A while back I wrote two posts about ‘dying’ with Christ and today I would like to offer some further food for thought on the subject. I have written that I believe the moment one dies with Christ are constituted by an active response to Jesus’ call for repentance by turning from sin towards the Crucified. I have also spelled out that the biblical narrative does not contain any set description for what this must look like; rather the Bible tells us that the turn from sin toward Christ is a very individual experience. The reason for this, I claim, is that the turn away from sin is actually a turn away from oneself.
At a fundamental level, this experience is predicated on the realization that one is a sinner, which is made possible by Jesus’ death since it revealed, critiqued, and condemned the sins of this world. However, the symbol of the cross is not simply unmasking the wickedness of this world; it is also the supreme representation of forgiveness. Thus, the experience of dying with Christ should be understood as taking place within the framework set by Jesus’ words uttered from the cross: ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’
I believe that it is important to contemplate that these words precedes any willingness from the crowd to embrace the forgiveness that is offered. At one level they are words of judgment since there can be no forgiveness without there first being someone judged as guilty, and at another level they are words of radical love and willingness to embrace the perpetrators; hence the cross achieves both a critique of the evils of this world and a radical call for a new life in which there will be no condemnation.
I consider this to be one of the most fundamental elements of the Christian faith since forgiveness creates a space in which the perpetrator can be provoked by the love from the victim to honestly repent and thus accept the offer of forgiveness. This provocation, I claim, is not effective at the level of consciousness but it is an experience that the perpetrator goes through that carries the potential to radically change his or her subconscious structural framework. Therefore, the active decision to repent and accept the offered forgiveness can only take place after the forgiveness has been offered. I do not believe that there are any guarantees that the perpetrator will accept the forgiveness offered by the victim but I do think that the willingness to forgive will transform the victim in the sense that he or she will regain that which the perpetrator has ‘stolen’, regardless if the perpetrator accept the offer or not. Hence, the cross is not simply a symbol of forgiveness for the sinner, but it is also a symbol of restoration for the victims.
To die with Christ is to go trough the ‘experience’ of being forgiven and the consequence is that we are transformed into beings that are willing to forgive. As Christians we therefore do not forgive because we have to, but because the experience of being forgiven by Christ has changed us into forgiving human beings. The reason for this, I believe, is that as we accept the forgiveness offered by Christ we begin to see ourselves as a part of God’s story rather than understanding God, the people around us and the creation as part of our own story. In a way, one could say it is like a Copernican revolution that leads us to understand everything differently, including our own humanity, which is the very thing we are trying to protect when we are reluctant to forgive our debtors. When we realize that we are a part of God’s story, which aims at reconciling all things, then a willingness for reconciliation with those who have sinned against us will come naturally since God’s telos is now also ours.