The Face of Forgiveness, Philip D. Jamieson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.
Summary: Explores the struggle of many in experiencing and granting forgiveness and what the author believes are inadequate understandings of the atonement that fail to deal with our shame as well as our guilt, and how in fact the work of Christ addresses both.
Philip Jamieson begins this book with a pastoral situation many of us have faced–someone sits across from us and confesses that they find themselves unable to forgive another person, because of the awful ways that person has offended. They want to observe Jesus words about “forgiving the trespasses of others” but they simply cannot.
What follows is an extended discussion of the nature of forgiveness. Jamieson considers the recent renewal of interest in forgiveness in modern psychology. There is much that is helpful, and even biblical, yet he believes, particularly in the separation of forgiveness from reconciliation, and the detachment of forgiveness from the work of Christ, these models of forgiveness fall short.
He also contends that part of our problem in people struggling both with being forgiven and extending forgiveness has to do with theories of the atonement that focus on sin’s guilt, to the exclusion of sin’s shame. Our downturned faces, and the inability to look into the faces of others contributes to this alienation both from God and others. Jamieson would not jettison the existing theories of the atonement but rather focuses on how it is that Christ both bears our shame and is victorious over it in the cross and the resurrection. This is the face of forgiveness, which he describes in this way:
“In his last act, high and lifted up, Jesus–the man who fully reveals God, now fully revealed–joins sinful humanity in our downward gaze. Jesus dies in the posture of shame, embracing the world’s shame. ‘It is finished.’ The face, once set like a flint (Isaiah 50:7) on his way to Jerusalem, to this very death (Lk 9:51), now stares, unblinkingly downcast, bearing humanity’s shame. He joins all of us: solidarity with the shamed. But again, this face is different. For this face in its downward gaze is not looking away from his neighbors; he is looking at them. The last act of the dying Savior is to fix his gaze upon those who are in need of salvation. Our forgiveness has already been pronounced (Lk 23:34) and now the dying God provides the means to accept it. Karl Barth notes there is no other face like Jesus. Jesus’ is the face that will not look away. Jesus is the face that sees all and still loves all. Jesus’ face alone is the one that has power to forgive and to give us the healing power to accept that forgiveness” (p. 114).
Jamieson then discusses three important practices, all communal, where we learn to live before Christ’s face, experiencing his forgiveness removing our shame and our guilt and enabling us to do this with those who have sinned against us. He calls for confession, for small groups where we talk honestly about issues of guilt and shame, and worship, where we confess together as a church in our worship of the Triune God.
Jamieson concludes the book with his answer to “Jane,” the parishioner asking about forgiveness, an answer rooted in the rich pastoral theology of this book. And that is what we are given in 157 pages of text. We are brought to reflect deeply on the consequences in the human psyche of the pretensions to god-hood of each of us, re-enacting the sin of the first couple. We explore the nature of shame, our penchant to run from God, and how this is addressed in the work of the cross. It isn’t just something we have to “get over” as people whose guilt is pardoned. Shame, too, has been borne.
What I most appreciate about this is that while it is a “pastoral theology of shame and redemption” it is rooted in good systematic and historical theology. I also appreciate how it is also rooted in the church and a theology of grace. Forgiveness is not presented as an individual effort to think better of ourselves and others but as a corporately supported reality that recognizes the continuing presence and power of Christ at work in his people gathered. While cognizant of psychology, this is the care of souls rooted in a fresh appreciation of the theology we preach, pray, and enact in worship each week. Refreshing!