Archive for May, 2010
I was recently listening in on a webinar where the above verse was mentioned. Mind you, it was not the main topic of conversation and, in many ways, it was kind of glossed over – not in an intentional way, but in the way that we tend to do when we’re covering a lot of information in a little bit of time. However, in that instant after hearing the words and before moving on to the next thing, I took a moment to jot myself a note. The note read “Forgive them, for they know not what they do. What does that say about God’s ability/willingness to forgive?”
Now, I don’t have an answer for that question, but I wanted to share with you some of the things that jumped out to me and that have stirred my heart about that verse. Here, Jesus is being tortured – he is being killed – by a group of people made up of those who should know better (religious leaders supposedly in tune with God’s ways) and those who have no reason to know right from wrong in this situation (Romans, who are uneducated about and/or ambivalent to Jewish custom, law or religion.)
In the midst of their derision, Jesus asked God to forgive them – not simply to spare their life or to not judge them harshly – but to forgive them. Presumably, the kind of forgiveness that we are told only comes from giving our lives to Jesus is here being dolled out to people who not only haven’t accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, but to people who are actually murdering him. On the surface, it seems like a really kind gesture, but thinking deeper, a statement like this – an act like this – seems to suggest some things that are counter to popular theology.
We have been told and believe that the only way to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven is to believe in and follow Jesus. Those who do not follow him, we are told, don’t stand a chance in eternity. Now, there are different views regarding those who never got a chance to hear the message of salvation (some think those people are fine and others think they will rot in hell) but very few of us have held to a theology that says that those who have had a chance to encounter Jesus, but have rejected him, have any chance at salvation, redemption or forgiveness.
But here, Jesus asks God to forgive the people because “they know not what they do.” In other words, they are ignorant of what their actions really mean. They don’t know that he is the Messiah. The don’t know about his mission here. Even though they have had personal interaction with the Savior of the world, they don’t recognize him as such and, seemingly, Jesus asks God to let them off the hook.
This is an understandable request, given that the majority of the people in the crowd had been riled up into a frenzy by the religious leaders. But I have begun to wonder how that applies to us today. What about all the people who have rejected God and rejected Jesus because of some horrible example of “Chrisitanity” in their lives – people who wear the name of Jesus, but fail to exemplify his character. I mean, if someone was beaten and molested by her pastor father and, thus, rejects everything he claimed to believe in, would that person be extended the same kind of forgiveness as those who crucified Jesus? What about people who are being whipped into a frenzy by today’s religious leaders who tell them that following Jesus means hating illegal immigrants, inciting violence against Muslims and overthrowing government? Or, what about those Muslims who have chosen a level of devotion to God that most of us can’t even fathom, but have been led astray by their own religious leaders into extremist, Jihadist beliefs and acts?
All three of these examples fall into the “they know not what they do” camp. Their actions represent not the rejection of Jesus, but, in the first case, rejection of personal beliefs associated with an abuser, and in the second and third cases, adherence to an ideology espoused by religious leaders – leaders who have been entrusted with helping those individuals adhere to God’s way. They know not what they do.
Actually, there are any number of people of whom we could say “they know not what they do.” The question I have, that I have no answer for, is this: What does God do with those who know not what they do? What if our theology on eternal salvation comes with a big caveat regarding ignorance and knowledge? I’m sure somebody else has thought through these questions and has compelling revelation to share. For me, I’m just asking the question and thinking about this verse in a way that is completely new to me. I would love to hear from you.