A Gathering Voices blog post by Beth Pyles
To borrow from the musical Chicago, whenever I admit to those around me that I’ve done wrong, they (my friends and loved ones) let me off the proverbial hook pretty quickly – too quickly, I think, usually with some variation on the theme: he had it coming.
It’s only fair that they should do so; after all, I do the same for them.
But here’s the thing: Bonhoeffer’s axiom that there’s no such thing as cheap grace has as its founding principle the recognition that the costliness of sin is so vast, so pervasive, so all-encompassing, that the countervailing grace must be even more so.
There is no cheap sin; therefore, there can be no cheap grace.
But what I’ve been struggling to understand is the difference, if any there be, between the assuring of our pardon and absolution.
Functionally the same, I suspect there is a theological distinguishing in the Reformed choice of language, which in the assuring, speaks a reminder of an already-existent truth: you are forgiven.
Pastorally, however, when it comes to sin, I suspect the language of absolution might be of more comfort: experiencing the effects of my sin in the here and the now, I need to know the reality of my forgivenness in the here and now to fully appreciate the release from sin’s bondage that is mine.
I struggle with sin and sin language. The extremity of focus on sin (from my perspective) of my more conservative or evangelical brothers and sisters, virtually drowns out the enormity of saving, amazing, grace, to the point where sometimes it almost becomes a false-modesty prideful claim: what a sinner am I! – or – the-worse-I-am-the-bigger-hero-I-am phenomena.
On the other extreme is to eschew the language and thus the reality of sin entirely, in favor of the brokenness model. I tend more to this ‘side’ of things, but if we abandon sin language entirely, we lose, I think, the crucial realization in this life journey of the importance of our self-will to the good or the bad.
On the pastoral level, if, instead of naming and acknowledging the wrong done and speaking into reality the absolution that is theirs, we minimize, justify, excuse away the real harm done out of our love and affection for the person having done the harm, we offer the penitent nothing of lasting value.
Hate the sine but love the sinner is an axiom perhaps needed to be clung to on both sides of the divides between us, lest the conservative end up hating the sinner and the liberal loving the sin.
This is all awfully abstract. To be a bit more concrete and speaking only for myself, whenever I actually muster up the courage to confess to someone else something that I have done wrong, when that person minimizes the wrong, I do not feel affirmed, encouraged, enlarged or even heard. What I feel is minimized, negated, discouraged, dismissed.
If it matters enough to confess, it matters enough to forgive.