Remember being a teenager? That part of our lives when we feel like the grown-ups don’t understand anything, our parents are totally unreasonable in their demands, and if only they could leave us alone…
So you come home in the early hours despite the fact that your parents told you exactly what time they expected you to be back from the party, and you know they’re going to be angry but who cares, they just don’t understand…
And your parents, who have been up all night worrying because you’d switched off your cellphone so they couldn’t check up on you and spoil your fun – your parents, who love you and who know what the streets are like late at night and how dangerous it can be for you to walk home from the station in the dark – your parents get up when you walk in the door and instead of the telling off you were expecting, they hug you and say: we forgive you.
“You forgive me?!” you yell at them as you stomp off to your room, slamming the door after you. “I don’t want your forgiveness! I just want you to leave me alone! You and your stupid rules about what time I have to be back from the party! You’re treating me like a child!”
The thing is, when someone says “I forgive you” and you haven’t actually said you’re sorry or even accepted in your own mind that what you did was wrong – this can be really infuriating, can’t it? You can feel you’re being wrongly accused. It can feel hugely unfair.
It would feel different if they said “it’s ok”. If that’s all they said, you wouldn’t have to face up to the possibility that what you did wasn’t ok.
And I think that’s part of why people have a problem with the Christian Gospel message. We’d be so much more comfortable if God just said: it’s ok. I don’t mind how you behave. I won’t judge you for your attitude. I love you as you are and I’m not fussed about what you do and say and think – whatevs, we’re cool.
Part of why we find the message of the Cross uncomfortable is because Jesus demands repentance. Because the crucifixion shows us, in a painful gory visual, how seriously God takes this thing called sin. Because this message, while being good news for those who repent, is not a nice message – it is not designed to lull us into a sense of “everything’s ok, just chill”, it’s designed to wake us up so that we’ll face up to the reality of our sin, so that we’ll wake up and repent before it’s too late, so that we’ll reach up to the crucified Saviour and receive forgiveness for our sins.
But so many of us in the West today are behaving towards God the way teenagers behave towards their parents, throwing his love and forgiveness back in his face and stomping off while shouting: You don’t understand! I don’t need you! Leave me alone!
We refuse to accept that God is the one who defines right and wrong, that if he says we’ve sinned then we are guilty and we can’t argue with the Creator of the Universe – well, we can, but it’s rather pointless. Much much much better for us to accept the excellent deal he offers us: yes, he says, you are guilty, and you deserve punishment, but I sent my Son to go through that punishment for you, so all you have to do is stop arguing with me, accept that you are guilty, and then through the blood of my Son you can go free!
It’s the best deal ever. We get to live the rest of our lives knowing the love of God, and when we die we go to heaven – and we don’t have to do anything to earn that. Nothing except for letting go of our pride and admitting that we are sinners in need of a Saviour.