I’ve often thought praying for forgiveness gets things a little bit backwards. If you wrong someone in some way, how does asking somebody else for forgiveness help things? I can’t absolve you for the things you’ve done wrong to other people, only the things that you do wrong to me. It seems like a little bit of an easy get out to me: Ask a third party with no actual involvement to forgive you and it’s all ok (and as it’s God just asking does the trick). Isn’t that getting off the hook just a little bit too easy? If God is all about justice, then surely he’d just tell you to go apologise to the person you actually wronged and set things right. Sure it’s a lot harder to ask forgiveness from another person, and it might not come easy from them, but that sounds like the way it ought to be.

Then again, this backwards notion of forgiveness is built into Christianity: Christ’s death is supposed to pay for all of the wrongdoings of humankind, in effect it’s the biggest blood sacrifice ever: God’s blood to forgive the sins of everyone everywhere (yup, Christianity is based upon blood sacrifice; it was a replacement for paganism afterall). It doesn’t really make a lot of sense in the end. Christ’s death can no more pay for my wrongdoings than can the death of any other person: If you’re convicted of a crime, it doesn’t make any sense to have someone else serve your sentence for you (even by their own choice), that doesn’t make things ok. It’s all very confusing.

Today’s Sunday comic comes a little late in the day, having been lovingly created throughout the afternoon and early evening. I had a good deal of help today actually, my wonderful girlfriend coloured this piece for me so I could get on with some cello practice (she even stayed inside the lines!), so a big thanks to her!

These Sunday mini-saga comics are going to become a regular feature methinks, so tune in next weekend for another. That’s all for now. Pip pip!

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4 responses »

  1. Znex says:

    Christian here. When any of us do wrong, we not only do wrong against others, but against God as well. God is of such a perfect and holy nature that he is utterly opposed to wrongdoing and actively repulses evil. Your argument would make sense if God was not personally wronged by our wrongdoing to others: however, the fact throughout the Bible is that God is very much wronged by it.

    You are undoubtedly correct when you say that we should ask for forgiveness from those we have wronged; in fact, in God’s commands to his people, we are to follow this up with what Christians call repentance. Repentance is an active withdrawal from wrongdoing on our part: eg. If I drive my friend’s car into the wall by accident, I would repent by asking for forgiveness and not doing that action again. If I do wrong against God and man, then I would do well to ask for forgiveness from both and repent of my wrong.

    Now forgiveness and repentance isn’t always the final word when it comes to wrongdoing. Take an extreme example: say I were to kill your parents in cold blood. I could ask for forgiveness and even genuinely repent, but chances are you would rather not forgive me and instead seek prosecution against me. There is a debt to be paid for my wrongdoing. Actually, you could argue there is a debt to be paid for every wrongdoing.

    Think back to what happened if I drove my friend’s car into the wall. If he chooses to seek a payment of a few thousand dollars from me to pay for damages, then he is perfectly just in doing so, and the debt I owed is paid when I pay for it. On the other hand, if he chooses to forgive me completely and let me off, then he remains perfectly just in doing so, but in doing so he chooses to take the debt onto himself: someone has to fix the car and by doing so pay the debt.

    In God’s eyes, our wrongdoing is of no exception: there is a debt owed by us all for every wrong we have done. The greatest possible wrong any of us could do, and in fact the wrong we have all committed at one point in our lives, according to the Bible, is rejection of God. The debt we all have to pay according to God’s own judgement is our life, and we can only pay it through death. Because of this, there was no way we could make up with God without dying, and even by then, it is too late.

    Christ’s crucifixion is the perfect sacrifice able to pay our debts with God, because of the very nature of it. If I were to go and die so that your wrongs were forgiven, I could not do so any more than I could for my own wrongdoing. Yet Christ, because he never did any wrong, was more than fit to die for any and all of our wrongs.

    I could say more, but I will not now. If anyone reads this, feel more than free to contact me and ask questions.

    • Hi Christian, thanks for your comment. A few things:

      My thought here was really that there is a tendency amongst certain religious people (and this is really only from my experience or largely Church of England Christians or Catholics) to repent by going to confessions, or by confessing privately to God and taking that as absolving their sins. Surely a divine creator would want you to repent to the people you have actually wronged.

      As for your point about God being wronged by our actions against others; I suppose I’d also like to question whether God would be, or is right to be personally wronged by our wrongdoings against others. If person x murders person y, they have not wronged me—no matter how much I might be repelled by or opposed to murder. Why should God be any different? I’ll grant that the Bible might say he is, but I’m not taking that as my starting point.

      Also, the thought that there is a debt for wrong doings that can be paid for by Christ. Again the Bible might state this, and you might state it too, but I still don’t see that it makes a lot of sense. It seems to be the case that, if a person is gracious enough they can forgive a person without any repayment, you can just absolve someone by the very act of forgiving. Now God is supposed to be the most gracious being capable of any act. So why can’t he just forgive sins? why does he need a blood sacrifice, isn’t there any other way (there must be because he is a limitless deity). Also, the fact that Christ had never sinned doesn’t explain how his death can pay for my wrongdoings 2000 years later. Again, you might state that it does, but that’s not an explanation of the link between my wrongdoing and his death; to me the two have nothing in common.

      Cheers again for your response.

      • Znex says:

        Thank you for getting back to me. These both are very good questions.

        Firstly, let me start by going back to the very beginning as testified by the Bible. God is the creator of the universe, the Earth, and everything abounding on the Earth, including mankind. There was no evil or wrong in the beginning, and humanity was in a perfect relationship with God. Evil entered the world when man chose to rebel against God and follow our own will instead. Mankind, in our lust for having free rule over all things in our lives very much marred creation and even others of our own kind.

        Okay, so why should God be upset by that? Firstly, God is not distant, but is in fact far more personal than anything we can understand as humans. (I could hardly stand to explain it, although CS Lewis’ book “The Four Loves” speaks of this in the context of our human loves in a much better way than I can within a paragraph.)

        The relationship between us and God was broken when we rebelled, and remains so. He aches when wrong is done to others, and when we ourselves do wrong. Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks of a curse we bring unto ourselves when we do wrong, causing us to do even more wrong. Yet God does not hate us for ruining creation and ourselves, but in fact loves each of us with an everlasting love. However, he does not act to remove evil and restore creation yet out of respect for our freedom to choose. His first longing is for the relationship to be restored, yet this can only happen firstly by restoring the grounds by which we can come to him (because of our wrongdoing, we were exiled from his presence because of his intolerance of evil), and then by our own action (asking for forgiveness and repenting).

        On your second point, I’d like to re-evaluate your perception of God. You speak of God as being the most gracious being, and therefore more than capable of forgiving sins without needing any payment from us. Biblically speaking, this is very true. However, when grace is spoken of in the Bible (I’m thinking particularly of the letters of Paul), it is presupposed that God has paid for it. There is no grace, so to speak, without God’s payment. The thing that is brought to mind is that our wrongdoing is not such a small matter that it should be forgotten quickly. In fact, there is something very “broken” about our wrongdoing, and it must be fixed: as stated earlier, this is our relationship with him. By this payment, we can be made righteous once more.

        Finally, about the relevance of Christ’s death to anyone outside his time period: the Bible speaks not only of Christ’s perfection, but also of his deity. Jesus is God incarnate and man incarnate; God, so the debt can be completely paid, and man, so the debt can be paid. Because the timeless God has acted to pay the debt, he has opened up this payment for those of all time periods, even in the past. Abraham is acknowledged in the New Testament as having received the same righteousness: “[Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:14)

      • Thanks for your response.

        A problem here is that we might be talking past one another: I am trying to critically assess claims made by the Bible and religion (specifically Christianity in this case), and your response is to explain certain things that the Bible or religion says. Of course, though, what religion says can’t really weigh in on a critical analysis of that very subject matter. For instance, the question of what Christ’s dying has to do with forgiving sin cannot be answered by explaining that the Bible asserts that there is a connection, it was that very assertion that I was wanting to critically assess.

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