We live in a time of cheap grace where forgiveness is not requested but demanded by miscreants. Exhibit A is Mark Sanford who disgraced himself as governor of South Carolina and destroyed his family by his lust for his Argentinian mistress. Now Sanford is the Republican candidate for Tim Scott’s, newly appointed Senator from South Carolina, old House seat for South Carolina 1. He is opposed by Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, Stephen Colbert’s sister. (No fiction writer could make this up.) Sanford is touting that he has been forgiven by God and the people of South Carolina should also forgive him. In a very good column in the New York Post NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY looks at the American impulse to embrace an endlessly forgiving God.
Only 31 percent of Americans believe in what the two call “an authoritative God,” a deity who is both engaged in the world (caring about human affairs, no pun intended) and judgmental. The rest believe that God is either disengaged or simply benevolent. Or they’re atheists.
Our European brethren think of us as puritanical; if only. These men — whose sin begins with infidelity and then travels through public humiliation of their wives and children and then ends with an inability to remove themselves from public life — might benefit from the recitation of that great sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”:
And not just him. A recent study in the academic journal Theoretical Criminology found that criminals often use religion — and even God’s forgiveness — as a way of rationalizing their behavior. “God has to forgive everyone, even if they don’t believe in him,” one 33-year-old enforcer for a drug gang told the interviewers.
In the first few centuries of the Church, penances would go on for many years in regard to serious sins before absolution was granted. The penances would be public in nature, and would make clear that the penitent had committed grave sins. Now, most people assume that God forgives any sin automatically, that penance is unnecessary and that the forgiveness of God absolves them from the consequences of their sins. I recall one child molester stating at a conference that God had forgiven him, so why couldn’t everyone else?
We live in an age of non-judgmentalism where the mercy of God is celebrated and His justice completely forgotten. Thou Shalt Not Judge! is a new unofficial eleventh commandment. Other ages have made exactly the opposite error and recalled God’s justice while forgetting His mercy. This passage from The Screwtape Letters summarizes the problem quite nicely:
The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere “understanding”. Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.
In regard to forgiveness too many people today recall this admonition of Christ to the woman caught in adultery: Neither do I condemn you, while forgetting the rest: Go and sin no more. A necessary part of absolution is a true repentance and a desire to amend one’s life. We delude ourselves additionally if we believe that forgiveness relieves us from the penalty of Purgatory for our sins in the next world, or the consequences of our sin in this world.