I Was Right

A few years ago, shortly after enjoying the best God time of my life, I wrote a poem about forgiveness. I was struggling with literally dozens of grudges then, and writing this was the first step in the process of letting those go.

“I was right!” I shouted,
Alas to no avail.
The night dark and unclouded
The moon, still smiling, pale.
“Answer me if You’re there!
Or have You gone away?
They were wrong! It’s not fair!
Do You hear me when I pray?”
Softly rustled the leaves
And as I turned I spied,
As though between two thieves,
A flanked tree with branches wide.
“I was right then as well,
More than you’ll ever be,
But love saves more from hell
Than right or law or creed.
They were wrong, it is true,
But does that matter now?
Life became unfair for you
When blood dripped from my brow.”
“I was wrong,” I gently wept,
The pale moon smiling still.
Then heard as in the clouds crept,
“That doesn’t matter, either.”

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Our Greatest Enemy, Part 2

Pride is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in our forgiveness of others. Some of us can get mad pretty easily and we can hold grudges for months, years, even decades. It’s easy to say that we don’t deserve what the other person did or that we would never do such a thing. These statements are likely true…but only to a very limited extent.

Ok, let’s say that someone borrowed your car, returned it without filling the tank even for what they used, and dinged the door and bumper pretty badly, but didn’t even offer to pay for it. It’s wrong of them to do that, especially when you were doing them a favor in the first place. Did you do anything to this person to deserve that from them? No. Would you have returned the car to them this way were your positions reversed? No.

But you’ve done things that deserve Hell for all eternity.

It really doesn’t matter what your sin is. What matters is that the root of that sin is choosing yourself over God. You can step on a cockroach and nobody really cares; you spit on someone and people can get very upset. Why? Because a person is regarded as far more valuable than a cockroach. Likewise, what you do to God is infinitely more important than what someone else does to you. And the punishment, whether you think it’s harsh or not, is fair because He’s the Creator, Judge, and King of the Universe.

We should not wonder at God’s penalty for sin, for He did not force us to sin neither does He answer to us. What we should wonder at instead is that He has, at indescribably personal cost, allowed us a way out of our punishment that doesn’t cost us anything.

Read those last five words again. When our pride leads to a grudge, what we’re really saying is that our forgiveness has to be purchased. Yet the last part of Matthew 10:8 tells us, “Freely you have received, freely give.” We have received forgiveness freely, so we must give it freely as well.

The key is to remember how worthless we are of ourselves compared to God. When we hurt each other, we hurt equals. When we do something against Him, it is like a speck of dust defying the sun. We’re totally insignificant and would be doomed if not for Him. If we can remember our desperate need for His sacrifice and how much it cost Him, we can dispense with the pride that tells us how much we deserve justice for what others have done to us.

A Daily Sacrifice

In Old Testament times, there were daily sacrifices to cover the people’s sins. It seemed there were hundreds of things you could do wrong that would require bringing a bull, sheep, or doves to the priests. 

Aside from doing the will of God because they loved and worshiped Him, this had a very important consequence for the Jews: it made sinning awfully expensive. 

Sin was even more expensive for God: He sacrificed His Son for our sins. God didn’t have to have a way to cover sins. He could have decided that one sin was enough to doom someone with no way out. Then He decided that we could atone for our sins, but it would cost us. When they were wandering in the desert for 40 years, they were shepherds. They ate manna and meat from their flocks, but even that was done very, very sparingly because they didn’t want to eat themselves out of their future. The cost of their sins, though high, was extremely generous because God didn’t have to give them a way out. Plus, it was fair in the sense that they were paying for what they’d done.

This isn’t where God stopped, though. He sent Jesus to be a one-time sacrifice for all our sins. No more bulls and sheep and goats. No more paying for our own mistakes. He paid once and for all time. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In short (since I brought this up a few posts ago), a guy owes his king more money than he could ever pay back, but the king forgives him. This guy then finds someone who owes him a comparative pittance and throws him in prison when this poor guy can’t pay. The king is furious and throws the servant in jail until he pays every last penny. 

Forgiveness requires sacrifice. If you’re paying someone exactly what is owed, then there’s no forgiveness necessary. A criminal can do his time and be released, but the government isn’t forgiving him. He paid his due and now he’s free to go. The king in this parable would have nothing to forgive if he’d been paid all the money due to him. When he forgave, he gave up the rights he had to that money and took a tremendous loss.

God took an even greater loss for our sins. The sacrifices of the Old Testament weren’t worth our souls’ redemption from Hell, but God viewed them as sufficient for our sakes. There was also a lesson in there, that sin is a debt that must be paid. God took a lesser payment in the Old Testament and then made full payment Himself in the New. 

When someone wrongs you, you may have to take a loss. Whether it’s not paying back a debt, making you look bad in front of your boss so you don’t get a promotion, or physically harming you, there may not be a way they can make amends. When you forgive, you should do so knowing that your forgiveness means their debt to you is paid in full. No holding it against them, no treating them differently, no seeking or hoping for their harm. Paid in full, just as your debt has been because of His sacrifice.

Determining How Forgiving You Are

One of the best ways to tell whether you’ve forgiven someone is to think about that person and what he or she has done to you. Not just a vague recollection, but actually replaying the scene in your mind as nearly as you can remember. If there’s a bit of angst or bitterness, then there’s a grudge. It may not be a large one, but it’s still there.

Often, this feeling is accompanied by a wish that this person gets their comeuppance. You either want something bad to happen to them, often in the name of “justice”, or you want them to at least pay you back. 

The truth is you can’t say you’ve forgiven someone if you secretly want to throw a badger at them. Proverbs 24:17-18 says we are not to rejoice when our enemy stumbles, lest God see our mirth and turn His wrath from them. 

When we want something bad to happen to someone else, we do several things:

1. We put ourselves in God’s place on the Throne of Judgment.

2. We say that Jesus’ sacrifice is insufficient, as they still deserve our punishment.

3. We fail to love them as we love ourselves. (How many of us don’t want mercy?)

4. We forget that we are every bit as doomed without Jesus’ intervention as they would be.

5. We forget what they’re doing to themselves in causing a rift in their relationship with God. That is a significant punishment already, but He might add to it as He sees fit. It is not our business what He chooses to do with someone else’s sin; it is sufficient to know He is willing to forgive it and He has forgiven us.

 

The Nature of Sin, Part 4

In the final part of this series, I want to examine one last aspect of sin: its effects on us. When we think of the results of our sin, what usually comes to mind? The need for Jesus’ sacrifice? Yes, we need it, but there are more effects than just eternal damnation. The results from the people we’ve hurt or the powers that be? I confess that I often consider these first when I realize I was wrong. While I have never been much of a rule-breaker and even less of a law-breaker, I’ve wronged many people over the years and I’ve even apologized more as damage control than because I really felt convicted about what I’d done.

Sin has another effect, though: separation from God. The punishment that we earned with our first sin was Hell, which is not only the everlasting fire, but separation from God as well, which I believe is an even greater torture. Jesus didn’t cry out in pain, not when He was beaten, had the crown of thorns pushed down on His head, when He was flogged, or even when they nailed Him to the cross. He cried out when He felt God turn away from Him (Matthew 27:46). God the Father could not look on His Son because Jesus had the weight of all our sins on Him at that moment and God is so holy that even Jesus was separated from His presence by that sin.

When we sin now, something similar, albeit less drastic, happens. We turn away from God and experience a degree of separation.

Imagine that we’re in a room and talking. You can see my face and my gestures and look into my eyes and I can do likewise. Then you turn your back to me. I’m still in the room with you, and we can still talk, but something has changed. The lines of communication are not what they were before you turned away.

When we sin, we do something similar with God. We turn away from Him (note that it is we who are turning, not Him) and so rob ourselves of the fullness of His presence. We don’t get His wisdom, His peace, His sense of love, or to enjoy perfect faith in Him to look out for our best interests. We’re still saved, but we’re not taking full advantage of what God is offering us.

When someone wrongs you, they’re doing the same thing. They’re separating themselves from the fullness of God they were meant to enjoy. That penalty is far higher than anything that could happen to them on earth. The only reason we don’t see it as a big deal is because we’re already not as close to God as He wants us to be. That separation, though, is very real and of immense importance. They’re taking more away from themselves than you or the law could ever take from them. So when they harm you, you may be justified in being angry (Ephesians 4:26 says to be angry, but not sin), but remember that what they’re doing to themselves is far worse than what they’re doing to you. If anything, they need understanding and compassion more than bitterness or lashing back. There is no punishment worse than separation from our Creator, our Father, and our God.

The Nature of Sin, Part 3

The true reason we must forgive others is that our salvation is based on faith. Jesus died for you and all you have to do to take advantage of that is believe that His sacrifice was enough to pay for your sins. There’s a catch, though: He died for everyone else, too.

In other words, if His sacrifice is for everyone, then you have to choose whether to believe it’s powerful enough to forgive everyone or to forgive no one. There’s no middle ground third option here. Because the root of every sin is choosing yourself over God, the actual mode in which you choose to sin, be it cussing someone out or killing someone, is irrelevant as far as the judgment from God you earn for yourself. One sin, one choice of you instead of Him, is a choice of death everlasting instead of life. And we have all made that choice, most of us many, many times.

This makes your faith in God to forgive others and yourself the same. If you choose not to forgive others, you put yourself in the Judgment Throne of God (which is not exactly your rightful place) and essentially say that Jesus’ blood is insufficient to pay for their sins. If you believe that, then you concurrently believe it’s not enough for your sins, either. Differentiating between your sins and theirs doesn’t work because it’s not your judgment of the importance of the sins that counts; it’s God’s right to judge.

God wants us to have faith in Him and in His Son. We don’t have that faith if we have grudges. And if we don’t have that faith, how can we expect to be forgiven? Let go of your grudges and resentment against others and yourself. Once you truly believe that all sins are equal in God’s eyes and that you have the chance to be forgiven for many times more than what you’re forgiving, forgiving others will come naturally, especially as your faith in these things grows.

A Blank Page

I heard a quip once from a male comic: I thought I was perfect; then I got married. 

I feel that way sometimes. Marriage between two imperfect people will never make either of them perfect. It’s possible they’ll smooth off each other’s rough edges, but even that takes a usually painful grinding process. And there will always be flaws in ourselves, little bits of our lives that we’re often selfish in, and marriage will bring these out for you and your spouse to see.

The amazing thing about my wife is she’s the most forgiving person I know. Every day, I seem to start with a blank page. Past wrongs are forgiven and left in the past. I admire this trait very much about her, especially since I struggled for so long with so many grudges.

God is even better at it than she is, though. God doesn’t play favorites, forgiving some people more easily than others. He doesn’t forgive most sins while holding the really bad ones against you for a while. He doesn’t find a way to blame Himself so He can forgive you more easily. He doesn’t make you earn your place or His trust again. In fact, He knows just how unworthy of His trust you are.

And He welcomes you back with open arms every time. There may or may not be punishment for what you’ve done, for Hebrews 12:6 says He chastises us when we’re wrong, but there will never be rejection. Just two scarred hands reaching out to hug you and welcome you home.