“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb…”
As a pastor, I have had the opportunity on many occasions to teach about forgiveness from a biblical perspective. The theme is central to our understanding of the mission of Christ, and the blessing he came to accomplish on the cross. Forgiveness is key to our understanding of God’s grace and mercy, as well as our calling to go forth into the world to speak in his name.
But beyond teaching the forgiveness of sins as a theological concept, or examining specific instances from the Scriptures, I have also had the opportunity talk about forgiveness in terms of how it plays itself out in real-life circumstances. With a “how to” sort of approach, I have explored with people the nature and dynamics of forgiveness in our everyday live of faith as well as in our relationships with one another as part of the body of Christ.
With all that in mind, lately I have been interested in studying how the dynamics of confession and absolution play themselves out in the public sphere. In particular, I have paid attention to modern social media and the way in which “atonement” works — or does not work — in our popular, secular culture.
We live in an age of rampant accusation, coming at us from all sides and directions. Twitter mobs and social justice gangs roam freely on the internet, looking for the next victim to take down. Whether the accusations are true often has little to do with the discussion. Like the Pharisees who surrounded a woman they claimed to have caught in the act of adultery, people these days seem all too ready to pick up stones to throw, if only to be counted among the “righteous” crowd.
Our modern day “Cancel Culture” is one where people seek to take down their opponents, not by real evidence or with due process, but simply by vying to see who can shout their accusations with the loudest voice. Gone is any semblance of the “presumption of innocence” — guilt is always assumed. This is because, in reality, the motive of the mob is not justice, but simply the destruction of one’s opponents by any means. It is punishment they want to inflict, even if they must invent some ex-post-facto reason to inflict it. Whether it be politicians, journalists, pundits, or celebrity media figures — lies and false witness are no impediment to attacking someone with whom they disagree.
Many victims of such abuse will attempt to appease their accusers, by groveling to the mob with profusive apologies. But rarely does this satisfy. Others advise that in the current environment, the best strategy is to never make a public apology — whether one is right or wrong — for it only emboldens attackers when they taste blood in the water.
From a Christian perspective, all this is evidence of our human sin and the bondage in which we find ourselves. Indeed, “we are, by nature, sinful and unclean.” But on a deeper level, it is also a real-world demonstration of something even more dire — the fact that our society has lost is the ability to forgive.
Biblically, human beings have always been sinners. That is nothing new. We argue, we fight, we tell lies about one another and explain each other’s actions in the least charitable of ways. But, in faith, there was always a way in which we could address the reality of human sin. Forgiveness, atonement, reconciliation — these are all biblical ways God has provided to restore our broken relationships.
These are the same ways that God himself has turned us from being his enemies, by making us his friends through the initiative of his mercy.
“While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)
In the midst of all the anger, pain, and accusation that surrounds us on a daily basis, this is something we must not forget. In a world that demands surrender with no mercy and no quarter, we must remember the One who has surrendered his life for us. “Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption” (Psalm 130:7 KJV).
In the same way, we must never lose sight of our Christian calling to speak his forgiveness to one another as well. As disciples of Christ, our Lord commands us to be his ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20). He calls us to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations in his name (Luke 24:47).
This we can do! To a world that has forgotten what it means to forgive, we go forth with God’s own promise: “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrew 8:10).
— Pastor Steven E. King