What is it that the world needs now?

Many will instinctively respond: “Love, sweet love.” They may then make the further observation that: “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.’ They may think this, not necessarily because of some well-thought-through social analysis, but because of the famous song from the sixties with that lyric.

Of course, it’s not a bad answer, is it? By anyone’s reckoning, the world certainly could do with a LOT more love. Interestingly, the classic song in question never quite gets around to giving us a definition of what love actually is. So, I will. How about this: love is “a self-sacrificial commitment to the good of another person”.

Considered in this light, there is one particular aspect of love that the world certainly does need now. It is needed in the broader society and within the church. It has significant implications for our evangelism and our ethics. And it provides us Christians with an opportunity and a warning. What the world needs now is—FORGIVENESS! 

Why do I say this? Well, the Scriptures certainly highlight the need for, and importance of, forgiveness (e.g. Psalm 130:3–4; Matthew 6:12; I John 1:8–9). In addition, observation and experience can tell us that it is great to be forgiven, and that we all need to be forgiven. Furthermore, experts tell us that the world today is such an unforgiving place. I’ll briefly unpack each of these thoughts before highlighting an evangelistic opportunity and ethical warning.

It is Great to be Forgiven.

When I was 16 years old, I told my parents I was going over to a friend’s place, but instead ended up spending the evening at the pub. I felt really bad afterwards. I was a Christian, I loved my parents, and I hated the fact that I had lied to them. A day or so later, I could bear it no longer. I walked up to my dad, who was gardening in the backyard, confessed what I’d done, apologised, and said I would not do it again. My father looked up from what he was doing, regarded me for a moment or two, and, to my great relief, forgave me. The feeling of release was incredible. It is a great thing it was to be forgiven!

Getting a bit more “big picture”, Tim Keller relates the story of events that took place in the town of Möttlingen, Germany many years ago. On New Year’s Eve 1843 a young man went to the door of the local Lutheran pastor and confessed both major and minor wrongdoings. The man experienced great relief and word of this spread. More and more people came to the pastor to unburden their consciences and ask for God’s forgiveness. My mid-February 150 people had done so. The impact was remarkable—stolen goods were returned, enemies reconciled, infidelities confessed, broken marriages restored, and crimes solved. It is a great thing to be forgiven!

It is a great thing to be forgiven! How horrible it is when we are unforgiven!

By contrast, how horrible it is when we are unforgiven! Perhaps we have done the wrong thing, we confess and want to make amends, but the other person refuses to forgive us. Or we are wrongly accused of something, or we simply hold a different opinion to someone on something, and we are regarded with a condemning, unforgiving attitude.

We All Need to be Forgiven.

The Scriptures tell us throughout that we have all sinned. Psalm 130:3 reads: ‘If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?’ And Paul famously writes in Romans 3:23: ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’.

While we could all benefit from being forgiven by others, we particularly need to be forgiven by God. This truth is not always evident to non-believers. And as believers, in practice, we can often loose sight of this, too. We so often compare ourselves to other people we know, and on this basis may feel as if we do pretty well.

At this point, my Hyundai i30 may be of some assistance to us. I look after my car pretty well. I get it regularly serviced. I am quite comfortable with its state of cleanliness, that is until, as sometimes happened in my job, I pick up an elderly lady from church to drive her somewhere. So often, as soon as she gets into my car, I become aware of, say, the discarded wrappers in the side pockets of the doors, the biscuit crumbs in the bottom of the drink holder, and the ground in dirt on the floor.

Similarly, we may feel we are pretty good about the state of our lives, that is, until Jesus “gets into our car”. (I’m being metaphorical here.)  Suddenly, we would become painfully aware of all the grime, muck and filth in it. We would suddenly become aware of how much and how badly we need to be forgiven. We would realise our need to be forgiven by God, and our need to seek forgiveness from others.

The world today is such an unforgiving place!

The problem, when it comes to seeking forgiveness from others, is that the world today is such an unforgiving place! The unforgiving nature of the contemporary Western world has been highlighted in recent books such as Glen Scrivener’s The Air we Breathe, and Tim Keller’s Forgive: Why should I and how can I?

Scrivener notes how Christianity changed the world by promoting values like equality, compassion, consent, freedom and forgiveness. These were not qualities that would have been valued in other ancient non-Judeo-Christian cultures. Today in the West, many have rejected God and the Christian faith, but still appreciate most of the ethical values just cited. There is, however, one value that is not widely promoted—that of forgiveness!

Scrivener quotes the prominent English author and political commentator Douglas Murray, who sees “forgiveness” as a lost art in modern life. Murray argues that in the West we have kept Christianity’s sense of sin but forgotten about salvation. We have kept the guilt and shame but forgotten about redemption.

In place of forgiveness today we have “cancel culture” (a new phenomenon) and “revenge culture” (a response as old as humanity), which says ‘don’t get mad, get even.’ It is the instinctive human response, and the stuff or pretty much every second contemporary movie we will ever see. Our instinct when wronged is to get back at the other person.

Tim Keller quotes the view of New York Times correspondent Elizabeth Bruenig who once said: ‘I [see] in American culture how offended people seem to be by the very idea of forgiveness itself. They seem to find it immoral’.

People seem to be [offended] by the very idea of forgiveness itself.

—Elizabeth Bruenig

This leads me to think of an evangelistic opportunity and an ethical warning.

Evangelistic Opportunity

Forgiveness is one of the reasons why the gospel is such good news! The gospel models a forgiving attitude and offers forgiveness.

What do we do when someone badly wrongs us? Think about it for a moment. Do we avoid them? Do we retaliate and seek revenge? What we are very unlikely to do is to self-sacrificially set out to help them. I mean, who does that?!

Yet this is exactly what God does for us. God sends Jesus to live, teach, die and rise to offer us forgiveness from our wrongdoings. As Romans 5:7–8 says:

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

In a world of cancel culture, of revenge culture—in a world that does not do forgiveness well—we could profitably highlight the forgiving nature of God in our evangelism. I endeavoured to do this very thing in my most recent Christmas sermon.

And not only does God display a forgiving attitude he, of course, offers forgiveness … and at a great cost. The sentence: ‘Jesus died for our sins to offer us forgiveness’ can roll off the tongue so easily. But forgiveness costs!

Many in Sydney will remember the Oatlands tragedy of February 2020. Seven children were walking to get ice-cream when a speeding driver under the influence of drugs and alcohol veered off the road, onto the footpath and killed four of them. Daniel & Leila Abdallah, parents of three of the children who died, and Maronite Christians, said they forgave the driver! Can you imagine how difficult that must have been? Forgiveness costs!

In an unforgiving world, that fact that God is a forgiving God is not only essential, but also (for many) highly appealing!

It cost Jesus. The Son of God faced the righteous wrath of God against our wrongdoing and died in our place. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:24: ‘“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”’

In an unforgiving world, that fact that God is a forgiving God is not only essential, but also (for many) highly appealing!

Ethical Warning

As Christians we are forgiven people. This is something for which we should be forever thankful. Another consequence of being forgiven is that we should forgive others. Jesus famously teaches in his Lord’s Prayer that, amongst other things, we should pray: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ (Matthew 6:12)

If the world has become an unforgiving place, there is every likelihood that these attitudes will be found within the Church.

However, it is common for the blind spots of society to creep into the Christian community. If the world has become an unforgiving, cancel culture, revenge-orientated place, there is every likelihood that these attitudes will be found within the Church. Christian families can be torn apart by a lack of forgiveness. Church divisions can be well-maintained by a lack of forgiveness. We can keep a record of wrongs and think unforgiving thoughts towards those who have wronged us over the years. We can harbour self-righteous, unforgiving thoughts towards the non-Christian world around us.

There, of course, are great complexities to many relational situations. Forgiveness is a big topic. Some wrongs need to be addressed by the criminal justice system. However, the general point here is that if we as Christians have been forgiven much, so we should be forgiving towards others. Has the unforgiving nature of the West today infiltrated our lives in any way?

If a song were being written today that expressed a major need in the 2020s, it would be What the World needs now is Forgiveness.