Forgiveness does not change the past but it does enlarge the future.
I heard this quote recently and was struck by the hope it inspires. So often we see forgiveness as just something that should be given to us and when it is our turn to forgive we find the task of forgiveness to be an abyss we cannot or will not cross.
Our forgiveness was purchased at great cost for God and his Son and but we find it difficult to forgive even the smallest of slights. When Peter asked Jesus how many times should we forgive…he quickly answers not just once but seventy-seven times or seventy times seven in some versions. There are many times when someone has wronged us and we want to forgive and we think we have forgiven but we cannot let go of the hurt and the pain it has caused us. Which keeps us dredging up those “sins” against us from the depths of the sea. But when God forgives it is also forgotten and thrown to the depth of the sea to be left forever. We, on the other hand, cannot or will not let the past go and this keeps us stuck in the muck and muddiness of the issue. It not only keeps the other person captive but it keeps us captive and stuck. There are “sins” that people might commit against us that we need to remember in order to not allow it to happen again, but we do not need to become stuck and wallow with it in the mud. Doing this keeps us from being washed clean by the blood of Jesus and allowing the person we feel has wronged us the blessing of being forgiven. While we are human and cannot necessarily be as forgiving as God, we can remember that God (Jesus) while he was in human form even prayed as he was hanging on the cross “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”. If Jesus can offer this forgiveness at a time when he had every right to hold on and be stuck in unforgiveness, then surely we can let go of the slights that have been done to us. Of course we cannot allow someone to continually “sin” against us and there does come a time when we have to make the hard decision to not allow him or her to be a part of our lives. We then need to ask God for the strength to forgive and the courage to set boundaries that will no longer allow that person to reign hurt and pain into our lives. This, I know from experience, is harder said than done. How do you set a boundary that will exclude someone from your life and help them to understand that while forgiveness has been offered, they are no longer welcome to “sin” against you. I always get stuck at this point, because while we want to have this boundary, were we not told to forgive “seventy-seven times” or “seventy times seven”? If we have forgiven them then shouldn’t we allow them full access to our lives again? And most importantly, doesn’t God continue to forgive us, over and over and over for the same ridiculous things that we do. But then I remember that I am not God, I am not perfect, I am not expected to be and that I am just a human being trying to live a life that is acceptable to God. I do my best and try to leave the rest to God.
Forgiveness of my “sins” was always on my mind as a child and I used to worry obsessively about the “unforgiveable sin” that is mentioned in Mark 3:28-29. We were limited only to the King James Version and the wording was frightening. “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. It was one of those scary concepts that the church I grew up in threw around to keep you scared and “in-line”. They made this sin seem like something that you could accidently commit and then all would be lost. What they failed to take into account was the context and to whom Jesus was speaking. This verse kept me in a state of anxiety and unrest for many years. When speaking of any sins, their teachings skipped over grace and focused solely on works. While they would occasionally mention grace, it was not the center of their faith. After we had left this church, as young adults, I was introduced to a new God, one that I had never been taught much about: The God of Love, the God of Grace and Forgiveness and when I found out this God loved me in spite of my sin; I finally found the peace that I had read about in the bible but had never really believed existed. The only peace I had known before was fleeting, I found peace in following the rules and laws that they had told me were necessary for salvation but it was an uneasy peace. A peace that came from fear and did not ever allow for being human and never were we assured of salvation. It was a pick and choose kind of religion, pick the verses or parts thereof that would scare you into believing that they were the only ones that would be saved and therefore if you believed and behaved like you were taught, then God would love you and might even save you from eternal damnation. And if you were not feeling the peace that God had promised then surely you were not living fully into the rules and regulations that the God they knew, was requiring of you. Therefore I had the challenging lesson of forgiving the religion that I was born into. I found this to be a difficult task to begin; I was angry and bitter that they could so terribly misrepresent God and the bible. But as the months and years went on I realized that they were preaching and teaching only what they were afraid not to preach and teach. They were stuck in this fear and did not know the God I had come to know and love. It was then that forgiveness came and I was able to let go of this “sin” that I felt they had committed against me and allow it to be dropped to the depth of the sea. I was able to set the boundary of not allowing them power to scare me into a set of beliefs and rules and I was free to try to live fully into the grace, forgiveness and peace that was promised through the blood of Christ. When I allowed myself to forgive, I was granted, by the grace of God, the peace that was promised and I no longer had to be tied to the sins of my past and my future truly was enlarged.
©Amber E Keithley 2014