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~ Instant Christlikeness ~
The title of this Reflection appeals to many and raises the eyebrows of others. We are an instant-everything society, embracing instant breakfasts, instant microwaveable food and, overall, instant success. Others keep in mind Christ's declaration that the way is narrow and "few find it." Their experiences in pursuing Christlikeness are jammed with obstacles that require decades of spiritual development overcoming the specters of pride, self-righteousness and ego-protectiveness.
Instant Christlikeness is antithetical to the gospel, is it not? Yet that is the goal of the devoted Christian, to be like Christ. But when one considers what that entails, denial of self, sacrifice of all that one values and loves, suffering, humility, ego-death, spiritual poverty...most would reconsider and say to themselves, "No thank you. That isn't my truth or understanding of a loving God. I'll continue to be myself since I know that's all God asks of me." How misguided and destructfully foolish!
This is our week of celebrating Christmas. In a few months we will be celebrating the passion, death and resurrection of the God-Man who is still depicted these last days of AD 2005 as a fragile, human-dependent baby in a manger, a feeding bin for animals. From now until the Easter season of 2006, what are we celebrating? What is this wondrous liturgical cycle calling us to remember and understand?
Is it not, in essence, redemptive forgiveness? If they can point to just one, the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ are pointing to one word, forgiveness. "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding" (Ephesians 1:7-8, NIV). "He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14). Indeed, the psalms declare how happy is the person whose sins are forgiven. Forgiveness imparts freedom, exoneration, the release from burden, the renewal of relationships and life itself.
By deed and word, Christ taught us the vital importance of forgiveness. While we are understandably awed by His miracles, the acts of His forgiveness surpass them in both number and consequence. The man crucified along with Jesus was given instant forgiveness and a place in paradise. "Yes, but he repented," some will observe. Then let's recall how Christ asked the Father to forgive His brutal executioners, "For they don't know what they are doing." Do you think that God replied, "No, I won't"? Did Christ first call down to them and ask, "Soldiers of Rome, would you like my forgiveness for what you are doing?" They, of course, would have laughed Him into greater scorn. He forgave them without their cooperation in that redemption and gift of forgiveness.
Jesus, even to the very end of His human life, was teaching us to be Christlike, to forgive. He verbally taught us, "Forgive our sins, Father, as we forgive those who sin against us." We need not ask those who hurt us if they would like our forgiveness, and we should not. We need not confront those who have sinned against us with the promise of forgiveness once we hear their apology or repentance. We should not, if we pursue Christlikeness.
"I can forgive but I can't forget" is bogus spirituality and unredemptive forgiveness. "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more" (Isaiah 43:25). Christlikeness means blotting out the transgressions against us, for our own sake, and remembering them no more.
The Christmas season we are celebrating, and the Lenten season soon to come, call us to forgive others as we have been forgiven, unconditionally, without any contracts or understanding with our transgressors. Suppose all of us were to do this today? Then heaven would touch earth in a powerful manner, for we would be bringing about the fulfillment of that we so frequently pray, "May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth, as in heaven."
This is the time of every year when we play the traditional game of making "New Year Resolutions." Let us contemplate resolving only one thing: to be Christlike. Should being like Christ not be your aspiration or interest, then you will, of course, go your own way. Those who sincerely bear the name of Christian, (of Christ), may well contemplate on the joy and freedom of forgiving (and really forgetting, not ever bringing to mind) the assaults of others against us as Christ has done for us.
For some, this may take a while, perhaps a life time. So some will be relegated to a life time of pursuing Christlikeness. For others, this can be done overnight, or in an even shorter time. For them, being like Christ will happen in that same instance. What joy, relief, freedom and redemption! Given this, why would we ever desire to cling to resentment, bitterness, self-pity, self-injury, victimization, and sense of human justice in the name of "what is due" or "closure"? I know some of us like to revel in that mire. There are some rewards involved, fleeting ones though, having nothing to do with approaching Christlikeness.
"But I am being me!" Why be "me" when you can be someone so much greater,
loving, rewarding and redemptive? Forgive all and forget all, leading to
being poor in spirit and pure in heart, and you will inherit the kingdom
of God and see Him, in this life and the next. Rather instantly, I might
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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