Forgiveness is not enough (When He Comes 5)

Pulling into the garage, I’m instantly annoyed. It’s a mess. I can barely get my car into its usual spot and I have to squeeze past boxes of Christmas decorations, piles of clothes and toys waiting to go to Goodwill, and other odds and ends strategically placed to create a nearly impassable obstacle course between me and the door into the house. I eventually make it, but only after one bruised shin (caused by getting my foot caught in my daughter’s bicycle), one aching head (caused by slamming my head into a cupboard while trying to regain my balance after being attacked by the bicycle), and three damaged boxes (caused, of course, by falling into them after my ill-advised attempt at performing a self-lobotomy with the cupboard). Needless to say, by the time I make it into the house, I’m annoyed. Clearly the garage did not get cleaned today. I’ve had a long day at work and I really hadn’t anticipated becoming a contestant in Wipeout as soon as I pulled in the driveway.

Suppose that walking into the house with my frustration, bruised shin, and aching head, I yell at my wife.

Bad move.

Keeping the garage clean isn’t her responsibility, and she’s probably had an even busier and harder day today than I have. But, suppose that I yell at her anyway.

Instantly, we’d have plenty of “tension” in our relationship. (That’s putting it rather mildly.) Things definitely would not be the way they’re supposed to be. Now I’ve added guilt to my frustration, and my wife would rightly feel hurt and angry by how I’ve treated her. All is not well.

Fortunately, my wife is an amazing person. After leaving me alone for a while to sulk, pout, and recover from my traumatic garage experience, suppose she seeks me out and tells me that she forgives me. Wow. I’ve nothing to deserve her forgiveness. Actually, I’ve done just the opposite. And yet, here she is, demonstrating unbelievable grace and seeking to restore our relationship. That’s incredible.

But, it’s not enough.

Let’s change the story a bit. Suppose I’m an alcoholic. On my way home from work that day, I stopped at my favorite bar like I often do and have a few too many. By the time I get home, I’m drunk. Of course navigating my way through the cluttered garage is difficult; I’d have a hard time walking successfully across an empty parking lot.

So, when I get inside the house and yell at my wife, that isn’t just an isolated incident caused by pain and frustration; it’s the act of a person caught in a pattern of addiction and abuse.

Now again, my wife is an amazing woman. So suppose that she’s able to wait until I’ve sobered up, walk into the room, and tell me that she forgives me anyway! That’s still an incredible gift. By reaching out in grace and mercy, she brings reconciliation and restores our relationship with one another. What a tremendous thing to do.

But, it’s not enough.

I’m still broken.

Remember, in this version of the story, I’m an alcoholic. My wife’s forgiveness is a gift to be cherished, but it doesn’t address the deeper reality of my addiction or the fact that I’m likely to do it again. I’m forgiven, but still broken. And, forgiveness without healing simply isn’t good enough. Indeed, forgiveness without healing just sets the stage for telling the same story over and over again.

That’s why God promised more.

Would it really matter that much if God forgave us and sent a new king, a new prophet, and a new priest to lead, guide, and direct us? Those would be great things, but if we remain essentially unchanged, we really wouldn’t have anything different. God has graciously forgiven his people time and time again. And, God has given us kings, prophets, and priests before. But none of them could deliver God’s people from the sin, guilt, brokenness, and alienation that has plagued God’s creation since the Garden. God’s people needed more than a new leader; they needed new life. Not just forgiveness, healing.

A promise of forgiveness doesn’t help if you’re still dead.

That’s why God promised more. God is not just going to send a deliverer, and then leave us mired in our brokenness. No, when his promised one comes, God’s people will be transformed from the inside out: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezek 11:19-20). “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33). This is forgiveness that reaches all the way down and re-creates a people after God’s own heart.

Forgiveness is great, but God promised more.

When he comes…God’s people will be changed.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on January 25, 2011, in Gospel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I resonated with this very helpful ‘bigger picture’ view of life, and am so thankful that God heals as well as forgives, though that is a longer and more painful process–which is why I need to operate with a 70×7 approach to the people around me as they are transformed [and vice versa, I hope].
    Enjoying your blog…

    • Hey, I’m glad you liked it. And, you’re absolutely right that the healing aspect provides hope even though the process can be so painfully slow, even almost invisible, at times.

  2. You have nailed the difference between healing and forgiveness. Far to often we ask for forgiveness and don’t ask to be healed… well sometimes we don’t want to be healed or even worse; because of identity issues fear those around us truly changing.

  1. Pingback: Forgiveness Brings Healing | Veronica Schultz

  2. Pingback: Roundup of posts from the last chapter of my Gospel book « scientia et sapientia

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