Just to follow up on one aspect of the previous post…
I cannot think of a more palpable, concrete, visible measurement of our grasp of God’s mercy and grace toward us than this: how we respond to the sin and weakness of others. This is the genius of Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant: at one level the servant obviously perceives that his 10,000 talent debt has been cancelled; but at another level he does not truly know his master’s forgiveness, as manifestly evident to all (i.e., to both his fellow servants and his master) by his complete lack of mercy toward his fellow servant.
So what do my impatience and refusal to forgive say?
They reveal in very concrete way my true estimation (my heart-knowledge, if you will) of God’s mercy and grace toward me, which is to say that they reveal my actual awareness / estimation of the gravity and pervasiveness of my own sin.
To extrapolate from this a bit more: if my actual estimation of the gravity of my sin is quite small, it means I am proud. Thus, it is pride that fuels impatience and the refusal to forgive, a pride that has not truly known divine mercy. Thus, it is pride that ends relationships. It is pride that makes us lonely, because I, being so proud, cannot forbear with you, being so sinful and weak. By contrast, a deep awareness of our sin liberates us from loneliness; indeed, our sin unites us: we share in the critique of the cross. Such an awareness of sin is the work of the Holy Spirit, a gift we should ask our heavenly Father for. Jesus says:
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11.13).
If it is a deep awareness of our own sin that enables us to be in relationship with other sinners, what was it that enabled (and enables) Jesus to be in relationship with tax collectors and sinners? Consider: the reason that I, being so proud, cannot forbear with you, being so sinful and weak, is the moral distance that I perceive between you, who are a failure, and me, the guy who is (supposedly) fine. The strong sense of revulsion that I feel is (at least in part) a right reaction to sin, but it is (of course) premised on a complete lie about myself. (For the rightness of such a response to sin, see Ps. 5.4: “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.”) But with Jesus this obviously isn’t the case: he actually is without sin; the moral distance between Jesus and the sinner is unfathomable. And yet he stays. How can he do that?