepts of sin to individual, willful acts from which God can never recover unless a price is exacted. The God whom Alison refers to above (and I would call it God’s “love”) acts to open possibilities of healing, experiences of wholeness, and adventures in new creation. Something entirely different. Only those of us blind to the effects of sin on our own lives can imagine that we ever “get away with it.” And sin is most often measured in distance: from one another; from our truest selves; in the distance we perceive between God and us. God’s forgiveness closes those distances. The accountability of love is both exhilarating and terrifying in its honesty. Being “judged by love” is the most demanding and the most gracious judgment.