21 January 2011Hebrews 8:6-13
"I will be merciful toward their inequities, and I will remember their sins no more." (v. 12)
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews incorporates a
substantial quotation from the book of the prophet Jeremiah 31:31-34, including these words. The
writer is clear that a new covenant is needed between God and the
people of Israel, that God has promised one, and that now it is
established the first covenant is no longer effective. This new
covenant promises that God will forgive the sins of the people and
remarkably will then choose no longer to remember their faults and
failings and wrongdoing. This is a very powerful
Human beings can be extra-ordinarily generous to each other and forgive all kinds of wrongs. But it is much harder to forget the wrong. Such memories can come flooding back unlooked for - we can be surprised by a memory of a former hurt or failure when we are least expecting it.
But God is greater than us. God can forgive and offer us a fresh start with the promise that our failure, inadequacy or sinfulness will not held onto, nursed, or encouraged. These things in our past then need not dictate our future. Both the prophet Jeremiah and centuries later, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, are confident that this is what God can do. God can allow us to begin again unencumbered by our mistakes.
To what extent is it good for us to know that we are not limited by our past behaviour? Or does it make us irresponsible?
Are there some behaviours, some acts which are unforgiveable? Should some things always be remembered? Can we separate out atrocities which must be remembered from perpetrators who can know forgiveness?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after the end of apartheid heard stories of great atrocities from victims; some of whom were able to offer a willingness not to be bitter, but to move into a new future hope with their former persecutors. What do you think gives people in that position the capacity to be so generous?