One of the guiding values that I promote is that forgiveness is necessary for each of us to live the preferred life that God intends for us. It is a necessary part of our 360 degree existence.
I recently did a simple search on the internet asking the question “what are the effects of forgiveness?” The Mayo clinic’s website listed these benefits from the practice of forgiveness:
1) Healthier relationships
2) Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
3) Less anxiety, stress and hostility
4) Lower blood pressure
5) Fewer symptoms of depression
6) Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse
They go on to say that “the act of forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”
So how does forgiveness work in our relationship with God?
I think that most of us are self-aware enough to realize that we are fundamentally flawed creatures who daily violate the will of God. But we also have a hunger to be complete, whole – to strive for the perfect image of what God wants us to be which leads us on a search for redemption. We seek to be freed from our bad habits, our character flaws, and our sinful nature that we battle with minute by minute, day by day.
We all see the manifestation and results of our soul corruption. It is evident in our feelings, our thoughts, and our actions. Many of us were taught that we needed to avoid, suppress, control or battle through our feelings of anger, depression, guilt, and insecurity. To continue to give with these feelings was a sign of weakness or that we did not have the faith to believe in God’s power to set us free. The same was true for our thoughts – the ones we have about our neighbor’s possessions or the opposite sex that flaunts our covetous nature or immorality. We need think about other things that are pure, holy, and worthy of our Christian identity. Then the ultimate portrayal of our brokenness comes forth through our actions – the unintentional or intentional harm that we inflict, the cheating, lying, dishonest practices or the disruptive bad habits. The combination of these three tells the story of our need for forgiveness and liberation but “where does our help come from?” Are salvation and redemption possible?
For centuries the Christian community has been speaking about redemption and its ultimate source – the living God. Several of the Biblical writers speak of its power and effect on humanity. The Psalmist describes it as the nature, the character of God. In Psalm 103 the writer speaks of God’s character as “steadfast in love, and faithful from generation to generation.” God patiently waits for us to seek His forgiveness; the desire of God isn’t to rebuke and punish rather it is to embrace and forgive. And not only forgive but to also remove our sins as “far as the east is from the west.” The writer of Isaiah says that God chooses “to remember our sins no more.” Not only does God want to forgive and will, but God will also let the past go; remove our sins from His memory. I love that perspective and belief it because it is intended to help us understand two things:
1) God is forgiving – God’s character is forgiveness and He is pursuing each of us for that divine purpose.
2) When we are forgiven God forgets and so can we – we are granted the freedom and power to let go of our past sins; they do not have power over us anymore because God has removed them as far as the east is from the west.
And more thing – many of us are convinced that we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness or that God can’t forgive us but here is the divine scandal – God doesn’t care what we think or believe about what we deserve or don’t deserve. God’s one desire is to extend to you and to me his eternal, life-transforming forgiveness and grace. Paul Tillich in his sermon “To Whom Much is Forgiven” said these words: “God’s forgiveness is unconditional. There is no condition whatsoever in man which would make him worthy of forgiveness. If forgiveness were conditional, conditioned by man, no one could be accepted and no one could accept himself. God’s forgiveness is independent of anything we do, even of self-accusation and self-humiliation.”
Now this leaves me with only one other question to wrestle with and it is this one: how do I know that I am really forgiven by God?
When I offend my wife, a parishioner, or a teammate I can say “I am sorry” and hopefully see in their eyes and hear the words “I forgive you.” But not with God – God is transcendent, does not appear to us or send us a telegram or email to give us confirmation of His forgiveness. So how do we really know?
I guess for me the application of this comes through words of the Lord’s Prayer. “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I believe that forgiveness is applied in equal measure by God according to how we practice forgiveness with others. If we are not practicing forgiveness, then we experience less and less of the forgiveness of God. To know the forgiveness of God means to “live” the forgiveness of God.
So let me share with you how this is practiced in our daily lives. Mary Morrissey wrote a book titled “Building Your Field of Dreams” in which she outlines three facets of forgiveness. First we have to look beyond people’s action and faults to see them as the broken person that they are; to see them as God sees them. All of us are fracture creatures. We all have our faults and fissures so we need to remember that we aren’t perfect and neither are the people we deal with day in and day out. So see them through the eyes of God’s love and grace. Second remember that we don’t know the full story. We read people by the exterior appearance of what is going on in their lives and yet we don’t really know what is under the surface. We don’t know exactly what is on their heart, their mind or is going on in their lives. But God does know what is happening and God chooses to forgive; so should we. Finally she says to practice forgiveness for yourself. Spend time each day in prayer, meditation and confession so that you can let go of your sins and experience forgiveness. These are the ways that we can begin to practice and know forgiveness – with others and God.
So take a moment to reflect on your shortcomings, failures and sins for today. Now pray a simple prayer of confession and repentance. In the name of Jesus Christ you have been forgiven and you are free. So go forth and forgive.
Blessings for the journey.