Forgiveness is an inescapable force in our lives. You will always need it, and someone will always need it from you, because we are fallen creatures who can’t help but hurt each other.
When we give forgiveness, it is a mirror we hold up to Christ. It is baffling to the world, because it is an otherworldly act. It doesn’t compute here. How do you know the wrongdoer is really sorry? How do you know they won’t do it again? How can they know just how badly they’ve hurt you, if you forgive them? How many times do you forgive someone? We put requirements and limitations on forgiveness… and what should be a free gift, becomes expensive and exclusive, and not really forgiveness at all.
We can’t understand giving forgiveness until we truly realize our need for it. For those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in a Christian home, we can be at a disadvantage here. If you spend your whole life doing pretty much the “right thing”, then there is a real temptation to be morally superior. We don’t want to admit it, but you know it’s true. You reap what you sow- life is generally good, and because YOU are generally good. We may not say that outloud, but there’s a part of us longtime Christians that leans to that occasionally. I may struggle with some little sins, but hey, I’m not out there killing people.
I’m glad you’re not murdering folks. That’s great. People like to live. But just because someone is out there doing something worse than you are, doesn’t make your own sins any less damning. Sin is not a comparitive science here. My mother likes to say, “there, but for the grace of God”, and she is totally, absolutely right.
Is there a sin you swear you’d never commit? Do you say, Oh, I’d just never do that? Be careful, because that’s a point of pride for you. That’s an area where you are depending, at least somewhat, on your own strength. The scary thing about doing that, is that this Christian walk is a refining process, and sometimes that pride must go through the fire, which hurts like the dickens.
I think to “get it”, for this whole Christianity thing to click, we’ve got to hate our sin. We’ve got to realize how black it is, how it grieves God, how it isolates us. It is destruction, and death, even the smallest sliver is poisonous. We live in a society that candy coats sin– we swallow whole that pleasant pill. Feels good, tastes good, looks good. But once we’ve ingested it, it corrupts. It contaminates us from the inside out. It separates us from God, it is offensive to Him. We reek of it. And it’s been that way since we swallowed the fruit in the Garden.
That’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? But that’s what it is. It should make us uncomfortable. It is the darkest of dark, the most evil of evil. Let that thought soak in, that YOUR little old sin of gossip, or sloth, or that itsy bitsy granule of lust… is so unbearable to God that He can’t even LOOK at it.
And when you feel it, when you cast your eyes about in panic, knowing you can’t undo it, that there is no way you can escape all this sticky sin, then remember! This is where the story gets good! This is when the Hero charges to our rescue- bridging that gap with forgiveness, leaping over that black, stinking chasm, to us. He swipes through the slimy cords of sin that bind us, His own blood the sword that saves. Not because we were really sorry, not because we won’t ever do it again, not because we’ve earned it or we deserve it, not because we made our sin any less foul in His eyes. He did it because He loves us, and doesn’t want us to be apart from Him. Wow! He did it, and because of that, who are we to withhold the same thing from each other? What an opportunity we have- we, who were so mired in sin and have been plucked from the clutches of death– to mimic our God, to copy his actions like children, forgiving one another as we have seen Him do for us.
All sin is equal. But, people who have been forgiven for something really big like murder or adultery, will tell you that it changes them. It becomes a diving board for compassion. They dive headfirst into forgiveness, splashing everyone around them, giving that gift, whether it is squandered it or treasured, regardless of the outcome. They just can’t help it. Self-righteousness is smashed by shame, and slowly rebuilt into a quiet humility. Not a pious humility, but a humbleness that comes from being broken, exposed, from being low, from hitting rock bottom. They know the worst in themselves, know just what they are capable of, and how desperately they need God in their lives.
Those people, they “get it”. They can tell you how bad sin is, how great God is, and how much He loves you and wants to forgive you. But it was a lesson they had to learn the hard way. Woe to the man who must be dashed beneath his sin to be sorry for it… be wise, be humble now. Be forgiving now.
It’s an amazing, complicated, challenging thing, forgiveness. Whether you give it, or receive it, it changes you. And when it is withheld, it also changes you. You become a little harder, a little tighter. You miss a moment, and that is a sad thing.
Forgiveness is the fertile ground that good things grow in. Be generous with it, spread it far and wide. Not because it’s cheap, not because it is the magic fix-it-all, but because it was poured out for you first.
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32 KJV)