5 Reasons to Forgive

I’ve been working again on forgiving people. I find that when I’m stressed about my life, I look for people to blame for my current situation. Sometimes, it’s God, though that’s not very common anymore. It can be others for certain things, but it’s usually myself. I’ve made many poor decisions over the course of my life. I neglected to invest in Apple, Amazon, and Google when they were relatively cheap. I did invest too much in a stock I thought I understood, but which plummeted. I was often difficult to be around during college and my first two jobs. I hurt so many people along the way, and none so deeply as myself.

There are a few things I’ve realized, however:

1. I can’t change the past by dwelling on it. I can learn lessons, I can apologize, and I can make amends, but I can’t go back and make better investment decisions. I can’t take missed opportunities or shut my mouth at certain times. What’s in the past is done; it’s only the future that I can change. By dwelling on the past, I waste my future as well.

2. I will make worse decisions if I can’t let go of my bad ones. There are lessons to be learned from my past, such as not letting my employer work me 60 or more hours a week, but if I focus on my bad decisions, I’ll believe I’ll only make bad ones in the future. That will lead me to procrastinate, causing me to miss more opportunities, or give up and pick the easiest option under the assumption that no matter what I pick, I’ll be wrong. I can make the best decisions when my thought process isn’t getting its information solely from my past.

3. I can’t believe what God says about me if I can’t forgive myself. The Bible says I’m a child of God, that I’m forgiven if I believe in Him. I reject my identity as His son if I don’t believe I’m forgiven for my sins. This means I can’t have confidence, which in turn causes me to seek a sense of self-worth elsewhere, which will inevitably end in failure, perpetuating the cycle. Only by forgiving myself can I end this cycle.

4. I reject God when I refuse to forgive myself. This one sounds harsh because there are a number of Christians who still harbor grudges against themselves, but if Jesus died to forgive me, what right have I to say that His death wasn’t enough? In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-15, Jesus tells His disciples that if they don’t forgive others, they won’t be forgiven. It’s not just a quid pro quo statement, it’s a matter of faith. If I don’t believe that His death was enough for not only me, but for everyone else who believed as well, then it’s not enough for anyone. It’s the ultimate all-or-nothing deal. I can accept that His forgiveness covers all the sins of everyone who comes to Him, or I can reject it for myself.

5. My mistakes don’t matter that much. This life is but a blink compared to eternity. The things that we think matter so much don’t. A big house is nice, but at best, it’s a comfort for a few years compared to a mansion in Heaven for untold billions of years. I’d love to have my dream job, but it’s still just the tiniest fragment of time compared to what I’ll have when I die. Even my relationship with Leah, though I love her passionately, would not mean much if her value was just in the good times we share together or in help through the bad times. It’s her value in helping me draw closer to God and serving Him better that really makes our relationship worthwhile. In all things, the cares of this world and even the needs of this world pale in comparison to the slightest treasure in Heaven. I have to stop judging my life by my successes or failures on earth and instead judge it by the two things that matter most to God: how much I love Him and how much I love others.

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Pictorial Christianity

Leah and I have been using The Screwtape Letters as something of a devotional. We disagree with Lewis’ notion that you can lose your salvation, but many of the points he makes are poignant and convicting.

In the second letter, Screwtape tells Wormwood of his displeasure in Wormwood’s patient becoming a Christian, but then tries to give him advice on correcting this using the church. Not the eternal church itself, but rather the brick building and the annoying habits of those in the pew next to him.

“At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual, but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armor and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real – though of course an unconscious – difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like.”

This quote is directly after an encouragement to point out to his patient that his neighbor in the pew sings loudly and out of tune or that someone else has squeaky boots. In annoying his patient with minor things that are not sinful or spiritual in any way, Wormwood may make him believe that the religion these annoying people have is ridiculous nonsense.

I’d like to say that I’m above this, but it’s fair only to say that I’ve improved. I’ve heard screamers in church, seen people dance in the aisles, and listened to the discord of a bad worship band. All of these things have distracted me from worshiping the God I love, the God who made and loves these people as well.

We should be aware of the standards we set on each other, standards for perfection in all the areas that matter to us. God doesn’t demand these things of us, but rather that we love Him with all of our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. Are we loving when we’re judging them for how they sing? For how they dress or laugh or whether they raise their hand in front of our faces during praise and so block us from seeing the lyrics on the screen? What do we expect of others? If it’s anything other than that they’re as fallen as we are, we expect too much.

We also need to keep in mind the difference between sins and annoyances. Someone shrieking out the hymns may be annoying, but that person is worshiping God. God created their voice and what they’re doing is right, not wrong. It’s not about keeping others’ wants in mind at that point because the worship of God is more important than the happiness of your ears. And if you’re really worshiping Him yourself, you won’t care how others do it, so long as it is not in a sinful way.

Lastly, we should be aware that non-Christians are applying these standards of perfection to us, however unfairly. Many Christians do it to them as well. The church seems to have lost the belief, even if the teaching is still sometimes heard, that we are, of ourselves, worthless, depraved, and doomed. It is through Christ that we are valuable, through Him that we are righteous, and through Him that we have a new identity. Becoming a Christian won’t make you perfect; it will only start you down a road you’ll be walking until the day you die. You won’t get there in this life, and the people you see along the way are only your fellow travelers, all in need of more of Him.