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Theology from the cross pt.3

By Mike Waine

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34

The image of Jesus on the cross is symbolic of so much.

A Father who loves His children so much as to die in their place.

A King who came to serve, not be served.

The Lamb of God being sacrificed.

One major theme held by the cross is forgiveness. Salvation is inextricably connected to God’s offer of forgiveness to us.

So when, upon the cross, Jesus declared “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”, it is an interesting statement to make.

The primary interpretation that I have come across for this is the most literal one; that Jesus was speaking of and referring to the soldiers who were crucifying him.

To be the very hands that nailed the Son of God to the cross as a fatal punishment is an unimaginable act. To kill God. Such an act would carry an enormous weight to it, were one to understand what one was doing.

Jesus’ suggestion is that they were unaware of what they were doing. They did not fully recognise their own actions.

In our legal system we have an ‘age of criminal responsibility’, at which point you are legally culpable for your behaviour. Before that age, it is deemed that, to put it simply, you do not know what you are doing.

Perhaps Jesus is applying a similar mindset to pray for the soldiers. They are not in a place to comprehend fully the ramifications of what they’re doing.

An alternative position is to build on this but to take it out of its limited framework. Maybe it isn’t just the soldiers Jesus is talking about.

What if Jesus is speaking for all those whose sins his death atones for. What if, applying the same reasoning as for the soldiers, to some extent none of us really KNOW what we are doing.

We have plenty of learned behaviours and deep-rooted, self-centred thought patterns. For the most part, our thoughts, words and deeds stem from the developmental stage of our childhood. Most of this becomes unconscious – not truly ‘knowing’ what we are doing.

So, on the cross, at the point where Jesus takes our sin on himself, his cry of ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing’ may be a defence of humanity – asking for our forgiveness because we don’t truly know what we are doing.

After all, the God who made us knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands why we do what we do, even if we might not.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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