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Friday, January 28, 2011

Question of the Week:
Aren't Rules of Forgiveness Unfair?

by Anne Lang Bundy

"We are most like men when we judge.
We are most like God when we forgive."
~ Anonymous

If God required a sacrifice to forgive, why should I be asked to forgive without receiving one?
~ Anonymous

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, how could the master put the servant in prison for a debt that had been forgiven?
~ J.F.

Since the master in the parable represents God, both questions imply that God unfairly applies the rules of forgiveness. There are innumerable responses that might offered for the first question. The answer offered here today will address the aspect of ownership, nicely illustrated by the parable in the second question.

Declaring bankruptcy was not an option in ancient times. Debts were paid by selling your possessions, by selling your family members or yourself as slaves, or by going to prison unless someone of means paid the debt on your behalf. Jesus tells a parable of a servant who owes millions of dollars. His master says the man, his family, and his possessions will be sold in payment. The man begs for mercy and patience to make good on his debt—as if he can. The master shows great mercy by simply forgiving the debt.

Take note that the servant is already a slave (Greek doulos). All he has belongs to the master anyway. Being sold would have separated him from his family and given him a different master, but forgiveness has not given him ownership of himself. The forgiven slave still serves at his master's pleasure, and he has incurred a new debt—the debt of gratitude.

The master owns the slave, the debt, all assets the slave considers his own, and all the slave's service. The master also owns a fellow slave whom the first slave assaults and imprisons for a minor debt. And since the master owns both slaves, he actually owns that minor debt, too. In forgiving the first debt and wiping the slate clean, the master has effectively wiped out the associated debt of the second slave.

If debtor's prison serves as punishment and deterrent for willfully acquiring debt without ability or intent to repay, then the first slave deserved prison in the first place. His refusal to extend a small measure of mercy not only proves him evil and unworthy of the mercy he received, but his ingratitude trivializes the master's goodness. The slave's actions say to the master: "What you gave me is insignificant compared to what this other slave should give me."

Jesus Christ is the payment for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world.
~ 1 John 2:2 (GW)

When Jesus was crucified, His sacrifice paid the death penalty every one of us owes God for our sins. Once I accept application of that payment to my account, it also wipes out whatever sin debt I think someone else owes me, and which is actually owed to our mutual Master.

Though we may ask for our offenders to be held accountable, we cannot ask for sacrifice. The sacrifice for all sin has already been made.

[POST SCRIPT: Please see the comments below for more discussion of Jesus' atonement and God's authority to require it.]

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This post originally appeared at Bullets & Butterflies. To see ongoing dialogue in comments posted there click here.

For more on the reasons to forgive and the associated blessings, see Why Forgive?

What questions do you have about Christianity or the Bible? You're invited to leave them in the comments below (anonymous questions welcome), or email buildingHisbody [plus] @

© 2011 Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.
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