The Monitor’s editorial “How debt mercy helps drive US recovery” (CSMonitor.com, Jan. 6, 2015) is an encouraging comment on the power of forgiveness to promote the well-being of individuals and society as a whole. The editorial points to a “culture of forgiveness and a belief in redemption” as accounting for the “willingness to offer a fresh start” to so many homeowners and companies in debt. It notes that backing this up “are court judges and government programs that nurture quick and equitable justice for both debtors and lenders.”
The concept of forgiveness, of course, embraces more than reducing a financial debt. The Bible contains wonderful instances of that larger meaning, such as in the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers, who had caused him to be sold into slavery (see Genesis 50:15-21). The Founder of Christianity, Christ Jesus, said in simple words to his disciples, “forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
Yet Jesus’ teachings indicate that underlying true forgiveness is more than meets the eye. It’s an entirely different view of creator and creation. Study of the Gospels has led many to conclude that Jesus saw true existence not as sin-filled and flesh-based, as it seems to be, but as the perfect outcome of God, Spirit – of good alone. What a spiritually-inspired standpoint not only for forgiveness, but for facing up to our faults as not a legitimate part of our true character, rather than sweeping them under the rug! Jesus once said “sin no more” to an adulterous woman whom he didn’t condemn but dealt with compassionately (see John 8:3-11).
The willingness to give people (including ourselves) the opportunity to do better is not only in line with Jesus’ example but with the spiritual truth of God and man that was at the heart of his teachings and works. This truth can be seen, for example, in the Bible’s New Testament affirmation that God is Love. How could Love’s creation express the very opposite of Love? Perfect Love created man, not as a sinner to be condemned but as its very image – its pure, perfect, spiritual reflection.
Christian Science, discovered and founded by Mary Baker Eddy, helps us see that it’s precisely because our real identity expresses God’s goodness and perfection that redemption is possible and forgiveness natural. Doing the wrong thing just doesn’t fit with how God actually made us.
So much in the world seems to contradict this view and suggests that forgiveness is often unrealistic and redemption unlikely. There’s little hope in the concept of man as inherently sinful. But the Bible offers a sure basis for individual and collective progress in its teaching that man is indeed God’s image. And it provides specific instruction in the Ten Commandments, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere in its pages for bringing our thoughts and lives – and helping others to do so – into greater conformity with the spiritual truth of who we are.
In the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mrs. Eddy writes, “The great truth in the Science of being, that the real man was, is, and ever shall be perfect, is incontrovertible; for if man is the image, reflection, of God, he is neither inverted nor subverted, but upright and Godlike” (p. 200).
We’re not ignoring wrongdoing as we act from this basis, but we’re acknowledging the inevitability of its disappearance and a trustworthy foundation for forgiveness.