How many of us struggle with that word?
According to the new bastion of knowledge known as Wikipedia, forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which one who may initially feel victimized, undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding a given offense, and overcomes negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance (however justified it might be).
According to Merriam-Webster, synonyms for forgiveness include absolution, amnesty, and pardon.
Of course, most of us are familiar with theses ideas regarding forgiveness. Many of us work hard at being forgiving to others who have harmed or wronged us. Certainly, our work on being forgiving is vitally important to our Christian discipleship, but today I want to look at the other part side of this equation, and that is accepting forgiveness. Because if you are anything like I am, some of the greatest grudges I hold on to are the ones about the wrongs I have done to others and to God.
Many of us are our greatest critics. While that can be a positive thing in our personal growth and development, this trait can keep us from being the faithful follower of Christ we might otherwise be, as it weighs us down like the yoke Jesus refers to in Matthew Chapter 11.
What made me think of this was a recent night of insomnia I had. After tossing and turning and trying a second melatonin, I finally got up and went to the living room and began channel-surfing. There were no sporting events on, and I had already seen the news. I did, however, find a late-night preacher whose yelling into the camera woke me up completely.
This man was red-faced and angry. He was angry because according to him, God is very angry at us. All of us!
The message was that we are all assured of hell unless “we get right with God.” These corrupt, fake preachers (who are destroying Christianity) have falsely led some to believe that we have been forgiven but unless we appease God, we will feel His wrath and eternal damnation.
I stayed on the channel longer than I intended.
Because I kept waiting on the narrative to switch and for some good news to arrive. And while the hope of salvation was there, it was much more dependent on me and my getting right with God. (Though I never was sure what that entailed…other than feeling a lot of guilt and donating to the ministry via the 800 number or the website.)
This message and theology bothered me greatly. Because, friends, if the Bible tells us anything about the nature of God, who created all that is and called it good, then it is the message that God forgives. God loves to forgive. Like a loving parent God rejoices in forgiveness. In fact, the entire Biblical narrative is a story of God’s overflowing grace and forgiveness.
This trait of God was well known by the Hebrew nation. For example, the reason Jonah ran from Nineveh was not that he feared the work. Instead, according to the story, it was because he was afraid God might forgive those Ninevites whom Jonah wanted to see destroyed. (By the way God did forgive them.)
In Micah, the prophet tries to express God’s forgiving nature to the people of Israel. Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of this is quite powerful.
Micah 7:18-20 The Message
Where is the god who can compare with you— wiping the slate clean of guilt, Turning a blind eye, a deaf ear, to the past sins of your purged and precious people? You don’t nurse your anger and don’t stay angry long, for mercy is your specialty. That’s what you love most. And compassion is on its way to us. You’ll stamp out our wrongdoing. You’ll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean. You’ll stay true to your word to Father Jacob and continue the compassion you showed Grandfather Abraham— Everything you promised our ancestors from a long time ago.
God forgives us. God loves us. The question is will we accept that forgiveness so we can move from living in the past to rejoicing in the beauty of the present.
I remember a story from I think either a Reader’s Digest or Guidepost magazine. It was the story of a priest who was serving as a missionary in the Philippines. This priest struggled with forgiveness. It seems that years before, as a seminarian, this priest had committed a terrible sin he'd kept secret from everyone. Everyone, that is, except God. Time and again he tearfully confessed it to his Lord, he offered penitence, but he never felt forgiven.
It so happened that there was a woman in this priest’s parish who had a reputation as a mystic and a direct medium to heaven. She even claimed to have the ability to speak to Jesus in visions. The priest was skeptical. Thinking to expose her as a fraud, he said to her one day, “The next time you speak with Christ, do me a favor. Ask him what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary.”
The next time he saw the woman, the priest asked if she had talked with Christ. She had.
“And did you ask him what sin I committed?”
“Yes, I asked him.”
“Well, what did he say?”
“He said, ‘I don’t remember.’”
I do not know if this woman had had a vision from Jesus or not, but I do know the answer given was correct because its truth is found in the Holy Scriptures.
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (Micah7:18 NIV)
Friends, a very popular line from a song in the Disney movie Frozen is “Let it Go.”
That is what I encourage all of us to do. To earnestly ask for forgiveness and then let it go – not in the sense that we forget and do not learn from our mistakes, but from the burden that holds us back from the full life we are offered.
Friends, hear the Good News and believe—in Jesus Christ you are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.