Forgiveness: What is Our Message?

by Randy Thomas

The young man of maybe 30 years old shuffled his way through the crowd. He obviously had been waiting for everyone else to leave. Hesitantly, he queried, "What does this church believe about alcoholism?"

As I answered his question, I wondered what his life had been like. I knew his marriage had already ended and I surmised that his employment history was rather spotted. But as I answered, I sensed this wasn't the question he really wanted to ask.

Nervously, he came to his primary question. "I've been sober for six years, but I know something is missing. I understand what Scripture says concerning drunkenness, but tell me, does this church believe in forgiveness?"

I was stunned. Why would anyone ever ask such a question? Of course we believe in forgiveness! Forgiveness is what Jesus and churches are all about.

But somewhere along the way, this young man had heard a different message. Perhaps he had heard:

Forgiveness--yes, we believe in it, but we're going to watch you like a hawk to see if you have really repented.

Sure, we believe in forgiveness--but because of your past there are some things in this church you will never be able to do.

Certainly you can be forgiven--but, you're going to have to behave differently prior to us accepting you.

Forgiveness--yes, we believe in it...we don't practice it, but we believe in it.

Somewhere along the way, this man had received a distorted view of forgiveness--a qualified forgiveness based on conforming to laws, codes, or unwritten morals. An "I forgive you if..." type of redemption. Jesus offers an "I forgive you, in spite of ..." redemption. It is clean. It is complete. It is unconditional. What type of forgiveness does the outsider hear from us?

--via Montgomery Blvd. church bulletin, Albuquerque, NM

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