Scripture Union recently surveyed high school students about their present concerns. Forgiveness ranked number three. You might guess that identity, meaning and purpose are big for teenagers – but forgiveness?
Teenagers live in a world where the dialogue is spoken out on social media. Shaming and disliking are the methods of feedback and social control in such forums.
Look at what happened to Tim Paine – the Australian cricket captain, or Jack de Belin. One suspects they will live under a forever cloud. Their unwise actions have consequences. Think of the politician who is found to have made a politically incorrect tweet years ago. Social media, and the emerging shaming culture, has a way of labelling, disseminating, and then mass ostracising the offender.
I am not wishing to minimise or condone such actions. My point in this – say or do the wrong thing and you can be quickly judged, dismissed, and permanently banished. Is there a path back from social suicide? Can you appreciate why this is such a big issue for teenagers?
The parable of the prodigal son deals with the dilemma of forgiveness in an honour shame culture. Sin is not just a matter of personal guilt, following an offence before God. Sin has real social consequences. It undermines your standing in the community.
The act of forgiveness comes with a cost. You must align yourself with the outcast, and embrace embarrassment, as the father does who in an undignified way lifts his cloak, bears his legs, and runs.
This moment of cultural transition presents an opportunity. How can we – the forgiven people of God, saved by Jesus who embraces the shame of the cross – be the people who extend forgiveness to others in a world where forgiveness is increasingly a lost art?
Rev David Rietveld