Monday, November 9, 2009

Does Forgiveness Cost Anything? (Yes)

Obviously to say forgiveness comes at a price is self-contradictory. (At least that ought to be obvious.) Yet I’ve lately perceived a grain of truth in it.

There’s a calypso song that says:

Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away,
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more!

Forgiveness, true forgiveness, is like that, too. It doesn’t cost you anything but the release of your grudges and flying free of resentment. The only thing you give up is the poison in your soul; and what you gain is infinitely more than your brother or sister.

But God’s forgiveness is unique. It doesn’t involve giving up any grudge or resentment, for He is far above all that sort of sinful passion. He never held a grudge in the first place; He never felt the least twinge of resentment, so He doesn’t have those to give up. Neither is God’s forgiveness any merely a release from debt or punishment; it is far more. In the teaching of the Church, as witnessed by the sacred Scriptures, God’s forgiveness always comes in a very particular form; namely, it comes as the gift of eternal life. Hence, St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:21, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, indeed righteousness should have been by the law.”

As far back as the Old Testament, forgiveness came as the gift of Life (although then the Life was only symbolic). The catch is that the seat of life was believed to be in a person’s or an animal’s blood: “For the life of the flesh [is] in the blood: and I [God] have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your lives: for it [is] the blood [that] makes an atonement for the life.” (Leviticus 17:11) That is the reason animals were sacrificed as sin offerings: their blood symbolized their life, given to the sinner in place of his own life, which he had lost by sin. Forgiveness came in the form of restored life.

In Christ, the symbolism comes true, becomes literal. His blood belongs to One who, besides being Man, is also Almighty God. His blood is that which was crucified and buried and yet rose again. His blood is immortal. The hymn sung when we receive Holy Communion speaks of “the Fountain of Immortality.”

So on the Cross we see God’s forgiveness literally bleeding out of the wounds of His Christ. God’s forgiveness was shed freely upon the whole world, but in the form of blood, and He Whose Blood it was – well, He had to shed it. He also had to die (not merely prick His finger) in His humanity, so that in His Divinity He could plant eternal life right in the heart of the grave.

There was never any transaction in which God was paid off or made whole or He got even, and it’s not that our guilt could not simply be freely forgiven, but forgiveness always comes as the gift of eternal life, and eternal life, this infinite good, came at a tremendous, awful, awesome price.


Dixie said...

Hey Anastasia, could you please email me? The only address I have for you is giving me a delivery error. I'd like to discuss some things with you about candles, crosses, hotels, etc. Thanks!

rose at lieffring dot com