“He is Personality, for only a person can forgive.” Getting to Know God’s Radical Personalizing Love through Forgiveness

Hugh Ross Mackintosh was a Scottish theologian during the early to mid 20th century; he was also one of my favorite theologian’s – Thomas Forsyth Torrance – favorite teachers. As such, I have started reading some of HR Mackintosh’s books, and I am beginning to see why he was Torrance’s favored teacher. For the rest of this post we will hear from Mackintosh as he writes on the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ in the act of forgiveness for us.

As we quickly become children of the information technology age (no matter how old we are biologically) we have access to insurmountable amounts of all types of information; Christian teaching is penitentno exception. Something though that I have found a dearth of, even in this age, is much theological discussion in regard to forgiveness. Yes, we certainly can find pretty academic discussions about the atoning work of Christ, and all its attendant theories, but rarely have I seen a sustained blog post, theological essay, etc. developing the theme of Christian forgiveness – and I am referring to ‘forgiveness’ as a theo-psychical reality, something that impacts us (the recipients of God’s forgiveness in Christ) at a psychological level; and as something that promotes a healthy well-being and trajectory for us to live from in our relationship with God and in fellowship with others.

Mackintosh actually wrote a whole book dedicated to this reality entitled: The Christian Experience of Forgiveness. He presses into the idea that in the process of forgiveness, and what it took for that to happen, on God’s side, the character of God in Jesus Christ is seen most clearly – this fits well with Karl Barth’s concept of revelation is reconciliation, something that TF Torrance ascribed to as well. But far from being an abstract theological concept, what Mackintosh demonstrates is that God’s forgiveness serves as a concrete reality that has the capacity to penetrate the structures of our sinful minds and hearts to the point that we can experience the freshness of God’s total liberating presence, which not only involves, of course, psychological rest, but in a more important sense it restores us into a participative relationship with the triune God wherein, by grace, we experience the freedom that God experiences within His own life – this is quite radical! Here is what Mackintosh has written:

It is simply psychological fact, I am persuaded, that the only people in the world to-day who live in the glad consciousness that their sins have been forgiven are those who have encountered Jesus. They have met Him in the lives of the good; above all, they have stood face to face with Him as He shows Himself in the Gospels, and in His presence they have been able to trust the Father’s mercy and begin life again. To them He has become the “Word” of God, not in a philosophical sense, but as the living and loving announcement to their troubled hearts that the Father will be at peace with them. They now know that the essence of God’s nature is just such compassion as Christ’s. To look at Jesus is to know how God would have us think of Himself; the three short years recorded in the Gospels were His self-interpretation; and a sinful man soon discovers that they contain all he needs to know. This is personal relationship at last; it is God dealing with men as the foolish and wandering members of His family, and giving them in pure love a place beside Him.

Thus to receive pardon in the presence of Jesus is an experience which revolutionises our natural thoughts of God. The full truth cannot be expressed by saying that Christ simply corroborates an idea of God long familiar to the average man; rather it is in Christ that for the first time we perceive the true character of God and know, without reasoning, that nothing other or less than this could satisfy. And when we have seen Christ what we know is God, we are then able to call Christ Divine with some complete reality of meaning. Athanasius,  a great man if ever there was one, appears to have supposed that ab initio he could give an account of God in agreed and tolerably simple conceptions, since it was quite possible to formulate a statement of His chief attributes which Greek philosophy would have had no difficulty in countersigning. People who take their religion from the New Testament discover that we have first to let Jesus show us what the Father is like, and that forgiveness, about which philosophy as such does not concern itself, is His characteristic gift. As we contemplate Jesus presented in the Gospels, we discern not merely that God is love, but what kind of love this is. On that crucial point our truth thoughts have all been overheard from Christ. The aid our minds, better perhaps than unverified speculation, to understand what is meant by calling God the Absolute Personality. In no other sort of language can we register precisely the impression He makes on us, as He pardons our sins in Jesus. He is Personality, for only a person can forgive; He is Absolute, for in Him we envisage Love and Holiness invested with boundless and mighty dimensions. The Being whose hand meets ours as we bow before Christ is of a nature infinite and unfathomable.[1]

Let the implications of all that Mackintosh has written bear down on you today, and every day, and keep pressing into the reality, that he describes, of what it means to be forgiven by ‘God the Absolute Personality.’

[1] H.R. Mackintosh, The Christian Experience Of Forgiveness (London: Nisbet&Co. LTD., 1947), 82-3.

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