“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of
humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one
can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without
overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the
sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from
the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness.”
– Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
From Richard Roberts:
Seeing ourselves as inherently righteous is the nature of the human heart. Sure, we may have problems, but not as big of problems as “those people” have. We see this in the atrocious treatment of George Floyd. Some people acknowledge the mistreatment of George, but quickly turn to making some kind of excuse, or at least a lesser rationalization of why it happened other than simply state that the treatment that led to his death is unjustifiable even if he had committed a crime. Others justify the destruction of property belonging to those who did not participate in George's killing by claiming that "those people are part of the bigger problem." Do you see the principle here? Both sides see the other side as the real problem and their own justification of evil as a little thing.
While obviously without the tragic outcomes of George’s killing, we all do this. We rationalize our sin as “little” and those other people’s as “bigger”, the real problem. Drawing this line between “big” sins and “little” sins is the way the human heart works and it does so in opposition to God.
This is what Volf is referring to in the quote above. That in order for us to justify ourselves we have to somehow exclude the others from the community of humans and pragmatically exclude ourselves from the community of sinners. By re-framing the categories we can look at others as “what’s wrong with the world”, no matter which side of any position that we find ourselves. The only difference between a conservative position and a liberal position is simply where you draw the line between “big” sins and “little” sins and thus labeling others “inhumane” and ourselves “just human.” But either way we are looking at other sinners rather than at the holy God.
Because, ultimately, this “double exclusion” is really just a means of wanting to justify ourselves and avoid the reality that compared to God's standards I am an utter failure. Then, I can functionally escape the necessity of humility, the truth that I have nothing within me for which God should welcome me, except His great mercy. It's just a way of functionally and practically avoiding the necessity of the Cross of Jesus Christ for me and people like me. But, the Cross of Jesus shows that my sin was so great that Jesus had to die for me. The necessity of the Cross confronts all people equally.
Like Volf says, “no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion – without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous…into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness.” The gospel declares that WE are the problem in the world, that the sin that I see and feel in others shares a single root with the sin that I see and feel in me. It should lead us to be quick to see our own sin and sympathize with sinners, pleading with them to repent and entrust themselves to Jesus, with humility and kindness, slow to anger and abounding in love, not to blame-shifting and name-calling and excusing of our own sin.
How are you treating other people’s moral failures? Are you indignant, disgusted, maybe impatient and frustrated? If so, we have more in common with the Pharisees who remained distant from Jesus than those who were drawn to him and welcomed by him.
How do you judge your own moral failures? Do you feel that you cannot look at yourself in the mirror? Do you beat yourself up when you fail? Do you struggle with believing that God really love you at all? If so, what are you basing that judgment upon? You are basing them on that line again, but you’ve simply fallen on the wrong side, the side of the “big” sinners. You’re basing them on your sacrifices and your performance. Remember, Jesus DIED. He died for you! It is done. Your acceptance and loveliness to God is no longer based upon your ability to change yourself and perform well.
The bigger and deeper that we perceive our sin to be, the bigger the Savior that I need to redeem me, change me, renew me. The greater we see our own sin, the greater the gracious Jesus becomes in our lives. The greater the Savior is to our hearts, the greater the love for Him. The more we recognize the depths of His grace and the sufficiency of His sacrifice for our sins and His righteousness for our life, the more we rejoice in His provision! Let us learn to shed the Pharisaical double-exclusion of our hearts so that we are deeply sympathetic to all sinners and all those impacted by sin, and deeply grateful for the mercies of God poured out upon ALL who would turn and trust in Jesus. In that way, we would be pleading to all men to be reconciled to God through Jesus.
And you who are reconciled to God, but still struggle with self-pity and fearful despair at the sight of your own failures or disappointments. He gave Himself for us, what more will He hold back? By His own kindness, with His very own presence within us. Herein lies our hope, and the world’s hope, of true rest and righteousness: Jesus, the Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and has taken them up again upon His own shoulders because He rejoices to rescue them.