Again, it’s time for sermon musing. Did it two weeks ago, sermon flew off my hands and was good. Didn’t do it last week, sermon didn’t want to come out and most certainly wasn’t nearly as good as it could be.
Granted, my last page printed blank. I am not amazing on the fly when I’ve been preaching from a manuscript for 7 pages 😕
So sermon musing early in the week it is! I haven’t chosen passages for this weeks yet but I know who I’m talking about: Judas. Cue Lady Gaga! Wait, no, no, no, no, no! Now it’s stuck in my head!
That…not offensive in my mind lyrically but musically offensive to my ears song notwithstanding, a friend of mine posited a question a few years ago that I think about every Easter season:
Had Judas waited until Sunday and talked with Jesus, would Jesus have forgave him?
Now, that is actually two questions. The first is the theological question of the divine Jesus forgiving Judas for committing a sin. I take a very simple stance on this. Jesus came to forgive all sins. All sins. If Judas’ betrayal was unforgivable, then no repentant sins are forgivable. There isn’t basis for condemning specific sins or his greed and betrayal being worse than any other greed or betrayal just because it happened against Jesus. It doesn’t work that way, as much as our self-righteous natures would have us believe.
So, had Judas waited and repented, he would have been saved if he wasn’t already.
The second question is, could human Jesus forgive the betrayal of a friend? I automatically want to say, “Yes, absolutely!” I’m backed up a bit; read John 21:15-19. Jesus has taken Peter aside to discussion his faith tell him what to do with his love. Jesus didn’t take him aside and tell him, “You denied me, I cannot forgive you.” There isn’t a passive-aggressive, or active-aggressive confrontation to tell Peter just how much he cannot forgive him. It just isn’t there.
My mind wants to complicate the matter. I want to see motivations and, in my humanity, that makes some things more forgivable. Peter acted out of fear, Judas out of greed. Peter was literally going to die if he didn’t deny Christ – or at least he believed he would. Judas did it for a few dollars. I can sympathize with Peter and say I would probably have acted the same way; likewise, I can honestly say Judas did something I cannot fathom and I would not be able to forgive him. I don’t even know if I could forgive him if I was a disciple; his action was so selfish and placed the life of their teacher at 30 pieces of silver. Greed that leads to death I cannot forgive.
…which goes to prove that I am very much a fallen sinner. Jesus was human as we are, only in perfect form. I want to forgive Peter but Peter, too, did his act selfishly. His stakes were much higher but he valued his life over Christ’s and he knew it where as Judas probably didn’t realize that the silver would lead to Jesus’ death; he threw the coins back, if you remember. I can’t see Jesus differentiating between the two acts; Judas was a friend and disciple (if a bit of a thief) and I can’t believe that our Lord and Savior, having been to Hell and back and knowing Judas’ betrayal being necessary for the redeeming act, would have held the grudge.
So the answer, given my flawed mind and lacking theology, is that, had Judas waited, he would have been forgiven.
I have to ask the next question in this line, then. Is Judas in Hell? Was Judas condemned for his actions?
This goes to something deeper than just Judas. Is suicide unforgivable? Can we only be forgiven of those sins we actively confess? Does God condemn those whose mental illness, that they have no control over, causes them to sin? How about people who refuse treatment when they could be saved; is that suicide? How about people who take cancer treatments that will most likely kill them? Or refuse cancer treatments that may save them? Or how about the guy who ate too much and felt good about it and then died of a heart attack; his is gluttony unforgivable?
This isn’t a slippery slope question; this is a question of consequences for answers. There are three major questions that need to be answered to answer this fully. What is sin? Can we be forgiven of sins we don’t confess? Is is possible to confess every sin?
What is sin? I am going to take off my hat of theologian, hat of biblical scholar, and just answer as best I can without digging through theology books and never finding a complete answer. Sin is an act of selfishness. A sin is an act that places your own self-interest above the interest of another or above God, even if that “another” is an abstraction without an actual victim. I know there are books of the law and rules and regulations but I think all can be distilled down to this. It’s also, essentially, the inverse of the greatest commandments (He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” – Matthew 22:37-40 CEB).
The Old Testament is full of laws that speak to the interest of the community above the self-interest of the individual. I know a lot of people struggle with a lot of the ceremonial purity laws but they were in place to keep the temple clean, and I mean that literally. A lot of the laws about reproduction and relationships have to do with the survival of the Jewish people as a people, as a race, and as followers of a true God. So much of the law is about simply putting the needs of other above your own needs and desires. As such, much of it is irrelevant to today not because Christians pick and choose or they ignore the parts that make them uncomfortable but because the laws would no longer work towards the betterment of others.
Much the same way, I wonder if what Paul said to people had more to do with survival of the new church – and not falling into or being confused with the pagan traditions surrounding them – than with what is actually specifically sinful. Again, placing the interest of others before yourself. What that has to do with long hair on women, I’m not quite sure, but I digress.
Okay, so I define sin as “an act that places your own self-interest above the interest of another or above God, even if that “another” is an abstraction without an actual victim.” The next question is, “Can we be forgiven of sins we don’t confess?” I say yes, but I have to use the answer to the next question to prove it. I will mention, though, that there are theological traditions that disagree with me (most notably the Catholic tradition). Why this is specifically important to Judas is, if you have to confess every sin to be forgiven, then you can’t be forgiven of suicide; it becomes the only unforgivable sin. Any sins being unforgivable makes me uncomfortable, but this particular one doesn’t go against the rest of the theology of the forgiving nature of Christ so I can only say, my next answer is where my struggle is.
“Is is possible to confess every sin?” In the most literal sense, no, but I don’t think anyone is really going to argue that. What I am going to argue is that confessing all of our sins while not being contrite over some of them means we didn’t actually confess all of our sins.
Let me play an example out. I ate a Big Mac and washed it down with a Large Dr. Pepper, no ice last night. I followed that with a mixed drink and then about 20 chocolate letter cookies that are the size of big animal crackers. Guess how guilty I feel about that? Not at all. And before you ask how that placed my desires and needs above others, I actively participated in shortening my life for a bit of pleasure so my wife will have to deal with my death while I’m (hopefully) in heaven.
That Big Mac was pretty stinking selfish, right? Still don’t feel contrite about it. If I were out and about right now, I’d go have myself another one. I am selfishly sinning and I feel fine about it. When I die and my life is playing before my eyes, gluttony and sloth without a bit of remorse is what is going to play for me. It isn’t going to be pretty, and I will only feel contrition because I’m looking into the face of God.
So what I’m saying is, on my death-bed, I’m going to have sins I haven’t truly repented yet because I’m a fallen human and I am incapable. I may grow up and learn to feel contrite over gluttony and sloth but then I may pick up greed as I make more money. At the end, I will not have confessed all of my sins honestly, not acknowledged my sins, and still die.
I believe, in suicide, a person probably feels more sorrow for their own failings and their own sins that most people do. Judas killed himself because of a grave sin he committed. To say he wasn’t contrite and aware of his own sin in that moment would be a flaw. Yes, taking his own life was a sin, but it isn’t the only selfish was to die and if we condemn all people to die in a selfish act, we are condemning a lot of people to Hell.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m too much of a bleeding-heart liberal, but I think we need to reevaluate how we view suicide and sin in general.
So is Judas in Hell? Dante says yes, most people say yes, I say….
To being a coward and not taking a stand,