I'm Forgiven1:27 PM
In this life
I know what I've been,
But here in Your arms,
I know what I am:
And I don't have to carry
The weight of who I've been
'Cause I'm forgiven.
Human forgiveness is pretty choppy and underdone.
"I forgive you," we say, while inside we're still stewing. "I forgive you," we say, then resent her when she walks away happy and free. "I forgive you" -- we say this over and over to the same person for the same sin, and each time we mean it less and less.
In fact, those words rarely mean anything to me. Not when I say them. Not unless I particularly like the person or my happiness is at stake.
This image of my split personality haunts me whenever I make the mistake and am standing before the offended party asking for mercy. Do you realize how presumptuous Will you forgive me? truly is? Do you realize what you're asking? It's not Elmer's glue to patch up a relationship or words we're taught to say as kids after a sibling spat. It's admitting, "I sinned against you. Big time. You're hurt. I'm horrible. I don't deserve anything but condemnation and anger. And here I am asking you to not hold this against me. To act as if it never happened. To ignore those justified feelings of anger, hurt and bewilderment. To smile at me, take my hand, hold me close and say, 'I choose to love you.'"
That's an idiotic request. Ludicrous. Selfish, maybe? Audacious, certainly.
Yet that's what we're supposed to ask for. We go to the person against whom we sinned, we make restitution for anything we're able to (but doesn't truly atone for the sin, ultimately), and then we ask this offensive question. We deserve judgment and justice. And we boldly, humbly, presumptuously ask for mercy and grace.
No wonder most extensions of forgiveness seem hollow and halfhearted. That's a tall order for the offended party to even consider, much less deliver. And no wonder most offenders walk away from the will-you-forgive-me encounter just as shackled and guilty as ever. Maybe more so than before.
I love asking forgiveness for accidents and misunderstandings: that keeps forgiveness at the Elmer's glue level. They're just words I say to let the other person know I'm not mad and that I want to keep working on the relationship. I look all good and Christian-y by being "humble" enough to "swallow my pride" and "ask for forgiveness."
I hate asking forgiveness when I genuinely blow it. No legitimate excuses, no understandable misunderstandings, no explanations, just flat out, classic, uncalled for sin. It's mortifying. It's humiliating. It's terrifying. Because I know that it's a ridiculous request and if at all accepted, it probably won't be genuine -- just a word cover-up for blistering hurt, disappointment and resentment.
Yes, my faith in humanity isn't very optimistic. This translates over into my faith in God. I don't precisely picture Him as resentful as fallible humans, but my response to His forgiveness remains the same -- cringing, crying, crawling, curling up in the fetal position. He may forget my sin and remove it from me as far as east and west, but I certainly don't.
Last night gave me a glimpse into God's heart -- what He means, what He thinks, what He feels when He extends forgiveness when I repent.
I got frustrated while playing a game with my boyfriend over Skype -- flipped the laptop over, knocking off the external camera, and just lay there on my bed, immediately mortified, scared, angry with myself and lost as to how to explain and fix this emotional breakdown. It was too late to simply ignore or laugh off my frustration: I'd have to admit I lost my temper (how childish! how idiotic! how immature and sinful and humiliating!) and apologize. Ugh. And every minute I lay there increased my anxiety, worsened my position, made me look even more immature. I finally got back to the game, knowing I'd blown everything (again), but I left the camera upside down and staring at the ceiling. No way would I go face to face in front of someone I loved deeply after being such a jerk. Then I started sobbing out of sheer confusion -- I wanted to be good (or I wanted to look good, couldn't distinguish the two), and I wasn't, and I had no idea how to start stumbling in that general direction. Oh, sure -- ask forgiveness. And he would "forgive me," of course, but he wouldn't mean it. That made me cry harder.
Then he said my name. He wanted to see me. He wanted to know what was wrong -- really, truly. He wasn't angry, and if he was disappointed, he never showed it. He didn't think I was an idiot. He didn't love me less.
Since I couldn't see a way out, I gave up and asked the line people do whenever they get stumped in a game or a spelling bee or a confusing conversation: "Can we start over?"
"Sure," he said. "Will you date me?" Yes. "Can I see my girlfriend now?"
And when I finally set the camera back up and rubbed off the tear trails scuttling down my cheeks, I asked his forgiveness and he forgave me. He later noted, "You have this 'Wow, is he really just going to do this?' or 'This is his reaction?' kind of expression, then you melt into 'I don't deserve this' or 'He is so so awesome.'"
And he's right. I'm surprised by grace, every single time. It's overwhelming. It feels like having the prison doors flung open wide after the first day of my prison sentence for murder. That's it? Seriously? What? How? Why?
I never felt that way with a person before. Forgiveness is a divine act, and few humans, few Christians (even strong, smart, otherwise loving ones) are so attune to God's heart that they can forgive so completely. And this is how God forgives.
When we mess up, God isn't sagging in His throne groaning with disappointment. He doesn't tap His foot with impatience and disgust while waiting for us to collect the pieces of our broken, sinful heart and cringe into His presence. He doesn't send a pack of fiery angels to flagellate our souls until we atone for our heinous crime. He doesn't recoil from our filth, for He sees Christ's righteousness clothing us.
Remember the prodigal son's father? That's our heavenly Father. When we ask for forgiveness, we're not creeping into the throne room where a trial about our recent sin is ongoing. He's out looking for His lost sheep, calling us by name, and when He finds us, He comes running. He tries to tilt up our downcast face, hold us close, bring us back while we shove Him away and say, "Wait, don't, I can't, I'm not worthy." He assures us His loves remains just as available and infinite as before. He hushes our protestations of sinfulness by pointing to the cross: "What are you talking about? It's finished."
You're forgiven. It's over. It's done.
My unbelieving heart wants to sit in my cell when the prison doors fly wide open and my heavenly Father stands right there with arms flung open even wider. It's too good to be true: I just walk out into the greatest love available as if nothing happened. That's all. But what about change? What about not committing the sin again? It's not in the cold cell with only me, my past and my sin that I change. It's in that love, that forgiveness, that overwhelming, undeserved grace that change happens.
I get up. I go out. I take His hand and look up into His face. And now I have a reason to live again.