Monday, June 20, 2011

Forgive and Move Forward

When people do wrong, we have a mixture of emotions. Do we know the person? Do we like the person? Do we despise the person? Our reactions to the transgressions of others is colored by a lot of subjective filters that can cause us to become biased, even if unintentionally.

I recently had a lengthy, shallow, social network conversation about forgiveness, casting stones, judging, and so on. Everyone involved in the conversation was a Christian, so all of us understand the basics about sin, grace, and forgiveness - I hope. All of us, I think, would agree that repentance is a part of the experiential side of forgiveness, even as we know that, transcendentally, we experience forgiveness based on an eternal decree of God, acted out about 2000 years ago on "an old rugged cross." There are some who would argue that, since Christ paid for our sins by His shed blood, we don't need to say anything at all, or, at most, just thank God for our forgiveness.

I can see why that idea would be attractive. It keeps us from having to grapple with the impact of our actions, both on those who are directly involved, and upon others who look to us for inspiration and direction. Jesus said, while declaring that not everyone would be punished the same for their failures, that "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48b). Those who enjoy the benefits of being in the spotlight also have to carry the burdens. If you get to exercise authority, you will also have to exercise discipline, over yourself as well as over others.

There was a time when we understood that, without question. Commissioned officers were held to higher standards than were noncommissioned and petty officers, while recruits were basicly required to do whatever they were told by those more senior to them. In the civilian world, executives could be punished for violations of "moral turpitude," actions that were considered to be vile or depraved, as well as general violations of policy. People would seek to avoid shame, as well as the actual punishments that could result.

Now, it seems as if apologists spring up from every side to defend shameful and even illegal activity. A Senator consorts with a prostitute? No problem, since he is a good conservative. A Representative sends leud pictures of himself to relative strangers, and then lies about it? How dare we feel that he has violated the public trust? A pastor is accused of carrying on a sexual relationship with some of his teen-aged congregants? "Judge not," his supporters respond.

I don't know how we got here, in fact, I don't even care. That is all in the past. I do care, however, what we intend to do about it. I just spent yesterday being encouraged to be a man of integrity, reminded that my son will be watching me for direction of how he should conduct homself as a man as he grows up. I hope that is true, but I wonder. It seems that the acceptance of transgressions has become so commonplace in our culture, that those who are against us may seem to be more than those who are for us. Many times I have been surprised to hear that my concerns about integrity are now viewed as hypocrisy on its face, even though I say that I am only applying to others, the same standards that I apply to myself. Then I'm called a legalist, a prude, self-righteous, or worse. Have we lost even a cricket-sized sense of morality, in our quest to avoid excessive zeal in demanding excellence of one another?

I cannot force anyone else to find their seemingly-lost moral fiber, but I can make sure that I maintain what I still have. "Stolen waters" may be "sweet," but sooner or later, "be sure your sin will find you out." As the old song goes, "Where will you run to, on judgement day?" Those crowds who rose up to defend the moral failures of others will not be there at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and "the weakness of the flesh" will be insufficient to stand as a defense. Will the blood of Jesus wash away the sins of those who welcomed, rather than resisted, the devil? God knows, I don't, and I hate to gamble. I must, therefore, encourage myself, my son, and you, my friend, that our labor is still not in vain in the Lord. Whatever others may do, and regardless of what position they may hold, they are not God, and they have not changed His ways to make them like our ways, nor His thoughts, to be like our thoughts.

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