Freed for Confrontation
The time has come for me to bring a close to my inspection of Jon Coutts' A Shared Mercy. The book has been invigorating and enlightening. By springboarding off Karl Barth's enumeration of Christ's atonement and the forgiveness of sin, a particularly Christian forgiveness seems more real than I previously imagined.
To bring my inspection to a close — while you waiting for my review — I wanted to touch briefly on Coutts depiction of confrontation and confession. Though there are many pastoral details that will accompany every real life example, there are some rucial building blocks to Christian forgiveness and restoration in confession,
"Common sense tells us that 'one cannot forgive an innocent person,' but one would not know it from the way forgiveness is commonly practiced. The notion of unconditional forgiveness may lend to this. Often forgiveness is constructed in such a way as to enable the forgiver not to confront the guilty party, or is issued in such a way as to avoid any assessment of the objective guilt involved ... In the precedence of [Christ's] forgiveness, persons are freed for confrontation as they entrust it to God and come under the judgment of grace themselves." (138-139)
"Folk wisdom" or worldly wisdom presents a paradigm of forgiveness that places the ball in the court of the forgiver to take the moral high road. This type of thinking is consistent with non-Christian variants of self-justification and self-righteousness. A forgiveness without confrontation is a form of self-preservation — we desire to stay as far away from the true judge as long as possible.
But Christian forgiveness calls us to the tribunal of Christ as Judge. This is shadowed in the Old Testament laws suits before the judge. Both come before the judge and true justice is meted out when all parties have been reconciled. Righteousness comes in the restoration of the two parties and their submission to the judgement. If this is true in the Old Testament, how much more is it true under the New Covenant established in Jesus Christ. Thus, it is the reconciling work of Christ that further encourages to bring our confrontations to the throne of Christ,
"Faith in Christ's universally extended mercy frees us to courageously bring the situation before the Lord and the offender, seeking Christ judgment in the hope for grace and reconciliation. If we are sure we are in the right, folk wisdom tells us we have nothing to fear. However, whether we are sure or unsure, Christian wisdom tells us that we have more to fear from trusting our own judgment and from trusting the Judge who was judged in our place." (140)
Sin comes into the world as Christians seek to take the place of God. Non-Christian forms of forgiveness are guilty of the same thing. They are satisfied in their own judgment. They are picking once again the fruit and presuming the authority of determining good and evil. Understanding forgiveness in Christ implies that we have given up that authority and returned it to God. We recognize the judged One who has become the Judge.
And this is Christian faith, the confession of the judged One who is the True Judge. Coutts and Barth remind us that "confession" is to speak the same words to one another. The joint confessions of the early church are a wonderful historical example of members speaking the same words in the midst of the community. This type of mutual confession is essential to Christian forgiveness,
"When Christians confess their sins to one another they're seeking a knowing with for an agreement about the situation between forgiving and forgive her alike, on the basis of the judgment of grace in Christ.
Perhaps it is odd to speak of a forgiver making a confession, but in a very important sense this is what I forgiver seeks to do. An expression of forgiveness for sin is not offered on the basis of moral high ground but in agreement with the Yes and No of God in Christ. Without disavowing the responsibility to discern perpetrator from victim, a church must recall that neither a self-grounded confession or self-grounded pardon are particularly Christian." (143)
How Christian forgiveness looks in the real world cannot be reduced to a formula. Or if only, the formula must be called Christian faith. Mutual confession of faith in Christ and the faithfulness of His Spirit is the path of reconciliation. How this looks in forgiveness outside of the church remains for the student to pick up A Shared Mercy and read.