Freedom and Forgiveness
Who can really set us free? Judge, jury, priest, pastor, lover, forgiver? We say Jesus is our savior. And we wait. But Jesus said if we followed him, we’d know truth, and that would make us free. Jesus, truth, law, circumstance? Who can really set us free?
In a movie, an old convict is released from prison. Gets a job bagging groceries and drives his boss crazy raising his hand every time he needs a bathroom break. Finally told he doesn’t have to ask, just go, we hear his voice tell us that after forty years, he couldn’t squeeze a drop without sayso. The state released him, but who can really set him free? In the other direction, Gandhi and MLK found an interior freedom that even the full weight of British and American empires could never crush with all the laws and soldiers they could muster. Who set them free?
In Jesus’ language, freedom and forgiveness share the same root that means to release, restore, return to original position or form. In the Semitic mind, to be forgiven is to be set free, and to be set free is to be forgiven. Jesus said that if we forgive our brother, then our Father in heaven would set us free. But if we didn’t set our brother free, neither would our Father forgive us. After all his teaching and stories of unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness, what is Jesus’ point here? That forgiveness is after all, performance-based? That forgiveness and freedom are withheld until we do the right thing?
Of course not. Jesus is merely answering our question: who can really set us free?
Have you ever been asked or asked for forgiveness, but even when granted, knew in your heart nothing had changed—you were still not free from either victimhood or guilt? No apology, restitution, or power in heaven or on earth can set us free until our own hearts are ready. If God is love, then God is forgiveness too, which means God is freedom itself. God can’t be anything other than the fact of what he is, and the moment we risk the freedom to extend forgiveness to another human is the moment we experience the truth: our release has already and always been granted, but we are the only ones who can set us free.