Too many Christians spend too much time trying to placate a God who will not be satisfied with anything they do, simply because He dislikes them so much.
Despite this being an inaccurate understanding of the intimate relationship between a loving, gracious, merciful Father and His vulnerable children, it is the misconception under which a large number of believers labor. The result is that we feel unsettled, unloved, insecure in a relationship that is meant to bring us joy and peace.
A critical foundation for this relationship of love is forgiveness — something we earthly parents do with our children all the time, with the ultimate hope that, as our children grow and mature, they also will learn by our example.
So it is with God, as He forgives us, a topic I addressed in an earlier article, 5 Things to Know about Forgiveness. The problem is, we can’t believe that He means it, and verses like Matthew 6:14-15 trip us up:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
That sounds scary.
Fulfilling the Law, or Not
But then again, so does everything in Matthew chapter 6 — which addresses prayer, fasting, giving, and not worrying — and the antecedent chapter 5, which starts with the Beatitudes, is worse: murder, adultery, divorce, making oaths, taking revenge, loving our enemies: it doesn’t matter how holy we think we are, those of us who are honest can skim through the chapter and find something that we don’t fulfill.
And as James helpfully points out in 2:10,
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
So if we’ve run an even mildly libidinous eye over the sculpted, or buxom, chest of another, no matter how briefly, we’ve just cheated on our spouse. Let’s gouge out our right eyes. (Matthew 5:27-29).
(There is strong, strong, logic to the argument that not every verse in the Bible is to be taken literally.)
So let’s go back to Matthew 6:14-15: Does this truly mean that, if we harbor feelings of resentment — toward another person — that we just can’t get rid of, then God turns His back on us? And He keeps it turned until we generate those warm, happy feelings toward the scumbag who ruined our life and isn’t suffering any consequences from his rapacious, predatory, prehensile, poisonous personality?
Worse yet, this creep, if he repents, has the potential to a good end, because of God’s rich mercy:
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Colossians 1:13-14),
but for some reason, we’re permanently stuck looking at God’s back.
Afraid of God
There’s something wrong with this picture.
When we operate under the fear that we must forgive someone, NOW, because if we don’t then God won’t forgive us, the result is, not only an imperfect forgiveness toward the person who harmed us, but a weak understanding of the concept in the first place. It’s akin to the people who come to a gracious, forgiving, loving and perfect God because they’re afraid that, if they don’t, He’ll send them to hell.
It’s very, very difficult to love and trust someone when our relationship is based upon this foundation.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord in Isaiah 1:18.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
These sound like measured words from a reasonable Person. Hating someone, harboring resentment, nursing grievances and encouraging them to grow — even when the dirtball against whom we direct our malice deserves every bit of it — is a sin, but rather than run our faces into the wall and break our nose (or worse yet, think vaguely that God’s hand is behind our heads, pushing), we can sit down with a reasonable God and lay our feelings and hurt and frustration and pain before Him.
He’s not asking us to act as if the hurt doesn’t exist; He’s asking us to give it to Him to take care of:
“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” Deuteronomy 32:35 informs us. But wait, it gets even better:
“In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”
Evil Does Not Triumph over Good
Evil is avenged, my friends. And the beauty of it all, the mystery of it all is that, for even those who do the greatest evil, forgiveness is a procurable option:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
All we have to do is ask. And when we ask, He answers, and part of that answer is to “purify us from all unrighteousness,” with the ultimate goal that we no longer think and act the way the world does, but are transformed by the renewing of our minds to something higher, better, deeper, grander, holier (Romans 12:2).
Transformation is a process, just as forgiveness is, and when we spend all our time worrying that God will condemn us if we don’t properly forgive the person who has hurt us, then we are unable to go before our loving Father, with confidence, and say,
“Dear Father — I want to forgive this person, but the hurt he/she did is so deep, that I can’t get past it. Will you please help me?”
What would we answer, if a child of ours came to us with a question like that?
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage us to make understanding God’s unfathomable love, a part of our prayer and meditation (it’s certainly an improvement over thinking foul thoughts about nasty people).
Posts complementing this one are
Child of God: You Are Much Beloved
Accidents Happen, But You’re Not One of Them