I remembered as a Christian just starting to discover my faith how I would get very angry at people saying “It is your choice to do right or wrong thing” or worse “It is your choice to accept Jesus or not”. Some might attribute that to the fundemental Calvinism that I picked up from the Bible Presbyterian Church that introduced me to real Protestantism, but even to this day I cringe when I hear those things… very simply because it is wrong from the perspective of both Roman Catholic and Reformed Protestantant doctrine and because it seems to be why people find it so hard to forgive.
I grew up Roman Catholic, taught that the human essence is permanently “weakened and diminished by Adam’s fall” (Council of Trent), and swinging over to Reformed Protestant thought, both Calvinist and Arminian, “We are all sinners by nature, therefore we are held under the yoke of sin.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion). It is fairly plain to me that Christians should never be surprised by people, not just doing bad things, but shamelessly enjoying doing bad things. I used to lash out at people that talked about choice like that, (which in hindsight makes me look rather crazy,) by saying that that kind of thinking was Islamic, and here I am 5 years later still believing that same thing (just that I keep it to myself a little more). Islam universally teaches that mankind is born innocent and becomed corrupted by a sinful world, whereas Christians universally teach that mankind is born evil and proceeds to corrupt the world around us. The need for a saviour necessitates the that human nature is so evil that it cannot save itself. If human beings really had a choice to do bad things or not, that would kind of make the cross a joke dont you think?
So often I see conflict arise from people who are just so shocked that the people around them would hurt them or be lazy and apathetic, but the Bible and Church clearly teach that, well, that is kind of the default. People doing anything good is a sacrifice, giving up the natural inclinations to do something good instead, and it is a borderline miracle that should be celebrated. I find it so frustrating that people have these lines and boundaries that say “I cannot forgive because they are not sincere”, like yea, what did you expect? No one is sincere, no one but God. All our “sincerity” is a cheap immitation of God’s goodness that we dont fully understand. Roman Catholics teach that we can be consecrated to the point that we understand God’s goodness, Arminians teach that we can be sanctified until we reflect God’s goodness, Calvinists teach that if we persevere, we can be glorified to embody God’s goodness in the next life, and what all these three agree on is that holiness as we understand it is both rare and not necessarily permanant on this side of eternity. There is no reason to expect anyone to do good to you, reciprocity, or at least true reciprocity, never works.
It is a lot easier to live at peace with people when you really dont expect anything from them except evil. You celebrate their good points and move on from their evil ones pretty quickly. The world is a really hostile place and the only real way we have a shot at redeeming it is to forgive. God is not intimidated by sin, and neither should we be. The Cross shows us that our self righteousness and unforgiveness leads to us killing our own saviour, and many a times if we think back on our own lives, thats how we treat our own “enemies” and “neighbours” too; their sin intimidates us and we repay in kind not knowing that they might actually be our saviours. God’s healing goodness dispells decaying sin with a word, but mankind’s mortality forces us to answer sin with and endless cycle of wrath. Christ made us acceptible to the Father by taking on the wrath of man and destroying it with a show of humility, it is when we stop fighting each other that we can meet the Father; the Law of the Lord is Love alone.
I talk a lot about Unity and how I think the divisions in the Singaporean churches need to be fixed. I see a lack of unity as a compromise on the Gospel itself; Unity cannot be achieved with persecution and repression, because that just perpetuates conflict again, nor with tolerance, that is really just internalised and secret conflict. Unity is achieved in humility and forgiveness, in expecting people to do wrong, think wrong and feel wrong, and yet not fight them but seek to understand them… by just actively listening.
Listen to and observe the culture, the worship, the doctrine, the works, the practices of other people and actively celebrate everything that is done right as a miracle of God and integrate that into your own life. That is what the Gospel community has to look like, that is what real ecumenism looks like, what a life of forgiveness looks like. It begins with humility and ends with unity. All mankind is born in sin and is in need of a saving God, learn to see glimmers of salvation in everyone you meet.