Sunday, 26 November 2023 04:45

Article of faith: Forgiving God (1) - Femi Aribisala

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Femi Aribisala Femi Aribisala

Forgiveness is a cardinal principle of the Christian faith. I dare say, one of the ways we can tell that we are children of God is if we readily forgive those who offend us.

Inevitably, people will often offend us in this world of sin, even as we often offend others. But Jesus makes our readiness to forgive offenders a veritable passport into the kingdom of God.

He says: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7). “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15).

As usual. Jesus practised what He preached. As He was dying on the cross at the instance of evil accusers, He prayed for the forgiveness of His persecutors: “Then Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’” (Luke 23:34).

Kingdom Dynamics

Forgiveness is so central to salvation that Jesus told an enigmatic story of an unrighteous servant who was served notice that his employment would be terminated for wasting his master’s goods. To prepare for his impending dismissal, he decided to ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors by surreptitiously forgiving them chunks of their indebtedness. So, he hoped they would repay his “kindness” when he became jobless and needed their help.

What is remarkable about this story is Jesus’ assessment: “The master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8).

But why would Jesus Christ, the righteous, commend this unjust servant? The answer is not far-fetched. Unlike the sons of light, this unjust servant understood the value of forgiveness. He recognised that forgiveness is an investment that yields handsome future dividends.

Therefore, when Peter asked Jesus: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-23).

Offensive God

But here is the rub. What if the offender is not man but God? What if it is God who offends us?

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9). Paul says: “How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways!” (Romans 11:33). Therefore, Solomon counsels that we should not lean on our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5).

For this reason, we often find God to be very offensive. I call God “Doctor Strangelove.” He secures our welfare through schemes that are often unpalatable to us. He seems to take delight in disappointing our hopes and in foiling our expectations of grandeur. He is determined to thwart our own purposes in life. As Jeremiah warned Baruch: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them.” (Jeremiah 45:5).

The Bible is replete with examples of people who were offended by God. God told Abraham to sacrifice his beloved Isaac, a child born when he was 100 years old, as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah.

He starved the Israelites of food and water in the wilderness to their extreme discomfiture. (Deuteronomy 8:3).

He invited the devil to decimate Job’s wealth and family, killing his 10 children in the process. His wife was so offended, that she berated Job: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

God killed Uzzah for trying to prevent the ark from falling when it was being carried to Jerusalem. “David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day.” (2 Samuel 6:8).

God killed Ezekiel’s beloved wife and told him not to mourn or weep about her death. (Ezekiel 24:16). He told Isaiah to walk around naked and barefoot for three years, without his trousers, with his buttocks exposed. (Isaiah 20:1-4).

He told Jonah to tell the Ninevites that He would destroy them within forty days. But to Jonah’s annoyance, He decided not to destroy Nineveh after constraining Jonah to deliver the message of their impending destruction.

Rock of Offence

Jesus closely followed this offensive pattern in His earthly ministry. Isaiah had prophesied that: “He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:14-15).

Thereby, Jesus offended the people of His hometown of Nazareth by telling them they did not deserve God’s miracles:

“You will undoubtedly quote Me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal Yourself’ – meaning, ‘Do miracles here in Your hometown like those You did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. Certainly, there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner - a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” (Luke 4:23-27).

The people were so angry with him that they wanted to kill Him there and then. They dragged Him to a cliff, intending to push Him headlong to His death. But He miraculously escaped.

He pronounced woe on the Pharisees and the scribes, calling them whitewashed tombstones. (Matthew 23:27). He told some people that the devil was their father. (John 8:44). He provoked His Jewish audience, who knew that eating blood is proscribed by the Law of Moses, that they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood if they wanted eternal life. (John 6:51-58).

Many of His disciples were so disgusted with Him at this saying that they departed from Him and decided not to follow Him any longer.

Even John the Baptist, who had earlier identified Him as the Messiah, became disillusioned with Jesus because He failed to rescue Him from Herod’s jail. He sent emissaries to Him asking: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.’” (Matthew 11:4-6).

When told that Lazarus was gravely ill, Jesus waited until he died before responding. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, could not hide their disappointment when he finally showed up, four days late. They said to Him one after the other: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21/32).

Practical Christianity

As God is offensive in the scriptures, so is He offensive in life. He offends us when our loved one is bereaved. He offends us when He refuses to help us when we are in a bind. He offends us when we commit our business into His hands and it fails, nevertheless. He offends us when we are jilted in love, or when our marriages collapse.

In short, God offends believers when something bad happens to us even though He could easily have prevented it. He offends us when we ask Him for something and He refuses to give it to us. He offends us when we look to Him for deliverance but He ignores us.

In my case, armed robbers attacked me and shot me in the leg. God rescued me from them. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when He then told me He was the One who sent the robbers to waylay me:

“Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt? It was the Lord, against whom we sinned, for the people would not walk in His path, nor would they obey His law. Therefore, He poured out His fury on them and destroyed them in battle. They were enveloped in flames, but they still refused to understand. They were consumed by fire, but they did not learn their lesson.” (Isaiah 42:24-25). CONTINUED.

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