A slightly tangential thread came up from a post Eugene Cho wrote recently about the Spanish basketball team and their slanty-eyed “affectionate” tribute (thank you, Pat Forde at ESPN for calling them out as buffoons not only for doing this in the first place but also for their response in your post-Olympics wrap-up; see #26) about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Certainly, the two concepts are deeply intertwined. However, in our me-first, religious consumer mentality, it is easy to reduce Christ’s work on the cross and His resurrection to being all about me and my need for forgiveness. I need to get to heaven and, conveniently, Jesus just so happens to provide a way for that to happen. In this worldview, Jesus is little more than a get out of hell free card and we are free to be the same old antagonistic, bullying, obstinate jerks we were in the first place, only now we’re holding on to that golden one-way ticket to heaven.

It is crucial to ask the question, Why did Jesus forgive us? What was His greater purpose? Simply to get us into heaven? Or is there something more, much more, at stake here?

I have appreciated Scot McKnight’s thoughts on atonement (see Your Atonement Is Too Small over at Christianity Today for more). Forgiveness leads to reconciliation. The scriptural principle is clear: reconciliation with God is the starting point for a new way of living — which is why Jesus says things like, “Follow meover and over instead of things like, “Die as fast as you can so you can go to heaven.” We are called to be part of the ministry of reconciliation — calling others to be reconciled with God, with others and with the world. Jesus — through the fullness of His life, death and resurrection — was reconciling to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

This biblical understanding of reconciliation, though, is extraordinarily inconvenient.  It’s much easier to pitch the customer service Jesus who exists to fulfill your felt needs.

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One commenter from Eugene’s blog was trying to promote this particularly disturbing idea about forgiveness:

In fact, according to scripture, we have no right to be offended at anything or claim rights to anything.

Unfortunately, this extremely harmful notion of forgiveness — basically a “blame the victim” approach — is all too common in many church circles.  Did your husband hit you?  Well, it must have been your fault for something you said.  And, anyways, it’s your fault for being offended in the first place.

If the Bible taught this kind of thinking, then forgiveness is basically worthless — after all, if there’s no genuine offense, then what needs to be forgiven?  Further, what would be the point of pursuing righteousness (or, as Scot McKnight writes in The Jesus Creed, justice) if nothing actually counts as an offense?  However, the very fact that we need to forgive and be forgiven points to the inherent fact that genuine offense does indeed occur.  And, in Jesus’ opening declaration of His public ministry, He proclaims that things have gone wrong and that He is the fulfillment of God’s favor and justice in the world.

This is not about promoting unforgiveness — rather, I am suggesting that we cannot have genuine forgiveness or reconciliation without deeply comprehending how we have been wronged and how we wrong others.  Otherwise, it’s just lip service, banter to toss around church circles.