Jesus Christ’s forgiveness is lost in our victim culture
Adapted from a talk by Michael Ramsden
In a world where we have weaponised emotions, where everything I am saying to you is motivated by love and anything you’re saying against me must only be explicable by hatred, Michael Ramsden argues there is but one deterrent and that it is to be found in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
From Germaine Greer to Peter Tatchell, Richard Dawkins to Brian Cox, no one is safe from contemporary society’s obsession with victimhood. Whether it’s the Man of Steel version of Superman, Captain America or any other Marvel comic superhero, you are no one without a victim narrative.
The only way to end this narrative of perpetual victimhood is to learn what it means to forgive, which means to be willing to make peace where there was none before. It is through the forgiveness rooted only in the Christian faith that we have the ability to turn situations around and make them radically different.
Jesus uses the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) to describe the redemptive and radical nature of forgiveness. A story of a father of two children, the younger one comes to the father and says, ‘give me my share of the inheritance now.’
In most first-century contemporary cultures the father’s response would be to beat or kill the son. In Jesus’ parable, the father gave him the money.
God loves us even when our life is wrong; our thoughts are wrong, and our speech is wrong.
“Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15: 13-20)
The father offered peace and forgiveness before his son had even ended his speech. The father loved the son even when he was: doing the wrong thing; thinking the wrong thing; and saying the wrong thing. When Jesus told this story, he wasn’t talking about any earthly father, he was talking about our heavenly father. This is how God loves us. God loves us even when our life is wrong; our thoughts are wrong, and our speech is wrong.
The father has every reason to be angry and feel victimised by his own son. His son has come to him in public and said to him, ‘I wish you were dead; I can’t wait any longer, give me your money.’ That is insulting in any country, but the father doesn’t respond out of his hurt, the father responds out of his love.
And interestingly the father pays. Before the son has finished his prepared speech, he says to his servants, “’ ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22-24)
Forgiveness turns situations around and makes them radically different
Forgiveness is one of the most expensive things you can do. When someone has wronged you, when someone has hurt you, when someone has offended you, and you choose not to respond with anger but with love, it’s one of the costliest emotional trials you will ever go through. It is very hard, sometimes we want to forgive, yet we still find it hard to do so.
How much harder is it when we find we don’t want to forgive but find it in our hearts to do so? The reason why we see so little forgiveness in this world is that it comes at an enormous price and the price is always paid by the wronged party.
In most cultures around the world, forgiveness is earned: ‘you will forgive me when you think that I have suffered enough.’ But not in the Christian faith. Jesus Christ offered forgiveness to people before they even asked for it. The father offers forgiveness to the son before the son says anything to him. And as forgiveness is offered, the son says, ‘sorry’. And that is how you receive someone’s forgiveness.
Forgiveness turns situations around and makes them radically different. The only way to end victimhood culture is to learn what it means to forgive, to be willing to make peace where there was none before. It is possible to find forgiveness and it is one of the most powerful liberating gifts that we have.
If this victimhood culture continues to drive our global politics, the result will only be war and mayhem. What it requires, therefore, is for us to understand what we need to be forgiven for ourselves in other situations so that we can learn to forgive in even harder ones.
As you begin to learn that lesson, it’s actually possible to live out something Jesus Christ said that everybody should pray for, “Father, forgive me, as I forgive those who have sinned against me.” In other words, if you are the most forgiven person in the world, you have to become the most forgiving person in the world.