It’s very hard for the human race to accept that: "Nothing separates us from the love of God." We think there must be some breaking point where God would give up on us. "Well, what about if we…?"
Sin is not a problem with God. God solved all his problems with sin before the foundation of the world, in the beginning—and it’s done. The iceberg that lies under the surface of history is the Son of God; redemption is the mystery behind all history. Sin is a permanent irrelevancy. And God is the one to say, "Look, I have taken away the handwriting that was against you."
I like the translation in Matthew, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." What do we do when we don’t forgive somebody else’s debts, or literally, their sins? We carp on what they owe us. We look at the chips that we have saved. This is what you owe me and you haven’t given it to me. There is an IOU I hold against you, and I gotta have this…. Well, it’s not that way with God. With God, it’s done—there is no handwriting against us. It’s done. He’s not holding IOUs.
Legalism is something that’s afflicted the church from the start. Humans have a hard time believing that God doesn’t hold IOUs. But Paul says the law cannot save. He says, "He has made him to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him."
That’s what I got out of reading the judgment parables. In the way Jesus presents them, people were not denied an invitation to the party; instead, they were kicked out of a party they were already at. Even in the parable of the prodigal son, nothing was stopping the elder brother from joining the party where his younger brother was being received and honored—nothing but his own resentment. He isn’t kicked out; he refuses to go in. But that parable brilliantly ends with a standoff.
The elder brother refuses to join the party, but the father won’t leave it like that. He goes out to the elder brother, and Jesus ends the parable with the father and the elder brother standing out in the courtyard—forever—at least for 2,000 years now. And there it is. It’s all done in the presence of the redeemer. Even the obstinacy of the older brother. The father doesn’t give up. He’s right there with the elder brother, aching for him as much as he ached for the younger one, the prodigal. (An Interview with The Rev. Fr. Robert Farrar Capon)