Forgiveness – The Unexpected Gift of Freedom

It’s springtime here.  And it’s beautiful.  We moved last September to a tiny, hamlet-style town just 20 minutes from the city.  We love our new home…and neighbourhood.  I have absolutely no green-thumb, but my yards are completely (and meticulously) landscaped (from the previous owners).  Each time I bring the children outside to play, I’m constantly checking the shrubs and perennials that line our fence.  I check often because I have no clue if I’m supposed to be pruning off the dead, stick-like stems of what were once beautiful flowers just months ago, or if I should leave them in hopes of a miraculous, life-like appearance once again.  But each time I go outside, the signs of new life are everywhere.  The trees are budding and tiny, green shoots are peeking through the rock beds.  Each time I venture into my own backyard, I witness something new and alive.  It’s beautiful.  Miraculous!

It’s Sunday afternoon.  The thunder rolled and the rain poured.  The puddles are deep and wide.  Peacefully, my children napped through the storm.  After waking from her rest, my daughter took one look outside and her face awoke with excitement, eyes widened, a smile cracking, revealing an inner joy.  To add to the already blossoming excitement, she saw her friend already outside jumping in the puddles on our cul-de-sac.  I had the ultimate joy of sitting in my livingroom, watching the girls play on our street, running through the puddles and squealing as they chased their umbrellas which were tumbling around in the wind.  For some reason my five-year-old thought that having her umbrella run away on her was the most hysterical thing in the world.  I smiled, listening to the rain gently fall, and the squeals of glee, mixed with the all-out gutteral bursts of laughter coming from my daughter.  Is there anything more beautiful and peaceful than the joy that comes from listening to the sounds of your child’s laughter, or to witness their pure and innocent joy and happiness?

When we witness the happiness of our children, it brings a rush of joy to our hearts and souls.  Think about it.  Why do parents go to the ends of the earth to find that lost teddy bear?  Why do parents painfully pull out their wallets once again at the carnival when they see the pleading in their child’s eyes to play that game or ride that ride just one more time?  Why do we lavish gifts on our children at Christmastime (or Easter, or Valentine’s day, or for the really bad ones…Arbour day? ;))  If you’re like me, chances are you’ve probably even thought something similar to, “OK, I mean it.  This year, I’m going cheap.  They have more than enough toys.  They really don’t need anything!  A couple small gifts each.  That’s all they really need.”  The next thing you know, you’ve spent $400 at Costco (on the kids gifts alone) and you didn’t actually think through how you were going to get all of your purchases home.  Or maybe you’ve stood in line for hours (or days) on Black Friday awaiting the massive sales on toys – that special one your child has been eyeing for weeks.  Of course, I always think it’s sad how we rush out to get more stuff after we just finished celebrating Thanksgiving – the holiday where we are supposed to be thankful for the things we do own…but I digress.  Why do we put ourselves through all of that hassle?  I think it’s because, sometimes, we live for that moment – the build-up – when they finally open that gift and you get to see their widened eyes, their mouths open in awe, sometimes with squeals of delight or sometimes with no words at all – that moment where joy and happiness radiate off of your child.  At the core, we are selfish people.  Yes, we want to bring joy and happiness to our children, but being able to witness it – that does something for us as well.  It brings joy and happiness to us.  We can’t help but smile.  We might even shed a tear depending on the situation and we might even think, “Yup!  It was all worth it.”

Basking in the moment of listening to my daughter’s joy, I had to wonder if that’s how God feels about His children.  It only makes sense.  Having a child tends to reveal a depth of love which I don’t think most of us know we are even capable of producing.  The moment a child is brought into the world and placed into our care, instinct sets in.  Regardless of the kind of parent you are, regardless if you let your kids watch too much t.v. or none at all, regardless if you let them eat only chips for supper or if you provide a full-balanced meal, regardless if you scream at your kids sometimes or are completely calm and collected all of the time (you’re a liar by the way), regardless if your baby has sat in that poopy diaper for 20 minutes longer than he probably should have or if your child was potty trained right from birth, regardless if you live with your child or only get to see them every other weekend, regardless of our failings or shortcomings, when our child is threatened or hurt, that also does something to us.  We either rise up as an evil monster comes out of us to do whatever it takes to protect our child, or our hearts will break as we watch them suffer and learn the hard knocks of life on their own terms.  We are connected to them because they are our own and we love them.  Just like God is to us.

How He must hurt when we hurt.  How He must wish we wouldn’t have made some of the decisions we did.  How He must ache draw near and comfort us.  How He must want to guide us in healthy directions, keeping us from harm.  How He must yearn to take our place sometimes so we don’t have to go through the pain of learning or paying for our mistakes on our own.  Oh, wait.  He did.  Over 2000 years ago, on a cross, on a hill called Golgotha.  Because we are His own and He loves us.

Can you imagine how it must have felt to watch His only Son be tortured?  Spit on?  Mocked and ridiculed?  To witness the false accusations against Him and sit by and say nothing?

How deep the Father’s love for us?  How vast beyond all measure!  

For sending His only Son to die a death that was never deserved, He sure doesn’t ask for a lot in return.  As a loving Father, He seeks to steer us toward paths of righteousness – good things!  He desires to keep us from the hurt that this world brings.  He asks for our trust, our belief, and our obedience.  If you think of God in any manner but a kind, compassionate, and loving Father, you must think Him to be demanding, cruel, and a keeper from a life full of fun and happiness.

But just suppose for a moment He is Who He says He is.  Suppose for a moment that He actually is the way, the truth, and the life?  What if He is good?  What if He is kind?  What if He is the best example of what a loving parent ought to look like?  What if He actually tells the truth and means what He says?  At first glance, what God asks for in return – our trust, our belief, and our obedience – doesn’t seem all that impossible.  But when we take a closer look, these three little words have big implications on every aspect of our lives.  But I want to look at one specific area of obedience that Christ calls His children to – an area in which God has been teaching me a lot about lately –

Forgiveness.

Do you cringe when you hear that word?  Maybe you’re even thinking, “Oh, she’s going there?  Nope!”, and proceed to exit this webpage.  But if we haven’t fully forgiven, doesn’t it just mean that we aren’t spiritually mature enough to face that area of our lives?  Harsh, I know!  But nevertheless, true?

Two points I want to make right from the get-go:

  1. Forgiveness does NOT mean that you must continue in a relationship with somebody who has harmed you or hurt you.  Forgiveness takes only one person.
  2. Forgiveness is NOT the same as reconciliation.  Reconciliation takes two people.

So what IS forgiveness?  Forgiveness is the relinquishment of your desire for vengeance and justice against the person who has wronged you.  From her book, Passion Pursuit, Author Juli Slattery states,

You must understand that the forgiveness God has called you to, for yourself and others, does not compete with justice.  The loving Savior who hung on the cross is still the judge who is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He is still the Righteous One who says that, “Everything done in secret will be exposed.” (Mark 4:22)

But this righteous judge has another name: Redeemer.  He brings redemption for one reason – because He loves.

Forgiveness brings freedom – to you.  It has nothing to do with the person who has wronged you.  Extending forgiveness releases your hold of anger, vengeance, justice, grudges, and hostility – on yourself.  It frees you to be at peace.  It does not mean that when something unlawful has occurred, you refrain from making a report to the local authorities or don’t press charges.  It does mean that you:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, fault-finding] and slander be put away from you, along with every kind of malice [all spitefulness, verbal abuse, malevolence].

And instead, choose to:

Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and FREELY], just as God in Christ also forgave you.

Wow!  What a calling!  And yet…when we stop focusing on the sin of others and “look at the log (the bigger sins) in our own eye” (Matthew 7:3), we slowly come to a place of humility.  Before the perfect God in heaven, recognizing our own sin, we can’t help but fall prostrate in repentance.  In that very moment, forgiving others from their “debt” against us, becomes significantly easier.  But in that moment of our own sin recognition, we also come to a place where we realize that we must also forgive ourselves.  I would argue that, most often, forgiveness of self is the most difficult kind of forgiveness we could ever extend.  Upon realization of our own sin, self-forgiveness becomes almost impossible – because there are weights attached to it.  It would mean the relinquishment of guilt.  It would mean letting go of the shame we are burdened so heavily with.  It would mean freedom from our own personal vengeance and justice – letting go of the self-inflicted need to suffer for our sins.  It means letting go of your own pride – your independent desire “to settle your own score, pay your own bill, make your own way” (Passion Pursuit, p. 142).  Let me be very clear:

WE CANNOT SAVE OURSELVES.

BUT, we can, however, place ourselves in a similar posture of the woman from Luke 7, before the ultimate Savior and Redeemer.  Do you remember her?  This is the woman who had “sinned much”.  From Luke 7:36-50 (TLB):

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to come to his home for lunch and Jesus accepted the invitation. As they sat down to eat,

37 a woman of the streets—a prostitute—heard he was there and brought an exquisite flask filled with expensive perfume.

38 Going in, she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping, with her tears falling down upon his feet; and she wiped them off with her hair and kissed them and poured the perfume on them.

39 When Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, saw what was happening and who the woman was, he said to himself, “This proves that Jesus is no prophet, for if God had really sent him, he would know what kind of woman this one is!

40 Then Jesus spoke up and answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“All right, Teacher,” Simon replied, “go ahead.”

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—$5,000 to one and $500 to the other.

42 But neither of them could pay him back, so he kindly forgave them both, letting them keep the money! Which do you suppose loved him most after that?”

43 “I suppose the one who had owed him the most,” Simon answered.  “Correct,” Jesus agreed.  

44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look! See this woman kneeling here! When I entered your home, you didn’t bother to offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

45 You refused me the customary kiss of greeting, but she has kissed my feet again and again from the time I first came in.

46 You neglected the usual courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has covered my feet with rare perfume.

47 Therefore her sins—and they are many—are forgiven, for she loved me much; but one who is forgiven little, shows little love.”

48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 Then the men at the table said to themselves, “Who does this man think he is, going around forgiving sins?”

50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

Did you catch it?  “She knelt BEHIND Him, at His feet, weeping.”  This woman was at the lowest of lows in her town, her social class, and probably even her self-esteem.  She didn’t even feel worthy to kneel before Jesus’ feet; she knelt behind Him.  What sorrow and brokenness she must have brought before the Savior!  This woman had indeed, “sinned much”.  But where there is much sin, there is much forgiveness.  Where there is great sin, there is great redemption.

In order to forgive ourselves, we must believe that Jesus really is the TRUTH.  If He is true, what He says is also true.  Psalm 103:

vs. 3:  He forgives all my sins.  He heals me.

vs. 8-13:  He is merciful and tender toward those who don’t deserve it; He is slow to get angry and full of kindness and love.  He never bears a grudge, nor remains angry forever.  He has not punished us as we deserve for all our sins, for His mercy toward those who fear and honor Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.  He has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west.  He is like a father to us, tender and sympathetic to those who reverence Him.

Do you believe it?  If not, you are indeed calling God a liar.  God longs to forgive us.  “He is like a Father to us…”

Do you dare let go?  Do you dare cling to truth?  Do you dare believe that God forgives you and even calls you to forgive yourself?  In humility, in brokenness, in repentance, dare to approach your “tender and sympathetic” Father.  From 1 John 1:9,

But if we confess our sins, God WILL forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done.

God is that parent to us who longs to see us, His children, joyful and happy.  He hurts when we hurt; but how it must bring joy to God’s heart when He sees His children living in the freedom that He offers us, the freedom that His only Son died to purchase for us.  God delights in His children!  Psalm 149:4 states,

For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with victory.

Choose this very day to put your stake in the ground.  Claim the freedom and the miraculous newness of life that comes with forgiveness.  Run through those puddles and let out those squeals of glee, because you know that your tender and sympathetic, heavenly Father says to you, just like he said to the woman who had sinned much:

“YOU ARE FORGIVEN.  GO IN PEACE.”

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