Pardon Me

End of year pardons are a political tradition, always fraught with potential land mines, but also with real potential blessings.  Pardon the wrong person and you’ll have it tagged to your political career for the rest of your life.  Pardon the right people and while you may not get any political benefit from it, you get some personal satisfaction and the gratitude of a small group of affected people.

The issue becomes discerning who the right people to pardon are.  Who is going to become a poster child for your pardon choices?  Who is going to show that you, the pardoner, have great judgment and discernment?  These are the ideal candidates for pardon, as opposed to the folks who are going to go out and wreak havoc again.  And let’s be honest, the higher profile those good candidates are (or become) the better for you.

So California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Robert Downey Jr.  Hard to get much more high-profile than that these days!  This is a fantastic choice.  Downey Jr. was in trouble with the law repeatedly 20-30 years ago on drug charges, despite a promising career in acting.  But he apparently managed to pull his life together almost 15 years ago, and has embarked on an enviable comeback trajectory centered around his role as Ironman.  Now that he’s really hitting his stride as an actor and citizen and person, it makes sense to pardon him for the indiscretions and poor choices of his youth.  It doesn’t take a political genius to see that there is every reason to pardon this guy.  It gives the Governor some good press, and it frees Downey Jr. up from whatever legal hassles he might still be confined by based on his convictions.

This is the deal most of us think that God gives us.  Sure, we’ve messed up.  We sowed our wild oats.  We made some poor choices and were immature.  But we’re different now.  We’ve grown up.  We’ve matured.  We’ve learned the hard way, for certain, but at least we’ve learned!  We’ve become parents and grandparents, teachers and firefighters and pastors and doctors and all manner of respectable folk.

Most of us assume that we are good candidates for heavenly pardon from God.  We’re pretty sympathetic to ourselves.  Never mind about that person who might disagree, or those people that were genuinely hurt by our actions.  The important thing is that we’re better now.

The problem is that we’re not better now, and our estimations of ourselves as good candidates are ill-founded.  We may not do the crazy things we used to, but how often do we think about those times fondly?  Or wish that we could still do those things?  Or chuckle affectionately  when we recall them?  How many of the changes in our lives are due not so much to giving up sinning but getting older and less energetic?  How many of our sins are internalized more than externalized – thoughts and feelings instead of actions?  But those thoughts and feelings are every bit as sinful as the old actions.  And how many of us give way to the ‘lesser sins’, things that we don’t really think are a very big deal (despite what Scripture says)?  How many of us are unforgiving (of ourselves as well as others)?

And how many of us deal with these things every day?  Day after day?  All of our lives?  We aren’t good candidates for pardon, we’re the worst.  We’re the people that no sane politician (oxymoron duly noted) would ever pardon because we’d be a perpetual embarrassment.

But we are who God the Father pardons.  You and I are declared righteous  and holy, forgiven completely.  All of our sins have been wiped away not by a pardon but through the suffering and death of the Son of God.  Not when we were at our best and most noble, but when we were at our worst and least lovable.  That is grace.  Given not because we deserve it but precisely because we do not.

When we find it hard to believe (or desire!) that God could or would forgive so-and-so for whatever it was that they did, we need to apply the same statement to ourselves.  It is not hard to believe, it is ludicrous.  Wildly inappropriate.  Completely bonkers that God would forgive you and I, and assure us that in doing this, He will be glorified.  It makes no sense, but I get out of bed in the morning only because of that assurance, and I can close my eyes at night only because I rest in the trust that God is far better than I could ever be or even want to be, and that this is a good thing.

I pray that Mr. Downey Jr. enjoys his pardon as much as you and I in Christ should give thanks to God and enjoy ours.




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