I touched on this in the Forgiveness – Part 1 post, and this “study” of forgiveness would be incomplete without this final part. Forgiveness in our lives is all modeled on the forgiveness of Jesus in the form of his death as a sacrifice for all of our sins (our less-than-perfect moments). Even in the Torah and books of the prophets in what Christians call the Old Testament, a blood sacrifice was required to cover sins and make people righteous in God’s eyes. The very first sin of Adam and Eve required a blood sacrifice that God himself prepared for Adam and Eve by killing animals and using their skins to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness when they left the Garden of Eden. Other religions view less-than-perfection differently, but almost all see good and evil like a balance scale where enough good to outweigh the bad makes things right.
This is a noble way to see good and evil, but it leaves a lot of gaps for me intellectually and spiritually. How much good is enough to make up for the bad in my life? Is there a ratio of good:bad that will ensure that I will be a good person or go to heaven? Is 2:1 enough, or should it be more like 10:1? What is the standard for my good acts – are small acts of kindness like compliments enough to make up for losing my temper? What if I do something worse, like kill someone – what can possibly make up for that on the scale? If enough people put good mojo out into the world, will it ever be enough to keep horrible things from happening? If everyone on the planet could pay it forward for a day or a week, could we keep earthquakes at bay or stop mass shootings? How much good karma would it take to prevent bad karma from happening at all? If I can repeat my life through multiple reincarnations, could I ever be good enough to make it heaven, or will I be stuck in an endless loop of repeating my less-than-perfection?
The problem with all of these beliefs for me is that the focus is always on self – what can you do to earn a place in heaven? Any system based solely on your actions is a meritocracy, and you must work your way into heaven. The worst part of this for me is that there are no clear guidelines for just how good you have to be, and there are no real explanations for why evil exists or why bad things happen to good people. As badly as Christians often explain it, God does provide a foundation for all of these questions I have about a meritocratic heaven.
Heaven isn’t a meritocracy; there’s nothing you can do to earn it because grace is a gift of God given with no strings attached except to follow Jesus. There is a clear standard for perfection and sin, and there is a clear consequence for sin. Sin is anything less than perfection in our thoughts and actions, and the consequence of sin is death (separation from God forever). The only way to regain our connection to the Creator of our souls is to accept the sacrifice of Jesus and allow him to lead us through life on earth. In exchange, our relationship with God is restored, and we will live forever with our Creator in heaven when our bodies pass away. No earning our way to perfection; no earning a place in heaven because it is a gift of God. Our good works are the result of following Jesus.
Because sin entered our world, our world is broken as well; things will never be perfect here like they were in the Garden of Eden until God makes the whole world new. Until that happens, bad things will happen no matter how good we are or how well we imitate Jesus. Evil is loose in our world, and we can’t do enough good deeds to wipe it out. Only Jesus can eradicate evil. I touched on this in the Forgiveness – Part 3 post. God’s grace saves us from condemnation, but it doesn’t exempt us from experiencing evil here on earth.
Here are some passages of the Bible that I think tie up the old system of animal sacrifice for sin with the new promise made through Jesus’s sacrifice of his life for ours.
“In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again, like the high priest here on earth who enters th3e Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice.” Hebrews 9:22-26 NLT
“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died – from the time of Adam to the time of Moses – even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins.” Romans 5:12-16
This sounds like a lot of religious mumbo-jumbo, and I guess maybe it is. The bottom line for me is that I don’t want to be my own standard bearer; if I am a standard for goodness, I am a miserable example, and there is no hope for humanity. I have looked long and hard into my own soul, and I know what darkness lives there. I think I’m a pretty good person, so if I can see such darkness in me, I have no hope of doing enough good deeds to earn a place in heaven. Jesus for me means freedom from myself and my darkness. He told us, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Jesus offers release from the relentless burden of myself and my less-than-perfections. He offers me rest for my soul, and I desperately want and need that respite.
If you have seen Christians behaving badly or judging the world, I’m sorry; we all mess up, and we all need forgiveness. None of us speaks for Christ – God doesn’t need us to explain him or to judge the world, because he explains himself, and he is the judge. If you have read this and think I am judging you for believing something different – see that last sentence. I have great respect for any person who has explored their faith and determined their own beliefs, especially if you act on those beliefs. This is merely an explanation of my basis for forgiveness. It is not my job to judge you, it is only my job to follow Jesus, and I have felt from the beginning of this topic that I should write this. If you believe something different than me and would like to discuss anything I have written here further, please contact me. If I have written anything that sounds like something you want to learn more about, please contact me. You can send me a message on FB if we’re FB friends, or you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.