Pope Francis makes headlines. Easily. It seems like it is always another controversy, another edict. It makes some adore him and others hate him. This time it is abortion. Or more precisely, how to handle women who had abortions before and now regret it.
First, the biblical review of the subject. Is there forgiveness for someone who had an abortion? Yes. Definitely. The Bible is clear that the one who comes to Christ, repenting of his or her sin, will find mercy from God.
Secondly, how is this possible? It is not because God turns a blind eye. It is not because God is “feeling” bad for you. It is not even because God loves you so much that he forgets the dead baby.
God is love. God cares deeply for you in ways that you and I can never imagine. It is a depth of love that is demonstrated on the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus died so that the death penalty on your head and mine is abrogated. Justice was not eluded, but satisfied. Your forgiveness and mine are hinged upon that divine execution of justice.
So let’s get back to the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis. What does this edict really say? It claims that between Dec. 8 2015 and Nov. 26, 2016, it will create a year of Jubilee where this sin will be forgiven more easily for those who repent.
It seems better than before, right? Wrong. What is the problem in this equation?
1. God alone forgives. We can communicate, from the Bible, how to obtain God’s forgiveness. However, we cannot stand in God’s place, meting out forgiveness and claiming God’s action. Within the local church, there is authority given to the leaders and members of the church, to deal with sin. However, it is never to make laws that are apart from the Bible.
2. God does not have a timeline. Are some sins forgivable only at some times? While the motivations for setting dates may be a sales tactic – get forgiven and forsake your sin – this is not a scriptural injunction.
3. Jubilee is wrongly applied. The year of Jubilee is a biblical command for Israelites in forgiving debt and a reminder that all belongs to God and we must not hold on to what is rightfully God’s. However, using that term for a man-made law is usurping God’s authority.
So what could the Roman Catholic Church do instead?
First, it can stop its practice of indulgences and works’ based approaches to meet God. It has set itself up as the arbiter of God’s mercy. It has used man’s laws and time-tables to dictate how people can find God’s mercy. Instead, it should point people to Christ. True forgiveness is a matter of the heart where actions follow.
Second, it can adopt the biblical understanding of Grace, or unmerited favor. God gives freely. God changes inwardly. God works powerfully. Without an emphasis of the Gospel, or Good News of Jesus Christ, the Pontiff and his people may look nice in front of the media and a skeptical world, but will be sending its adherents just as fast to damnation while promising redemption.