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May 2012 Issue

Leviticus: Holiness for God’s People Today

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Question & Answer

My good friend died recently. She told me she never wanted to see or speak to her two sisters. One sister had an affair with my friend’s husband, and the other sister defended her actions. I guess my friend never forgave her sisters. Does God take you to heaven when you persist in unforgiveness?

Even a quick reading of the Gospels is sufficient for the reader to realize how important forgiveness is to the Christian life. The spiritual life of every believer begins with an act of divine forgiveness. All sins are washed away. Having said this, however, how are we to understand those who do not want to forgive, or can’t seem to forgive? There are two directions one can take. First, an unwillingness to forgive is a sign that one is not walking in the light of God’s continual grace. Such an individual will not experience intimacy with God where His peace and rest fill the heart. But since God has already forgiven all of their sins, and since the act of not forgiving another is a sin, people caught in the grip of unforgiveness will still experience the full eschatological promises of God.

The second direction is to argue that an inability or an unwillingness to forgive, when it becomes a defining aspect of one’s spiritual life, can be a sign that one has not truly embraced the forgiveness of God in the first place. Forgiveness has a transformative quality. It is not merely passive, where your debts are no longer charged against you. The very act of being forgiven transforms people’s heart to such a degree that they forgive others who have sinned against them. They have been gifted with a new heart and spirit. In this view, an inability to forgive is a sign of a dead spirit. See Matthew 18:23–35 for Jesus’ parable that explores the relationship between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others.

As for your friend, God knows her heart. His mercy is great. And this very fact is one reason each of us should be careful of persisting in unforgiveness. We have been forgiven much, and should follow the example of Christ in forgiving those who sin against us.

Is there an easy way to explain that Jesus is God? I witness to a person who can’t seem to accept that fact. He says, "If Jesus is God, then how did He die? God can’t die! So Jesus is not God." I have shared some Scripture with him, but I need help explaining it.

This is a question that most Christians struggle with at some point. Where do people’s ideas of God come from? Generally, there are three sources. The first is from religion. In a debate with William Lane Craig, the Muslim theologian Jamal Badawi argued that Jesus cannot be God because there were things He did not know. For him, a God who experienced states of ignorance was not worthy of that title.

The second source is our innate sense of what a god should look like. The medieval theologian Anselm believed that when one reflected upon a concept of God, the idea of perfection would emerge as the central core of who God was. If it is a good thing for a being to know truths, then God, being perfect, would know all truths. A third source is an individual who claims to be God, and using that person as the basis for developing our concept of God.

These sources overlap. For example, in order to assess a person’s claim to divinity, one must have some idea of what it means to be God to begin the examination. But if the person passes, shouldn’t that individual bring something to the table that modifies or completes our initial concept of God?

We have the person of Jesus Christ claiming to be God. How were the Jews in the first century able to assess this claim? Jesus used several means to show how He fit into their idea of the divine: He claimed to be eternal (John 8:58); He applied the divine name to Himself (John 4:26); He exercised the authority to forgive (Mark 2:5); He demonstrated power by calming the sea (Mark 4:39); and He can meet our basic needs, like the God in Israel’s history (Mark 6:41–44). For these reasons, some of the Jews followed Jesus as the visible incarnation of God. But others rejected Him, partly because He did not fit their preconceived ideas of God. How can a God of absolute holiness associate with known sinners? What kind of God violates His own Sabbath laws? And most significant of all, how can the mighty Creator of the universe experience pain and suffering, even to the point of death?

This is the crossroad. Either my preconceived notions of God invalidate Jesus’ claim to divinity because I am absolutely sure that God cannot die, or my initial conception of God must be revised to include this new information that God can die. Everyone who names the name of Jesus Christ as their ultimate source of hope must take the latter route. They submit their notions of divinity at the foot of the cross, and allow their experience of Christ to modify not only the way they view the world and themselves but also the way they view God. This does not mean that I comprehend the depths of this new information. But it does give me a real picture of the profoundness of His love for me. To the degree that I find it utterly incomprehensible that God can die, that is the degree to which my heart is called to worship the One who did the incomprehensible.

By David Rim

David Rim teaches philosophy and apologetics in the theology department at Moody Bible Institute, and serves as the teaching pastor at New Covenant Presbyterian Church. He enjoys watching Jane Austen movies with his twin daughters, Rachel and Katie, and Maria, his wife of over twenty years.