Last Sunday, January 8, 2012, I preached a sermon on forgiveness as part of our “Everyday Generosity” series. At the end of the sermon I gave people an opportunity to submit questions. I received almost 50 questions.Some of the most emotional and thought provoking questions asked after the message on forgiveness had to do with the nature of God’s forgiveness. I am listing and answering each as part of this single blog entry. “The Bible and your message underscores the importance of reconciliation and restoration in the process of forgiveness. The Bible states that through Christ, God is going to reconcile all things to himself. Does our theology of hell (narrow is the way and few that find it) contradict this premise of reconciliation. Is God more interested in punishment than restoration?”Colossians 1:20 states the following, “and through him (Jesus Christ) to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” The process of reconciliation Colossians 1:20 refers to is the ultimate kingship and authority that Jesus has over all things. Isaiah 9:6 calls him the Prince of Peace. Jesus’ sacrifice and reign means that for those who are followers of Christ they can experience reconciliation to God as his friends. As for those who are not followers of Christ, his enemies, one day Christ’s reign of peace will be enforced on them. There will be a time in the future when rebellion against God will be defeated by Christ as the conquering king (Revelation 19:11-21 and Revelation 20:7-10). It is because of the cross and Jesus’ sacrificial and substitutionary sacrifice that this is possible. The reconciliation that the Apostle Paul is speaking of in Colossians 1:20 is a peace that comes from forced subjugation. We await the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord whether those doing it want to or not. This concept of reconciliation is different than that which Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.Therefore, I do not see how the biblical idea of hell is a contradiction of God’s love and reconciliation. God is not more interested in punishment than restoration and they are not mutually exclusive from one another any more than God expressing love and justice.“We talk about the unconditional love of God and yet it appears that God’s forgiveness is conditional. Does God’s forgiveness flow from his love or is it separate? And if so, how do you reconcile the apparent contradiction?”God loves unconditionally and God’s forgiveness is conditional. His willingness to forgive flows from the nature of his being, he is love. The transaction of forgiveness, the ability to experience the results of God’s love is dependent on repentance. In this there is no contradiction.Perhaps an example would suffice (I give it with some levity). I love my children and my friends (albeit in my humanity not always unconditionally) and because of my love for them I am always willing to offer forgiveness for things that they may do against me, like stealing my vanilla syrup for my tea. My family members and friends can always receive my forgiveness if they ask for it. I do not automatically absolve my friends and family members of the guilt associated with their actions or in-actions but I do offer it. If they choose to not receive it by asking for forgiveness then even though I may be forgiving they have not experienced forgiveness.God is always being forgiving and his offer of forgiveness flows from his being in nature love. This does not mean, however, that we are all forgiven. To receive God’s free gift of forgiveness we must respond by repenting of our sin and asking for forgiveness.“Did I understand from your sermon that our sins are only forgiven if we are repentant? I thought all of my sins were washed away when I accepted Christ as Saviour. I am sure that I have sinned against others and not been convicted of that sin. I know I have certainly hurt others without meaning to. Of course I repent of sin that I clearly know is sin. Can you please clarify if ALL sins of Christians are forgiven, even those which aren’t confessed.”Psalm 103:11-12 describes in beautiful poetic language that for those of us who have expressed faith in Jesus and his saving work on the cross our sins are forgiven. That means every single one of them for all of time. From an eternal perspective this means, once forgiven in Christ always forgiven in Christ. Nothing changes this truth. Nothing changes my legal standing before God. If I have faith in Christ I am declared to be righteous from God’s perspective in Christ (not because of who I am but because of who he is). In terms of my ongoing relationship with God forgiveness continues to play an ongoing and important role. 1 John 1:9 indicates that when we are aware of the sins that we commit we should confess them to God and God will be faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins. In 1 John 3:6, 9 the Apostle John indicates that persistent unrepentant sin is not the sign of a true follower of Jesus Christ.Therefore, once forgiven always forgiven in our standing before God but as we live our lives in relationship with God unconfessed sin hinders our relationship with God. As the Spirit of God convicts you of your sin seek out forgiveness from God. Live in light of your salvation.“Can God ALONE grant us forgiveness for the wrong doings of our fellow men? Do we need forgiveness and acknowledgement from our fellow men as well?”All sin committed is a sin against God. When we choose to act opposite to what God’s declared will is towards one another this is a sin committed against another but also against God. Forgiveness from God is always necessary for the sins that we commit. You will note that in 2 Samuel 12 when David confesses of his sin with Bathsheba, against Uriah, and the nation of Israel his first statement in 2 Samuel 12:13 is, “I have sinned against the Lord.” We must seek forgiveness from God for our actions against one another.Whenever possible we should seek forgiveness from those we have sinned against. There are many conditions related to this, things like boundaries, consequences of our actions that do not permit contact, the death of one we have sinned against, the nature of your relationship with the one who has been sinned against. Wisdom is needed in working out the practical implications of confession. But as a biblical principle we should always seek to repent of our sin and receive forgiveness from the one we have sinned against (Matthew 18:15-20). You cannot control the response of the one you have asked forgiveness from but if you can seek out forgiveness. In those situations when restitution is not possible God is gracious, he is our shepherd, our shelter, and our strength.“What deep offense against God could I have done that could compare to the horrific sins that were committed against me and that stole my childhood?”This question reminds us that when we are talking about forgiveness and reconciliation God begins to speak into our deepest wounds. The first thing we need to acknowledge and be affirmed with is that God does not trivialize our pain but he has full empathy towards our pain. Hebrews 4:15 and 16 says that, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.” When we speak to the nature of sin and the awful nature of our rebellion against God and his subsequent sacrifice for all of that we have done against God, it in no way should minimize the pain of our own experiences. Second, sin is a terrible thing. In 1 Samuel 15 the King of Israel, Saul commits a sin against God and God says that he is “grieved” that he made Saul king. Using emotions that we can relate to the author describes a deep hurt committed against God. This deep hurt is caused by disobedience. In 1 Samuel 15:22-23 the prophet Samuel calls this disobedience and arrogance like the sin of divination and idolatry. It is a straight out rejection of God. When Jesus hung on the cross he took upon himself all of the sins of humanity committed against God and in a final and climactic act he experienced the absolute rejection from God that only sin causes. He utters the words, “my God, my God why have you forsaken me”. I can barely stand it to think that my sins were part of that. It is not until we begin to grasp the weight and severity of our disobedience and rebellion towards God that we are able to understand the depth of the offense we have committed against God. Sin is a terrible thing!