Can God forgive our trespasses?

Believers regularly refer to God as “forgiving and merciful” when praying for divine forgiveness. If one is committed to divine immutability and impassability, as Maimonides is, one must deny that God is capable, in principle, of acting in a forgiving manner. If one rejects divine impassability, maintaining that God has a psychology, as Muffs does, one must reckon with biblical depictions of divine vengeance and rage. Such depictions suggest that while being capable, in principle, of acting in a forgiving way, God has a difficulty to manage God’s anger and do so in practice. Employing a Wittgensteinian perspective, I argue that utterances, e.g., “God merciful and gracious, slow to anger. . . forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”, need not be understood as involving mistaken or confused descriptions of God’s nature and manner of acting. Rather, they can be understood as speech-acts of various types and functions: mystical, theurgic and others, that purport to bring about or transform various states of affairs in this world and/or beyond it. As such, they can function as non-semantic instruments that purport to elevate the believer to the “upper worlds”, or as anger-management devices that purport to help God implement His second order desire to act in a forgiving manner, despite His difficulty to do so
Keywords Forgiveness  Resentment  Prayer  Maimonides  Muffs  Wittgenstein
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DOI 10.1007/s11153-012-9370-5
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