Richard Bauckham on Forgiveness

Here is another section of an interesting article I read by New Testament Scholar, Richard Bauckham. He touches on a very rich aspect of forgiveness—the pain endured to make it possible. In this short reflection, Bauckham touches on the suffering of God that marked his forgiving grace.

When some brutal murder is in the news, reporters always press the victim’s relatives to say how they feel about the murderers. I always find it an unpleasant spectacle. All too often the reporters seem to be trying to extract expressions of hatred and bitterness. Quite often we hear the grieving relatives say that they could never forgive the people who did that.

Of course, we are not surprised that people in such circumstances should feel like that. We easily understand how, being so badly hurt, they should feel it impossible to forgive. We can share their sense that justice demands retribution, not forgiveness.

But then it is all the more striking that sometimes a person in such a situation says that they feel no bitterness towards the murderers. These forgiving people are no less feeling. We can see that they loved their murdered relatives no less than the others who say they cannot forgive did. They grieve no less. In fact, one gets the impression that they have suffered more, felt the hurt more deeply, let it reach further into their hearts. They have absorbed the pain so deeply that it doesn’t come pouring back out of them as bitterness and hatred. They know there’s been quite enough pain and they don’t want to pass any more on, even to those who deserve it.

Sometimes these people come across as characteristically forgiving people, people whom, if you knew them, you would expect to react like this. But that doesn’t mean that forgiving is painless. Quite the opposite. Forgiveness is only painless when the crime is trivial or hasn’t affected us very much. And to forgive what people do to those we love is more painful and more demanding than to forgive what they do to ourselves.

All this may help us to understand a little what it means for God to forgive us. One of the things Jesus showed us is that it is God’s nature to forgive. God is characteristically forgiving. In a sense, we can expect God to forgive. As people sometimes say, “Of course, God will forgive: that’s his business.” Yes, but this doesn’t mean that forgiveness is painless for God. Quite the opposite.

All the evil we do hurts God. It spoils and damages the world God has made and the people God loves and cherishes. So it hurts God deeply. And God absorbs all that pain so deeply that he forgives.

This is one way of understanding how it is Jesus’ death on the cross that brings God’s forgiveness to us. God in Jesus’ suffering bore all the pain of forgiving us. He didn’t let the hurt bounce back against those who crucified Jesus – all of us. He took it into his heart.

This happened in the very public event of Jesus’ crucifixion, an event which has become one of the best known events of history. That’s because we need to see God’sforgiveness. We need to see it in order to really believe it. And we need to see it so that it can affect us and change us.

I don’t know how murderers react when they see their victims’ relatives on the television news. Maybe sometimes it may make them regret what they’ve done. If so, I’m quite sure that it would not be the unforgiving but the forgiving reactions which would have this effect.

When we see God’s forgiveness of our evil – when we view the cross in this way – that changes us. God doesn’t wait till we’ve changed our ways and become better people before forgiving us. Rather it is God’s forgiveness that brings us to repentance and new life.

Richard Bauckham on Heaven

I recently read a short article on the topic of heaven by New Testament Scholar, Richard Bauckham. He does a good job of identifying three main biblical strands for thinking about the certain future of the Christian. This is one topic I would like to be thinking about far more often than I do. Here is a section of the article.

To think about heaven we need imaginative pictures. We cannot expect to know in literal terms what heaven will be like. Attempts to describe it literally are usually banal, and easily provoke the response: why should I want that? Who wants to spend eternity sitting on a cloud playing a harp? Heaven must be inconceivably different from our experience here and now. So we need pictures that evoke a sense of something that far transcends this life.

The Bible and the Christian tradition offer us three main pictures of what heaven is all about. If we put these three symbols together, we shall get quite a good idea of what the Christian understanding of human destiny is.

The first is the hope of the vision of God. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” said Jesus, “for they shall see God.” God, whom we now know so imperfectly, we shall then experience directly. We shall enjoy him as the ultimate fulfilment of all human desires. We shall worship him with the kind of rapturous attention that a powerful experience of beauty or love can evoke in us in this life. Because God is infinite and we were made to enjoy him, heaven’s joys will never be exhausted. We shall find eternal fulfilment in God.

But heaven will not be just me and God. God made us to find fulfilment in each other as well as in him. So the second picture of heaven is the city of God, a perfect human society, in which all our dreams of really adequate human relationships will be fulfilled.

The book of Revelation, in its great vision of the New Jerusalem, which is the Bible’s fullest account of heaven, combines these two symbols in a picture of the city in which God himself will dwell with humanity. It will be a perfect human society because it will be centred on God.

But God’s purposes reach beyond even a human society finding its true fulfilment in him. They extend to God’s whole creation. Our third picture of heaven, the kingdom of God, is the broadest. It looks for the time when God’s rule over his whole creation will finally be perfected. All evil, suffering and death will be overcome. God’s world will be as he has always intended it to be. And when all the evils and imperfections hat obscure God in the world as it now is have been transcended, then all creation will perfectly reflect God’s glory. As the apostle Paul put it, “God will be all in all.”

So the Christian hope is that the whole of God’s creation will find its eternal destiny in God. Although, up till now, I’ve used the term “heaven” to refer to theChristian hope of life after death, because this is usually done, we can now see that this term can be rather misleading. It might suggest that our destiny is to leave the world behind and join God in some otherworldly, purely spiritual heaven. The Christian hope is much better than that. It is for the union of heaven and earth, for God’s transforming presence throughout his creation.

All this should widen our horizons beyond the narrowly individual terms in which we so often think of heaven. Our hope as individuals is to share in God’s great triumph over all evil and death, to have a place in his cosmic purpose for the whole creation, to find our own fulfilment in God in the context of a world centred on God and transfigured by his glory. But, since this is what heaven is all about, of course we cannot hope to share that destiny unless we place ourselves now, as individuals, within God’s purpose for his world. To enjoy the vision of God then we must begin to centre our lives on God now. To enter the city of God then, we must seek his will for human society now. To enter the kingdom of God then, we must place ourselves under God’s rule now and seek his kingdom in all reality.