So there’s this famous quote that you may have heard in one form or another around the interwebs. I think I finally found the original quote and who said it (but let me know if you think I’m mistaken):
“The Christian army is the only army that shoots and buries its wounded.” -Dr. Freddie Gage
Sounds pretty scandalous. You can imagine Mrs. So-and-So placing a dainty hand over her mouth and gasping while overhearing this in church. “That is such an disrespectful thing to say,” she’d blurt out, walking away with a disapproving look. That Wednesday at bridge she’d repeat the quote to shock her girlfriends. Do people still play bridge? I don’t know, but she’d share it wherever people go to break the eighth commandment these days (You shall not bear false witness, which includes not neglecting to put the best construction on your neighbor, or gossip).
Regardless, the quote is both true and false. It’s true that the church metaphorically shoots its wounded. It’s not true that they’re the only ones who do. Actually, it’s a fairly common thing for the world to betray and leave their fallen to hang out to dry. Maybe that’s why it’s all the more scandalous when the church does it. Everyone knows it’s a dog-eat-dog world. The early bird gets the worm. Or, the second mouse gets the cheese. Whatever. The point is, it’s brutal. Survival of the fittest is the highest ethic and value. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Grace isn’t a natural concept. That’s where the Church comes in, or at least, it’s supposed to. It’s common for the world to shoot its own, it’s not supposed to be common for the Church to.
When I was in the Army I got a Latin phrase tattooed on the back of my arms. Vincere aut mori. It means, “victory or death.” It was a common motto among Roman gladiators, or so I’m told. It was what the world had taught me of its virtues. You win or you die. There is no middle ground. 2nd place is just the first loser.
But the Church doesn’t have mantras, mottos and slogans like these. Scripture teaches us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and that Jesus isn’t for winners, but losers. The Church, as the embassy of heaven on earth, teaches unearned, unmerited favor and forgiveness.
Christians are told to restore the one who falls in a spirit of gentleness, realizing that we too are liable to fall ourselves. Let the one who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. Christians are told to forgive as their father in heaven has forgiven them, which is absolute and without condition. God will never hold a forgiven and forgotten sin over you head as leverage to control or manipulate you. He can’t, because it’s all been forgotten.
We expect the world to shoot its wounded. But not even the world expects Christians to shoot their wounded. We talk enough about forgiveness, grace, and love, even within the churches that sort of see the Gospel as a rearview-mirror issue for the Christian. Is it any wonder then that the church gets labelled hypocritical when we talk one way, and walk the other when we think they aren’t watching? Or do we hope that they just weren’t listening. Is it any wonder then that when the world compares our words and actions, they shrug off our “good news” as “too good to be true”?
I once attended a church called Grace Christian Church. Despite the name, there was very little, if any, grace being extended there (we used to joke that it should have been called Grace-less Church). I sense that the world kind of sees the broader Church as I look back and see Grace Christian Church. A Church with grace boldly up front in its name, yet lacking it where it counts.
How often God freely forgives men who return the favor by only forgiving others based on a catch-22 of as many or more conditions. And still God forgives us, again, and again, and again. For all our talk, maybe our trouble to forgive isn’t that we haven’t been taught and lectured and preached and talked at enough about forgiveness; maybe it’s that we don’t actually believe God in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself. Maybe it’s not that we don’t intellectually understand the concept of forgiveness, but that we disbelieve that kind of forgiveness has really been extended to us. We don’t take that check to the bank. We’re afraid it will bounce. So we stuff it in our Bibles along with another 20 checks there from earlier Sundays this year where we heard the forgiveness of our sins proclaimed. No wonder when we have to forgive others, we can’t do it. We have nothing in our spiritual banks to forgive others with.
We can only forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us. Maybe the command isn’t as much of an imperative as it is a call to recognize an obvious fact. When you forgive, you are only forgiving because God has forgiven you in Christ. As you are in Christ, so too are you able to forgive. If God hasn’t forgiven you, and if you aren’t in Christ, then any attempts at forgiveness are going to be pointless. You will fail to forgive because you’ve failed to grasp the fact that you’ve already been forgiven by God of more sins you’ve committed against God, than all the sins the world could ever commit against you.
God takes the wisdom of the world and flips it around. The world preaches that we win or we die. Survival of the fittest (but you still die eventually, don’t you). God preaches that in death, He has won. Yep, He beat us, our sin, death, and even the devil. He didn’t even have to try. He just lay down and died. You can’t beat an opponent like this. But God says we don’t have to. He offers us His victory as if it is our own. In Christ, Paul preaches:
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
Take that check to the bank, brothers and sisters. That forgiveness will never bounce. Believe it. It’s been secured by the priceless blood of the Lamb who was slain and yet lives. The Resurrection and the Life is Himself the investment that secures your forgiveness and enables you to extend that same forgiveness to others. Even if it should require you to forgive that same exact sin 490 times or more, Jesus has you covered. Take that unfathomable storehouse of righteousness and forgiveness and share it with someone else, too. A bank account full of forgiveness means your ammunition to shoot others has run out. Your magazines are spent and empty. Christ has absorbed every sin and every bullet loaded to fire in every sinner's direction and calls them all forgiven. Yes, even that sin.