And I will forgive their wickedness,
and I will never again remember their sins.
Hebrews 8:12 (NLT)
When I embrace a subtle misunderstanding of a core spiritual truth, my compass moves a degree or two off True North. It may not matter as I’m standing in place or for short distances, but over life’s journey it can result in me being completely off course.
I have observed in myself and in others a subtle misunderstanding of God’s teaching on forgiveness that makes a huge difference in the course of our spiritual trajectory. Without noticing it, we reject, misunderstand and ignore God’s truth about forgiveness.
God’s Message makes it clear that Jesus died once for all in sacrificial payment for our sins. In doing so He freely offers forgiveness for our sins past, present and future. As stated in today’s chapter, God remembers our sins no more. However, rather than embrace this forgiveness which was dearly bought and freely offered, we often choose to cling to the deep feelings of shame and guilt which have woven themselves into our thoughts, words and actions. We shackle ourselves to the shame of our wrongs past and present. We live under the dark cloud it spreads over our souls.
Having quietly rejected the gift of forgiveness Jesus paid for and offers, still living under the cloud of guilt and shame, we set about to do something about it ourselves. We do good deeds, we clean ourselves up, we do nice things for others, and we give a little money to a good cause. We even go to church. The motivation for all of these altruistic actions, however, are not gratitude at what Jesus did in forgiving us (past tense) but in the subtle hope that they might eventually earn His forgiveness (it’s therefore not what Jesus did, but we are doing that makes forgiveness possible). I’m not motivated out of gratitude of what has been done for me but by hope that what I’m doing might pay off in the end. Any actor worth his salt knows that the motivation behind the action makes all the difference in the world.
We are now quietly going about to try to be good and earn our forgiveness on a set of internal scales we’ve created for ourselves. On these scales we weigh our sins and wrong doing against all of the good things we’ve been trying to do. This, in turn, affects how we deal with forgiving others who’ve wronged us. If my sins are freely and completely forgiven by Jesus and He is not holding any of my wrongs against me, how can I in good conscience turn and refuse to forgive another person for perpetrating an injury of some kind on me? I can’t. If, however, I am daily operating under the notion that I am working hard to be good and earn God’s forgiveness then the rules for how I treat others completely change. Now I can look at the perpetrator and weigh them out on the same scale I’m using for myself. I know that I’m working hard at being good and making God happy, but the only thing I see in them is that they have done bad and injured me. The scale is clearly tipped in my favor. I’m doing good and they have done bad. My resolute anger, my seething hatred, and my deep-set grudge are all perfectly justified when weighed out on my own internal scale of justice.
I refused to embrace the truth that I am truly and completely forgiven by God, not because of what I’ve done but because of what Jesus did for me. I’ve continued to try to overcome my feelings of guilt and shame with an endless stream of good deeds in the mistaken notion that I can somehow earn some kind of spiritual Eagle Scout badge and receive the accompanying reward of forgiveness. I’ve leveraged this false spiritual economy into justifying my own anger, hatred and grudges toward others.
How quickly being a degree or two off in my understanding of forgiveness can lead me far afield from where I should be in my relationship with God, myself and others.
Today, I’m embracing God’s forgiveness and giving up my mistaken notion that it has anything to do with what I have done, am doing, or will do. I’m re-evaluating my relationships with others and choosing to give up my self-righteous internal scales of justice… and forgive.