Forgiveness is not ignoring or forgetting. Forgiveness is cheapened by an ignorance is bliss stance on wrongdoing. We don’t say “It’s all right” when someone tells us they’re sorry for hurting us. We say, we forgive them. Which isn’t the same. It isn’t all right when sin breaks us. And it isn’t strong of us to ignore it when it happens or learn to deal with repeated addictive behaviors or bolster ourselves up to not let sin conquer us.
But how does this thinking not lead us to despair or bitterness? It’s because of the truth behind forgiveness. The only way we ever truly learn to forgive is to recognize how we have been forgiven. We are forgiven through Christ, his death on the cross. His blood shed and poured out for all time for all people for all sin. Our sins, past, present, AND future, are covered. Not just the ones we committed up until we first believed. Not just the ones we have specifically asked forgiveness for. Not just the ones we know to repent of. Do we truly understand and believe this truth? Do we see ourselves as wearing the cloak of righteousness, being holy and wholly acceptable to God because of Jesus?
If you are like me, the answer is not really. Depending on the day, we hold grudges against ourselves. At my worst, I beat myself up for sins I’ve committed, replaying all the ways I have betrayed people I care about, lied, stolen, cheated, deceived, abused, deliberately or unintentionally hurt, and have failed knowingly and unabashedly. Even in the best of times, I think of myself as the worst of all sinners, broken by my choices and attitudes, weighed down by consequences and guilt.
So how could I really forgive anyone else? Without the full knowledge and acceptance of true repentance and the weight lifted, how could I do anything other than sort of forgive others? If you read the bible for verses on forgiveness, it is quite condemning and harrowing. “But if you do not forgive… neither will your Father.” Over and over again, Jesus tied the two together, unmistakably. If someone is struggling to forgive another person, I would ask this, “Have YOU been forgiven?” And if so, how much? Forgiving others is directly related to how you are forgiven. How can they not be?
What capacity do we have on our own to truly forgive another person who has wounded us? What strength can we summon? What force is there to remove the debt incurred? What love is great and deep and wide and high enough to cover our lifetime filled with trespasses and depravities of all shapes and sizes? Is there an ocean big enough to sink all of our sin bags packed with all the evil humanity can conjure up, so that they never resurface again?
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”
My capacity to forgive my husband, to forgive all, is not held in my heart. I don’t go to my heart to find the way to forgive. I don’t look in my soul, like a pantry holding boxes of freshly made forgiveness to dole out as needed. My pantry is small. I run out of the sugar and the flour and the salt. My well runs dry and isn’t deep enough. My heart closes too often and too early. Don’t go to your stores, your wells, your resources. As strong and capable and reliable as they may seem, they will fail you. When that “big” sin comes at you like a ton of bricks – and it will – you will reach your limits. You will find your shelves out of stock with no hope of reordering.
I go to the feet of Jesus. I go with my little jar of expensive perfume. I go with nothing but my hair and my hands. And I weep at his feet. And I say, I am running on empty. I am giving this thing all I have. So, I am here. I am here because only you have the power, the infinite, limitless power to forgive. Only You can forgive and have forgiven for all time. Only You could remove all my sin from me. Only You can remove all my husband’s sin from him. It is gone forever. It is drowned in the deepest sea. It is far away from us. Help us not to go looking for it. Help us not to dig it up and drag it out from each other. Help us to remember how much we have been forgiven, how we each have been covered for always. Help us remember the epic price You paid for us, how we must see each other as bought with Your blood, paid in full, indebted to You alone, not to each other and not to our sin. Help us to live as free people, enslaved to You only. Help us to be quick to see each other and to remind each other of the beauty of Your glory in us, the depth of Your love for us and the complete acceptance we receive through Your all consuming grace. You could have consumed us by judgment and fire. You had every right to condemn us and cast us away. But You did not and do not. I pray we will treat each other as those not condemned, but beloved, never withholding mercy, and lavishing grace on each other, pointing each other to the freedom we share from the bondage of sin and shame. I pray we always remain at the feet of Jesus.