Whilst reading a music magazine lately I noticed Morrissey (formerly – unless they reform from time to time – of legendary band The Smiths) has his autobiography out. It’s marketed rather cleverly (I thought so anyway) as one of those Penguin Classics, or maybe that just makes it look old? The reviews seem to range from lauding it as a classic of music literature to ‘as depressing as Morrissey himself’. It’s all subjective!
It reminded me of a time I was browsing the cd section in a music store and found Morrissey’s solo album You Are The Quarry. Glancing through the song list I found the song title I have forgiven Jesus. Well that’s a bit arrogant, I thought, you’ve got that the wrong way around, Jesus forgives us, we don’t forgive Him, we need forgiveness, He doesn’t. Then I remembered Morrissey was a rock star and therefore not prone to humility (apologies for sweeping generalization and to all humble rock stars)!
Standing in the cd section of a music store isn’t, in all honesty, a place I usually have deep thoughts (more usually thoughts like “How come they have every cd but the one I want??”) but this time my mind seemed to want to dwell on those words, I have forgiven Jesus. After years of headache inducing theological training and studying aspects of psychology and sociology, as well as experience of human nature in that most brutal of all educational establishments, the University of Life, I was reminded that people don’t say things for no reason, there is always a reason, whether we can understand it or find it or not. Call it the subconscious, call it brain chemistry, call it psychological conditioning or call it anything else you want. People say things for a reason even if they don’t know what that reason is.
This isn’t an examination of Morrissey’s actual song but rather the words I have forgiven Jesus. Twenty five years as a Christian has shown me that many people (I know some and you probably know some) have ‘issues’ with God. Frequently those issues, which invariably turn them away from God, involve an experience which has caused hurt to them or someone they know and they blame God, I get that. Or sometimes they look at world events and wonder how a loving, good God could allow such things so they reject God, I get that too. They accuse Him and find Him guilty, God in the dock and found wanting, if you will. You cannot reach the stage of forgiving Jesus without first finding Him guilty. Many people find Him guilty and consign Him to the position of hate object or at the very least sent to the naughty step or even to the ultimate punishment status, non-existence, for anything up to, oh, an entire lifetime.
Anyway, weeks…months…years pass…and then there comes a time when they start to revisit the experience that caused them to turn away from God. Maybe something happens that causes them to re-evaluate their views, maybe they simply can’t escape the nagging thought that ‘there has to be something more’. For these people, there comes a period of reflection, painful and difficult reflection and through that process (months/years) they reach a stage where their thinking towards the person they saw as Jesus changes.
They finally and not without difficulty (emotionally, intellectually and spiritually) reach the point where they can say “I have forgiven Jesus.” Those may be very difficult, possibly the most difficult, words to say.
It’s a route many have taken in today’s world and many more await that journey. There is, I believe, a generation of people who were brought up under some kind of Christian influence and, possibly through the bad example of Christians or Christian institutions, or what they saw as the bad behaviour of God Himself, turned away from God. Others have never had a particular Christian influence in their lives but have nonetheless felt anger at God because of what they see being said and done in His name. Then, over the course of time, sometimes a lifetime, some of these people begin to see that it is not God Himself who has harmed them, rather, it is the poor witness and testimony of Christians or the Church in general. Or perhaps they come to a better understanding of God, the Bible, they see there are differing interpretations and viewpoints. Perhaps they realise that what they have been told about Christians belief, isn’t actually what Christians, or not all Christians, actually do believe.
So they have started to consider God apart from the Church (or perhaps through the good example of other Christians) and discovered that God is not the person who so disappointed or hurt them all those years ago. God is not the person they thought God was, all those years ago. God may not actually be the person who they have been angry at all these years. They may have been angry at the person they thought was God, the person they imagined God to be, even the person they were told God was, but not the person who God actually is.
So they have begun the journey back to God and have, in a sense, ‘forgiven Jesus’. I’m reminded of the title of Philip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew. I think there’s a whole generation just waiting to meet the Jesus they never knew. Maybe they weren’t ready for that Jesus before. When we have a row, possibly a blazing row, with someone, someone we love or just an acquaintance, it can take time, even if we know we’re the ones in the wrong, to come to the point of, reluctantly, approaching that person again and making things right.
Standing there in the music store, although I couldn’t agree with the sentiment of forgiving Jesus, it did make me ponder the process of reaching an ‘understanding’ which makes progress possible and ends a lifetime of being at an impasse, sometimes a very angry impasse. I thought of my own experience with depression, of the battles and emotional fluctuations between being angry at God and, over the course of time, coming to some kind of realization, some kind of acceptance of God’s use of that illness for my good and His glory. That is not an easy or quick stage to reach, but it is reachable. My faith had to go through several wringers to reach it, but whatever the pain, whatever the intellectual and emotional torment, whatever the scale of suffering under which a person is suffocated, the time comes for ‘some kind of acceptance’, for hard faith. This is where any accusations of faith as an ‘easy route’ are blown out of the water.
In the battle to ‘understand’, there comes a time for ‘some kind of’ progress, for forward movement. I had never uttered the words “I have forgiven Jesus”, but I had been angry at God, not all the time, but sometimes, and I had told God that in no uncertain terms. I think there is a spiritual liberation, a simultaneous lancing and healing that takes place when we can admit to being angry at God, admit that to God. He already knows anyway and still loves us to bits. He knows it will do us the world of good to tell Him about it and He’s the best listener and healer in the universe.
I reached the stage of saying “I have reached a point where I can say that although I don’t fully understand what God has allowed me to endure, I have faith that His way is perfect, that everything He does is right and all His ways are just, and that He is still the God I love and trust.”
There was a point in my illness when I contemplated atheism because I couldn’t handle the thought that God was allowing this to happen to me. I will write about that another time. But in a sentence, as much as I found it difficult to find meaning in God allowing this to happen to me, I found that in a universe without God, without meaning, purpose or reason, not only my own suffering but all suffering of all people is, in the end, meaningless. Even in my despairing state of mind that made no sense to me. Apparently, not being willing to accept this made me weak and unable to cope with life as it is. My view is that that is not life as it is. If God exists then there is meaning, even if we can’t always know what that meaning is yet. If God does not exist then there is no meaning to anything, not ultimately.
I decided that while I could have concluded that God didn’t exist in light of my experience of suffering, ultimately, suffering can and must be accommodated into the overall purposes of God and this is seen nowhere more acutely and clearly than in the tortuous death of Jesus at the cross. If you want an answer to the question of suffering, look to the cross of Jesus and subsequent resurrection. At the cross I believe Jesus suffered, experienced, endured and emerged victorious over the worst conceivable form of physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, intellectual darkness known to humanity.
When I witness that horror, that terror, that level of suffering, both the mystery and the revelation of it, what Jesus went through for me and that His risen life means He is with me now and always, and that He knows the pathway of my life better than I do, then I can say, “I have forgiven Jesus.”