We seem to be living in an era where forgiveness is a rare commodity. Foolish mistakes are still being made, but it seems difficult for some people to see beyond them, or to accept that a person might actually have changed over time. Or, more importantly, that we all carry within us the same image of God. There never was a clearer sign of how we are forgetting Christ’s teachings and living like we’ve never heard of God.
The idea of change, of transformation, is at the heart of Christ’s message. The lack of forgiveness in our own times emanates from the idea that people can’t or won’t change, whereas Christ says we can and must change. Continuously. Because we are not perfect those seeking God are always seeking. This might sound futile, but in fact we must journey in order to reach the destination. If we stand still we can not go anywhere, physically or spiritually.
This message is spelled out very clearly in the Gospels, but it shouldn’t be a big surprise if you’ve read your Old Testament. After the Great Flood, God defines a relationship with humanity through a promise – a unilateral agreement to never wipe out creation again. From this comes more covenantal agreements. The Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses are the two most obvious examples. A covenant is like a legal document – both agree to do certain things. In Old Testament terms, God has promised the Hebrew people the land of Israel in exchange for their obedience to God’s laws. But the Israelites and Judeans have problems keeping their part of the bargain, and so Israel is lost, regained, and lost again. Finally, it is clear that the Israelites can not consistently keep God’s Laws. They are repeatedly breaking the covenant with God, but God can not just destroy them – God will always keep up his part of the bargain. So, what can God do?
Enter Christ. Humanity, unable to follow the legalistic Law, are given a New Covenant. Prophesied in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, this new covenant will replace humanity’s heart of stone by placing God’s spirit directly into the heart. (Ezekiel 36:26). This New Covenant is actualized in Christ’s redemption of humanity from the cross. And, like the Noahide Law, it is a covenant known to all humans, not just Jews (Romans 2:14-15). Essentially, Christ’s forgiveness of human sin coupled with a New Covenant means we have no more excuses. We have been given a clear path away from sin through Christ, and through Christ we have a clear map of that path. And we need no longer rely on chiseled stones or old parchments: the knowledge of God is written on our hearts.
The transformation of humanity as a whole from a legalistic understanding of God to an organic understanding of God is part of God’s creative plan. The universe is not static and neither are we, collectively and individually. We can indeed be forgiven when we embrace this transformation. When we stay on the train we can indeed arrive at our destination: the new heaven and new earth. If we hop off, we quite simply will be going nowhere.