CHRISTIANITY ISN’T JUST ABOUT FORGIVENESS by Ian K. Smith for Core Christianity
I remember one night eating dinner with a homeless gentleman at a church drop-in centre. He was not someone I expected to find there. He was educated and articulate. We spoke of his former life as a lawyer, of his wife and children. My first response was, “Is he telling the truth?” But as we proceeded in the conversation and spoke of his mental illness, of his addictions, of his mistakes, I believed him. Now he was on the streets. His homelessness was much more than a lack of physical shelter; it was a collection of inter-related alienations. His life had been a series of blows, some self-inflicted, which had resulted in increased levels of isolation. He was alienated from his wife, his children, his career, and from his dignity. He had sought forgiveness from his family, but despite receiving it, this had not resulted in a restoration to the family home. Forgiveness is a necessary step to restoration, but one does not always lead to the other. He would sleep that night on the streets.
The gospel addresses our situation of longing to go home. Our mistake is to think of the homeless as people who are not “us.” Like the Pharisees of Jesus’s day we see it as their problem without recognising our own yearnings. Yet the story of the Bible is clear. Our original forebears were banished from their home, the Garden of Eden, and we all long to go home. As we come to the end of the story, we arrive at a garden in the midst of a city and we realise that we have returned to the home for which we were made. That which was fallen has been redeemed and restored. There is no return without forgiveness, but for us, unlike that homeless gentleman, God’s grace abounds in restoration.
Sadly we sometimes reduce the gospel to being a message of forgiveness without also mentioning restoration. We preach the cross but fail to mention the resurrection. We revel in the grace of forgiveness, and rightly so, but we fail to remember that the resurrection of Jesus is the first-fruits of the restoration of home. The Bible begins with the creation of our home, the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1) and ends with a new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1).