Why does God forgive our sins? Why doesn’t he hold them against us? Why, indeed, has he paid for them himself?
Well, he’s omniscient. So he knows why we sin. Furthermore, he knows full well that we don’t know why we sin, or even (often) that we do sin. He said so from the very cross where he hung in the agony of his forgiving.* Having shared in it, he knows our weakness.
The real question, then, is not why God in his infinite goodness and mercy, his boundless compassion and sympathy, his perfect comprehension of our predicaments, forgives us who are so confused even about the springs of our own acts (let alone his). How could it be otherwise, with such a being? No, the question is why we sin.
It’s not a question we can yet answer, I think. If we are someday fortunate to enjoy the Beatific Vision, perhaps in that day we shall in knowing God partake of his perfect knowledge of why things happened – of why we did what we did.
But for now, who knows why he does what he does, whether for good or for ill? I sin when I know perfectly well that I ought not to, and would do better not to. Why? It *makes no sense.* But then, even though my good acts make more sense to me in retrospect than my wickednesses, they are equally mysterious to me, in the thick of the doing of them. Where do the ontological resources come from, that fund my good acts, and incline me to do them? Why do I do good sometimes, rather than evil? I cannot tell.
To ask why in the moment of decision I did this or that, for good or ill, is just to ask where that moment came from in the first place; for only thus could the factors of the decision that characterizes the form of that moment be specified. And this datum – the very first datum, which is the donation of our being – our introspection cannot furnish. All our understandings are ex post, and presuppose the completed actuality of the things we understand. They are about other things than themselves. So I can understand my acts in retrospect, a bit. But there can be no such understanding concurrent with acts. Indeed, it could perhaps be said that to act *just is* to arrive at an understanding (however feeble, or partial, or tentative, or ill, or evil) of things, of how one ought therefore best to act, and so ergo how one does act. At that arrival, in and by it, the act is complete, and then hey ho, it’s on to the next.
As each an ontological novelty, our acts are not strictly comprehensible in the terms comprehended by their forebears, and evident in those forebears for our inspection as we make our way forward through the mists of the present moment. If they were, then they would be logically implicit in those forebears, and thus neither actually disparate from them, nor therefore subject to our powers. They would not then be our acts at all, but theirs. But our acts are in fact disparate, from each other and from their factors.
As we go, then, we do not know what we do, and nor can we know by reference to the things that have gone before, and that have each made their causal contributions to this our present moment.
So I do things, and then I think, “Why the Hell did I do that?” Or, “Thank God I did not do that.” We can choose to do good or evil, but we cannot tell how we choose; so we cannot quite tell why. The best we can do is cadge together a theory about why we did this or that.
Is it any wonder, then, that we muck things up so badly?
Yet our acts are ours; or, equally, we are our acts. We are able to respond, and we do respond; so we are, and cannot but feel that we are, responsible. We don’t understand what we do, but we do in fact do it. The fault is nowhere else but within us. It is we who need redemption, then.
Our loving Father sees that we have made a mess of things, and he knows how we managed to get ourselves into such trouble; and as we forgive our own toddlers their inadvertent errors, that cost us so much, so he forgives us.
* It may be asked why God in Jesus had to ask God the Father to forgive his creatures on account of the fact that “they know not what they do.” Isn’t God omniscient? Didn’t he know already that we were ignorant? Indeed, was not Jesus’ whole mission in the Incarnation predicated upon this very knowledge? Yes: except, not “already.” That’s a temporal reference, and God is not fundamentally temporal, but eternal. He knows and does everything all at once. Jesus tells his Father of our ignorance circa AD 33, but Jesus and his Father both ipso facto know this from before all worlds. Yet they don’t know things about history “before” they happen, or even as they happen. They know things about history as being themselves the forecondition of that history, its source, sustenance, and end.