Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Certified Forgiveness, Part 1: Extreme Measures

Whatever your philosophy or faith tradition may be, every human alive has to answer this question, "How do I handle my own guilt?  When I know I have done evil, what do I do with these guilty feelings I have?"  While there are dozens and even scores of common methods to deal with guilt, they fall under a handful of categories.  Let's look at one of them:

Method #1: Even out the scales by a deed or deeds I commit.  This is often expressed in terms like, "try to make sure your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds".  In Islam, we find passages in the Koran/Quran (I'm using Sahih International) that some Muslims believe justify the actions of the few who choose to become suicide bombers according to their understanding of what pleases Allah.  One of the less inflammatory passages that is sometimes used to support that idea is found in the following verses or ayat as the most clear rendering of that perspective from chapter or Sura 61:10-13:

"O you who have believed shall I guide you to a transaction that will save you from a painful punishment?  [It is that] you believe in Allah and His Messenger and strive in the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives.  That is best for you if you should know.  He will forgive you your sins and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow and pleasant dwellings in gardens of perpetual residence.  And [you will obtain] another [favor] that you love- victory for Allah and an imminent conquest; and give good tidings to the believers."

Note the word "transaction" in ayat 10.  In trade and financial terms, a transaction implies an exchange that is agreed to between two parties because the value appears comparable and favorable to both sides.  So here, I don't mean to highlight suicide bombings so much as I mean to discuss the concept of "works righteousness".  For the Christian who is faithful to biblical teaching, the idea that a mere human could do enough things to earn a status of righteousness in God's eyes is repulsive.  But consider this: if a man believed he had no assurance of forgiveness apart from dying in a struggle on behalf of his god, is it really extreme for him to do just that?  Or, is it the logical conclusion once one has considered the current temporary life and the eternal state to come?  If by cutting in half your 70 year life expectancy to 35, you could guarantee the eternal rewards of your god... what would you do?


Here's the main point to consider: the so-called suicide bomber goes to extreme lengths to secure forgiveness believing that he has power to please his god by what he does.  But the gospel of Jesus Christ teachings something even more radical:  It is not man, but God Himself Who takes on flesh and human nature to die on behalf of believers.  God is the extremist: extremely holy, extremely just, and extremely gracious.  He takes extreme action because no mere human can, by their own ability, be counted holy enough or righteous enough in the sight of a perfect and transcendent God.  So in doing this, Jesus, the Perfect Man fulfills the unyielding demands of the only True God.  Not only that, the same Jesus absorbs the wrath of God against sin.  In this way, God and God alone is glorified for there is no boasting of our works before Him for it is written,

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law, rather through the law, we become conscious of sin.  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through  the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood....
Romans 3:20-25

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