Forgiveness as a way of life

August 4th, 2023

Let’s think about becoming a people who don’t keep score on each other, serving a God who doesn’t keep score on us. Imagine a life of grace and love, acceptance and belonging, unshakable security and soulful serenity, joyous freedom and limitless possibilities.

I found that life in the unconditional pardon from all sin and selfishness that is granted us by Jesus Christ—Jesus crucified and risen, Jesus ascended and reigning at God’s right hand, Jesus interceding for me with the Father even now, and soon to return in glory.

What a difference from the life I formerly led in Christian Science, a life of laborious burdens and sweaty scorekeeping–of tense denial, exhausting doublethink and endless self-reproach– forever swimming upstream and never a moment to rest.

Immense blessings have come to me through the forgiveness that is ours in the Cross of Christ.  Accepting that forgiveness from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit toward myself.  And then extending that forgiveness toward others from myself.

Note: This was given as an opening talk at the 6th national conference of the  Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists, held in St. Louis on July 28-30, 2023.

Jesus teaches us to say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Now according to Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy, that’s the same thing as saying, “Love is reflected in love.”  But it’s not the same thing at all. Absolutely not.

The reflection statement merely describes, or claims to describe, the status of things.  Like a still life picture, it just sits there inert—a bloodless abstraction unconnected to the human predicament as we experience it every day.

Whereas the petition Jesus taught us expresses an aspiration for things to change—and change dramatically.

That’s the furthest thing from a still life. It summons a burst of new life, a flood of new life. It is active, expectant, and responsive.  It wipes the slate clean. It sets the stage for a fresh start.

To feel unforgiven by God or other people, and to hold unforgiveness toward ourselves or others, is to be locked in an invisible prison. Metaphysical denial, Mrs. Eddy style, will not open those prison doors. It cannot.

Merely insisting that because error is unreal, there was nothing to forgive in the first place–so everything is fine, Love is reflected in love, doesn’t solve the sin problem.

Because our hearts know otherwise. The stain is there. The ache is there. The worm is there. It can’t be wished away. It must be taken away.

What takes it away? The shed blood of the Cross of Christ. His sacrifice and his victory are what bathe us in God’s forgiveness—and what then empower our forgiveness to everyone around us, past and present, wherever it may be needed.

I have come to regard the forgiving way of life as a process of learning not to keep score all the time. Does our heavenly Father have some kind of big logbook in which he tallies, day by day, all the ways in which I don’t measure up?

Mercifully, thankfully, he does not. Nor does he want us to do that to each other. It infuriates him when we do, as Jesus’ parables make clear. He won’t have it. He forbids it. (See, for example, Matt. 18:23-35.)

What the King Commands

I think that in the New Jerusalem, the peaceable kingdom, the King commands me to be a person who doesn’t keep score, living amongst a holy people who don’t keep score, and all of us together serving a God who doesn’t keep score.

I believe that’s what “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” actually means.

But I confess to you this. For a dozen years, up to age 50, as I was making my way out of Christian Science to the foot of the Cross, I didn’t get the forgiveness thing at all.

I was so judgmental of the Christian Scientists who couldn’t see the plain truth of the Gospel on page after page of the Bible.

I was so put out with myself for having virtually worshipped Mary Baker Eddy all my life.

And I was pretty sure the best seat I could expect when I finally got to heaven would be something way in the back row.

I really beat myself up.  A verse from the 73rd Psalm, one I had never noticed before, became my sad song of contrition. “So foolish was I,” it begins.  “So foolish was I, and ignorant. I was as a beast before Thee.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Humble contrition is a good thing. Godly sorrow is a good thing.

But I wasn’t really opening myself up to receive God’s grace. Or to express God’s grace by extending it to others in all my relationships.

Both in the vertical and in the horizontal, I was imprisoned by unforgiveness.

Paid in Full

Then gradually I came to see the truth in that wonderful old hymn, “Jesus paid it all.”  What a liberating realization that was!

Yet I also learned that the forgiving life, the life of not keeping score, is a continuous ongoing process. New challenges keep cropping up.

Just last year I found myself overwhelmed with blame and shame after reading Caroline Fraser’s powerful history of the Christian Science movement, her book God’s Perfect Child. 

How could you, John, I asked myself—how could you have believed so many lies for so long?

It raised issues with my dear mother and father, both now deceased; issues with my teachers at Principia; issues with practitioners I had admired and trusted.

I had to take all those feelings to the throne of God and offer them up. It was an important time of growth for me.

Even more recently, after a beloved cousin died under what sounded to me like inadequate Christian Science care, I had to go through the whole forgiving process again. Another time of growth.

It’s safe to predict, in fact, that just in the next few days each of us will have to wrestle yet again with whether to condemn or forgive—when we feel that surge of impatience toward Christian Scientists who seem attracted to Jesus but won’t commit—and when we feel unhappy with our own hit-or-miss efforts at outreach.

There will be that old temptation to keep score. But Jesus shows us a more excellent way, the way of forgiveness and grace.

“If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” asks King David in Psalm 130.

Forgiveness in Christ is the only answer, and all the answer we need. Because, remember: “Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.” Amen and amen!

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