In the minds of many God’s wrathful and fearful displays in the Bible predominate over any picture of God’s love and forgiveness. To these individuals God is the all-powerful judge and exactor of perfect justice in the universe. Because God is omnipotent, he does whatever he wants and man must simply accept that fact. Fearfulness becomes a natural outgrowth of God’s power.
With this kind of mind set it becomes difficult to conceive of a God who can forgive anything, even the crucifixion of Jesus. Forgiveness of extreme evil does not come easily or naturally to most of us. Applying human logic or a human sense of justice, we may reason that some acts are so bad that they are basically unforgivable. The idea of God having provided a means to forgive every man of every sin challenges our understanding of God and the magnitude of His love and mercy.
We need to know that God understands why we do what we do when we don’t understand it ourselves. This perfect knowledge leads to an understanding which then opens the way for complete forgiveness. This perfect understanding means that God can empathize with our feelings and motivations. By comparison, when we try to comprehend the reasons why people act as they do, we are often baffled and left to conclude that they are just basically evil and therefore unredeemable. Knowing all the “whys and wherefores” behind man’s misdeeds allows God to forgive in ways that humans cannot possibly comprehend. As humans we tend to read into people’s actions all our own prejudices and personal insecurities. We like to think we are mind-readers and can determine the root cause of others actions, but in reality we often don’t have a clue as to actual motivation. Luckily, God is not so clueless.
We might say that God’s forgiveness must happen despite the fact that he knows all our sins and shortcomings. In other words God must forgive even though he knows just how bad we really are. Another way to see God is to conclude that he is able to forgive us because he knows not only all our sins but also all the subtle reasons behind our sins. These reasons may not be excuses for sin but they do represent mitigating circumstances which provide the basis for God’s understanding, empathy, and ultimately His complete forgiveness.
One final thought on God’s forgiveness and its relationship to His displays of wrath and judgment in the Bible. In these outpourings of wrath and judgment God demonstrated how he could deal with man’s misdeeds if he chose to. Nothing prevented God from dealing with sin in this way. He was capable and this capability was restrained by nothing but His own will and basic nature. After seeing God’s power, man could understand the magnitude of restraint that God demonstrated in dealing with sin. Forgiveness granted by an all powerful being is much more striking than forgiveness by a lesser one. It is certainly not true that God had to overlook anything because he was not in a position to deal with it in any other way. Just as in Luke 7:36-43 where Jesus proclaims that those who are forgiven much will love much, even so one who restrains himself much in the act of forbearance is the one who forgives most completely. This perfectly describes the God of the Bible. One who knows all, understands all, and forgives completely. This forgiveness is not despite the “all-knowingness”, but rather because of it. God’s true greatness then derives not from omnipotence but rather from omniscience, not from His power to destroy but rather from his understanding of and concern for humanity.