I guess I reveal my Church of Christ roots (where the liturgical calendar was not part of my year) when I wait till after Lent to spend time struggling with sin. But, like Jacob-com-Israel, my wrestling is more often determined by encounters that don’t follow a calendar.
Here are the rules of the game for me right now: I have to be as honest as I can be. I have to speak the questions that haunt my soul, even if it seems totally wrong to ask them. Only an honest encounter invites the Spirit. The Spirit can take it and, until I am honest, I am not really in the encounter at all.
So, here goes: I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus did not come to forgive sin. Can that be true?
He came, not to forgive sin, but to to reveal his kingdom. He came to pull us out of the system of sin and show us a system of grace.
As long as I simply want Jesus to forgive me, I have not yet stepped into the kingdom of light. I’m still living in a system of merit – it’s just that I’ve gotten ‘do-overs.’ The problem is, I keep doing the same things over and over. As long as I think that forgiveness is a step toward my own perfection, I’ve stepped out of His kingdom and closed the door behind me.
That’s not to say that forgiveness isn’t part of the process. It’s just not the point. Release from guilt – and guilt is real – removes the chains that keep me bound to the old system – and, thus, keep me sinning. ‘Guilt is the glue’ that keeps me stuck. When I keep my eyes on sin, or guilt or forgiveness, I’m still looking in the wrong direction.
Forgiveness is not so much about freeing me ‘from’ as freeing me ‘to’ – or freeing me ‘into.’
So, what if ‘sin’ is the name of the kingdom of this world and ‘grace’ is the name of the kingdom of God. They are two different systems of exchange, one centered and dependent upon me – one centered and dependent upon God. One based on perceived merit, one based on love.
What if it all depends upon where you stand. Within the kingdom of sin, the rules rule. In that context, hell is the ultimate motivation to obey the rules. Guilt draws me toward the doorway of another realm – making me wish for something else, as yet unknown. It is the distant echo of a truth I cannot yet understand, stated in the language of merit, because I have no other language to use. Forgiveness not only frees me from the burden of guilt, but it changes the rules – dissolves the rules – entirely. It steps me out of one kingdom and into another, but only if I embrace the truth of grace rather than the idea of reclaimed merit.
In this strange frame, hell plays the role of prevenient grace, guilt pushes us toward saving grace and forgiveness opens the door for sanctifying grace. (See, Methodism has put some fingerprints upon my soul.)
When viewed from the kingdom of light, it is all grace.
So, I guess, Jesus did come to forgive sin after all … till you step to the other side … when you realize that he came to reveal the kingdom of grace.
‘Sin’ is the name of the kingdom of this world
Ruled by rules, articulated carefully by those in power
Where everyone tries to scramble to the top of a pile of
vacant schemes and promising lies
Revealed in the end as death, itself – of all selves?
‘Grace’ is the name of the kingdom of God
Loved by love, spoken freely to all by the only true power
Where everyone is held in the embrace of
a promised communion that already is
And only waits for deeper revelation?
I continue to stumble my way through these quandaries. Like a young child learning to walk – it doesn’t matter that I fall – it matters that I am trying to come to you. And that you receive me in grace.
[Enough of sin, for a while, shall I stop? – writing about it, that is …]
[photo by michael_swan per cc 2.0]
4 27 15
Do not stop writing about this. Getting to the real nature of sin/guilt/redemption is ultimately freeing. And we need freedom.
Celia, this resonates with some of the things I’ve been thinking recently. To me, your key paragraph is “He came, not to forgive sin, but to to reveal his kingdom. He came to pull us out of the system of sin and show us a system of grace.” When the Bible talks about repentance, it means more than being sorry, it means behavior change, “doing a 180.” As long as we keep getting forgiven and sinning again and again, nothing really changes. And I agree with the Christian (or Protestant?) view this this is something we can’t do on our own.
I differl a bit with the idea (which I may have read into your words) that we can leave the world we live in and enter a different world where grace rules. Rather, Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come to THIS world, and announced this coming at the opening of his ministry in Luke. What this is like may be well described by the lyrics to the hymn “Cuando el Pobre” found in slightly different forms at number 434 in the United Methodist hymnal (where I like the lyrics a little better) and with nice audio at http://smitty.home.montereybay.com/cuando_el_pobre.html.