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The Power of Guilt

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.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/18)

David was a man after God’s own heart because he hated sin but loved to forgive it. What better example of God could there be?

  • A recent BBC article asks, Does more information mean we know less? Along the way, it presents an interesting comparison between our modern compulsion to stay “current” with the religious impulse to reflect deeply on the past. (HT)

We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than St Augustine or Dante, thereby ignoring that our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.

One of the silly characteristics of our age is the credulous and naive veneration of science. It has led to the emergence of what we call scientism–faith in science as the ultimate source of truth and wisdom.

  • And, a in Orange County, a cat has been ordered to report for jury duty. Of course, this rather odd situation was partially caused by someone who saw the cat as such a part of the family that she listed it on the family’s census form. Why would you do that?

Flotsam and jetsam (12/29)

Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice?

How much has the evangelical movement changed in the past 100 years? A quick review of The Fundamentals suggests that evangelicals 1) have shed some unfortunate biases of those bygone days, 2) continue to struggle with similar intellectual issues, most notably evolution, and 3) retain a common message of grace through Christ.

  • In a Wired editorial, “Wake Up Geek Culture. Time to Die,” Patton Oswalt argues that the internet makes it to easy to be a geek and that is detrimental for creativity and culture.

I’m not a nerd. I used to be one, back 30 years ago when nerd meant something.

forgiveness is neither just a therapeutic technique nor simply self-regarding in its motivation; it is fundamentally a moral relation between self and other.

Flotsam and jetsam (7/22)