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Who Needs Forgiveness?

Hysterical as always, the Big Bang Theory series finale was also quite moving.  But the episode before the finale was, by far, the most powerful episode they’ve done in the twelve years the show’s been on the air. 

Romans 3:23 is a verse Christians often quote.  In it, Paul explains how we are all sinners.  We all fall short of the glory of God.  As a result, we all stand in need of forgiveness, of being make right with God.  Since we can’t fix ourselves, our only hope is the mercy and grace of God. 

This universal need for forgiveness is a core teaching of Christianity.  Indeed, it’s the reason Jesus came to earth.  And, it distinguishes Christianity from every other major religion. 

There’s something about this teaching, though, that makes us protest: I’m not a sinner!  Sure, I make mistakes, but I don’t constantly go around committing major sins.  I’m basically a good person.  In fact, what the world needs isn’t for Christians to keep making us feel guilty by telling us we’re all sinners, but for people to be reminded how good they are.  Seeing the good in people tends to bring it out of them.  It helps them become their best selves!

However, when Christianity teaches that we are all sinners, it’s not saying that we all go around committing terrible sins.  It’s not saying that we don’t, on average, behave reasonably well.  It’s not saying we’re not good.  Quite the opposite.  Christianity teaches that we are created in the very image of God.  We have an intrinsic goodness that mirrors God more than anything else in all of creation.  We are capable of, and often do, many wonderful things.  Christianity sees in us the greatest possible good, the likeness of God. 

But it’s also realistic.  It’s honest about our broken human condition, the fact that we often fall pitifully short of reflecting this glory of an all-loving God—a point which is hard to argue with: Have you loved everyone you met today to your fullest possible potential?  Me neither.  Are all your relationships perfect?  Thought not.

This is what Christianity means by saying we’re sinners.  Despite our best intentions, we are far more self-absorbed and far less loving than we should be—we are addicted to ourselves!

Years ago, that great scholar of comparative religion Rudolf Otto did a famous, comprehensive study that showed how humans throughout every age and culture nearly universally feel an overwhelming sense of dread before God, or, as he termed it, the “numen”.  (He also found that we feel an overwhelming sense of fascination, wonder, and awe toward the numen, and live in the tension of these two opposite poles.)  And as others, like C.S. Lewis, have pointed out, this dread is fueled by a sense of unworthiness.  In other words, when we contemplate being in the presence of a Holy God, we feel abject terror, which is driven by our innate awareness of falling (woefully) short of who we were created to be. 

Our dread comes from intuiting that we aren’t “right” with God.  In turn, this produces a profound need for God’s forgiveness, a need that only Christianity addresses.

If you watch The Big Bang Theory regularly, you know that one of the main characters, Leonard, has a very contentious relationship with his mother.  She’s a neuroscientist, psychologist, and author who has always treated Leonard more as a research project for her next book than a son.  All his life he’s craved her approval, but her stoic lack of affection has wounded him over and over. 

On the next to last episode of the series, it all comes to a head.  After appearing to be proud of his recent accomplishments, Leonard finds out his mother was just doing this as an experiment for her next book.  Cut to the core yet again, he’s infuriated, on the verge of going ballistic.  But then, in a moment of shocking lucidity, he turns to her and simply says: “I forgive you.”

At first, she appears defensive, as if she wants to continue to maintain, as she has all along, that she is basically a good mother.  However, his words do something to her.  As a huge burden is lifted from her, they completely change her affect.  This cold, detached woman melts.  She thanks Leonard for forgiving her and then gives him a hug (albeit the most awkward mother-son hug in history!).

Leonard’s simple words of forgiveness washed away all that pain and disappointment she had caused.  They washed away all the times she had let him down and could never make up for now. 

The emotion of that scene made it the most powerful moment in the show’s long run.  It poignantly depicts how awesome and liberating it is to be forgiven. 

As much as we might protest that we’re basically good people who don’t need forgiveness, deep down we know we’ve fallen short and aren’t right with God.  The innate dread we feel before a holy God reveals our profound need for His forgiveness.

At the core of Christianity stands a savior who has come to offer this forgiveness. 

No matter how short you’ve fallen, He can set you right with God. 

He can turn your dread into joy. 

Do you think Christianity’s understanding of our need for forgiveness is right?  Go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and tell me what you think!  Please keep “Liking” our Facebook Page, subscribing to our YouTube channel, letting your friends know about us.  Thank you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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