It’s Always Up to Forgiveness

Let me tell you a story about Johnny. Johnny was a 26 year old, happily married man. Johnny was a man of routine: every day from eight to four he went to work; on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday he had a workout session; he had church on Sunday and Wednesday; on Monday nights he had a Bible study; on Saturdays he volunteered at the local children’s hospital; and he had family time with his wife and parents to fill up the rest. One could say that Johnny was both a busy and a pretty good guy. However, on one particular Friday, Johnny was having a really rough day.

On said Friday, Johnny woke up and got ready as usual, but throughout the day Johnny made several mistakes. The mistakes that occurred were as follows: he broke his wife’s favorite necklace (an expensive inheritance from her late grandmother); he forgot about his lunch plans with his mother and ate somewhere with coworkers; he made his boss mad because he misused a piece of equipment; he got in an argument with his friend over personal matters; and he got put in a situation he didn’t like and lied—sinning against God. All of these mistakes occurred in one day, and Johnny was distraught for quite a while because of it.

Now let me tell you about how Johnny made it up to all of these people. When Johnny got home that Friday evening and saw his wife, he went right up to her, told her what happened, showed sincere guilt, and apologized. His wife forgave him. Saturday, Johnny went to his mother and took her some flowers, apologizing for how he had forgotten about her. She forgave him. That same day Johnny also apologized to his friend for arguing so belligerently with him, but Johnny’s friend said that the only way he’d forgive him was if he played a game of golf with him the next Saturday. Johnny did exactly that and his friend forgave him. That next Monday Johnny went and apologized to his boss asking how to make it up to him. His boss told him that he could if he took the responsibility of handling some papers that day. Johnny handled the papers and turned it into his boss, but the boss still wasn’t forgiving. Johnny asked what else he could do to make it up, and he said that he would make it up if Johnny would stay late that day to finish some things up. Johnny stayed late, and the next day the boss still hadn’t forgiven him. This continued on for quite a while until Johnny realized that his boss would never forgive him and he ended up having to deal with that for as long as he worked there. However, the Friday he lied Johnny prayed to God to forgive him for his deception—and based upon 1John 1:9 I believe that he was forgiven.

Something I wish to be understood from this story is that in each individual case it was always up to forgiveness. I stated that Johnny “made it up to all of these people,” but in reality Johnny didn’t make up for anything. No matter what Johnny did, Johnny was still wrong for each of the things he did. No matter how much good Johnny tried to do, it still didn’t make up for his misbehavior. As the example of the boss shows, doing a specific thing for someone doesn’t ensure that you made up for anything or that you will be forgiven. In every case, the people who were wronged had to make the decision (a decision founded in love) to forgive Johnny. And in every single case Johnny—out of love and a good conscience—had to make the decision to do what they asked in order to “make up for it.” No good thing that was done took away the bad thing, made it to where the bad thing never happened, removed the memory, or made up for it. The people who were wronged had to make the decision to forgive Johnny, and the more each person loved Johnny— the easier it was to forgive Johnny.

These situations show two truths found in the Bible.The first truth taught is that every time you do good, you’re merely doing what you’re supposed to do and nothing more. There is no making up for what is wrong by doing good because by doing good you’re merely doing what you should have been doing in the first place. The second truth taught is that love is what makes up for the sins. A wrong doing is not made up for by good actions, rather it is overlooked by the wronged having the love to forgive the person. The wife, the mom, and the friend all forgave because they loved him and they knew he really was sorry—not because he did good things. Even in the case of the friend this is true. The friend didn’t require the good to make up for the bad so much as the good was proof that Johnny was sorry and changed. However, the boss didn’t forgive him because the boss had no love for Johnny.

All of this is true about God as well. There is nothing you can do to make up for the sins you commit. The only way to “make up for your sins” is through the forgiveness our loving God offers through Jesus Christ. There is no amount of philanthropy, good acts, or sacrifice that makes up for your sins—there is only the need for you to have Godly sorrow leading to repentance (2Cor. 7:9-11; which is essentially proof of change) and faith in God (Rom. 4:1-3). These requirements cause God through His loving mercy to forgive you of your sins.

All of this being considered, it follows that a common myth must be debunked. There is a common myth that the way a person is to be judged by others or by God is similar to a see-saw or a scale. The idea presented is that as long as you do more good things than bad things, you are considered good (e.g. The more good you do the more mass is added to the good side, and the more bad you do the more mass is added to the bad side. Whichever side is lower portrays whether or not said person is good or bad). However, as shown in the analogy with Johnny— and the verses of the Bible above—this just isn’t the case. When taking the see-saw method and combining it with my previous conclusion, what you really end up with is that no one is good because doing good things simply does not add to the good side of the see-saw. In fact, each person would really have started with zero mass on the good side, and for every good thing done there is no mass added because doing good is simply what is expected—not something that earns you anything. In every individual case of a person, the goodness is always lacking because while doing good adds zero mass, doing wrong always adds mass. However, (given that the person genuinely feels sorry and works to do better) due to an application and love and forgiveness on the perceiver’s/judge’s part, the lack of goodness does not result in the person being culpable.

On the flip side, I would like to consider the ramifications of everything I have just said to be incorrect. If perhaps what I have said is incorrect (that the myth of the see-saw method is not a myth at all) then there are some serious implications and requirements. If doing good removes the evil or if doing good actually does add mass to the good side of the scale then there is a question to ask: what particular good has the same positive value of any particular evil’s negative value? Furthermore, when approaching areas often considered being grey, where do those actions fit on this see-saw? These are questions that must be answered to even begin to embrace the concept of balancing the good against the evil.

By what standard are we going to assess the individual value of each good/evil occurrence? If considering the nature of God and what we know in the Bible, what can we find that gives us the idea that God uses the see-saw method? If there is such evidence, what evidence can we find that tells us what each good is worth compared with each evil? Without looking at the Bible, how do we even begin to decide what is good or bad (not to mention the difficulty of placing a value on each individual good or evil action)? If we have the ability to critique, it follows that there is a standard in play. Therefore, by what standard are we to deduce the value of each good or each bad action? These things need to be considered in order to accept the see-saw system of good versus evil.

Moreover, the question of where forgiveness fits must be considered because there is apparently no need for it as long as an accumulation of doing good things can overcome the accumulation of bad actions. If doing good can just outdo the bad then no one has the choice of forgiving or not. One can only accept that the person has done so many good things that the bad thing can’t cause them to be culpable… and then what? Once you observe the amount of good versus the amount of bad you immediately have to decide that the person is all good—even though the person may not feel the least bit sorry about the bad they did? If doing good can just outweigh the bad then essentially any person can continue on clinging to their personal crux without ever having to try and quit it. If a person so desires to continue stealing from the Dollar General, but doesn’t desire to be a bad person, said person must only do a lot of other good stuff (without any known standard to show what equates to the bad action of stealing) in order to maintain their status of being good.

Quite frankly, the see-saw concept of good versus evil destroys all moral integrity. Any given person has some X good thing he or she likes to do and can easily do. Moreover, said person also has some Y bad thing he or she likes to do and doesn’t wish to quit. If said person wishes to maintain the status of good and continue doing Y (with some unknown mass value for the scale), said person must only continue doing the proper amount of X (with some unknown mass value for the scale) that the person can easily do. What follows, is to be good—no single person has to apply much effort. Anyone can do what they like doing. Anyone can continue to do what they don’t want to quit. There’s no moral integrity within this system of evaluating good and evil, and for that very reason it must not be upheld.

But what of the situation in which the scale can only move in favor of good given that the person feels sorry for what he or she did (e.g. imagine an unmovable stilt under the good side of the see-saw that never allows it to go down without someone feeling sorry for what they did)? Well this implies that the judge must perceive the wrongdoer as genuinely feeling sorry, and then must remove this imaginary stilt. In other words, the judge must forgive the person of the wrong. However, this is still not forgiveness in its complete form because the judge must still require the wrongdoer to do enough good to outweigh the bad. This brings us back to having to consider what good can outweigh the bad, and also comes back to the situation Johnny had with his boss. Johnny never could have been viewed as good by his boss (the judge in this situation) because the boss never would have seen the good as enough to outweigh the bad. This is the case because doing good simply does not make up for the bad: the judge must forgive Johnny completely in order for him to be judged as good.

This case is the closest it gets to considering morality to be like the see-saw system. In this case there is still a necessity but not sufficiency of doing good to be seen as good, and there is still a need for forgiveness in order to be seen as good. However, the problem of deciding what standard or method should be used to evaluate the value of each good and evil action is still needs to be answered. Also, there is still the problem of where grey areas fit. Moreover, there is a problem with the development of pride within a person. The more a person does good, always feels sorry, and repents for doing wrong, the more the person’s scale will read them as good. Thus, the more the person feels entitled for being good or at the very least better than so-and-so. The resulting pride is something far from beneficial to any society or culture in which the prideful person exists, and therefore, the see-saw method contains another issue.

In the system in which there is no mass added for doing good, however, there are less issues. In this method there is no need for the see-saw at all because given that any person feels bad and tries to do better there is no culpability (unless the judge is obstinate and unforgiving… which God isn’t). In the method dominantly seen in the Bible, the mass on the evil side of the see-saw is simply removed every time there is forgiveness. Moreover, there is no need to define values because each good action is zero mass and every bad action—no matter how bad or less bad—is one mass. However, grey areas are and will probably always be a debatable subject.

The ramification of this system is integrity to always seek forgiveness and grace, and thus to always try to do better. There is no pride in this system—there is only gratitude for the forgiveness. Any person who begins to consider his or herself better than another must only look at the bad they have done and the forgiveness that was offered to remember that they are not good or better than anyone—they are simply forgiven. Said person shouldn’t see others that continually and remorselessly do wrong as someone who is worse than his or herself, but rather someone who needs love and forgiveness so that they too can have the desire to do better.

Therefore, it is my conclusion that the see-saw system of judging good versus evil is not only lacking a considerable amount of ground-work, but it is a flawed system that will at best produce pride and a sense of entitlement within a good person. At best it will also cause anger and jealousy within a person labeled as bad. Moreover, the system in which there is no see-saw to judge good and evil (the system portrayed in the Bible) is the better system. This system—when applied correctly—will result in a person having humility and gratitude. This system will cause a person to understand that they are not better—they are forgiven. When applied correctly, it should cause the forgiven person to feel blessed beyond what he or she deserves—not better. Moreover, this system will not cause prejudice by the forgiven, but a sharing of this forgiveness and its requirement to those that lack it. This system is a system that is rooted in love, applies love, and causes love. This system is always up to forgiveness.

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