Forgiving Ourselves (Forgiveness, week 2 of 2)

The video for week 2 of forgiveness can be watched at the bottom of this page.

Bible readings: Romans 8:1-17, John 3:3-8.

Many years ago I read a story which I now can’t track, but the details, at least for our purpose this morning, aren’t important.  The story was of a woman who lived and died homeless.  But when her affairs were sorted it was discovered she was a millionaire, by inheritance.  Apparently she knew she had the money; she just couldn’t make the adjustment to the change in her fortunes.  She knew how to live homeless, and she knew no other way to live, and handling money and property for which she had no skills, was so scary for her that she chose to stay on the street.

It isn’t my business to bring judgement on that, but it is my business to draw a parallel to your spiritual life and mine.

You see we just completed a six week journey through Romans 1-8 in which I hope it became crystal clear that we have been made right with God because of our faith in Jesus.  The guilt of our sin has been removed and we have been planted into God’s family.

There is, as Paul write in Romans 8, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  And nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Last week we looked at the very important business of forgiving others.  It is so important that Jesus taught that it is absolutely necessary for us to forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart, as often as is necessary.

It is for your own welfare that you forgive others the wrongs they have done you, so hatred doesn’t make its permanent nest in your heart.  But it also gives the best chance of good happening in the face of evil.

But there remains a very important side of forgiveness that can be very difficult for us, and it links back to Romans 7 especially, and that is the business of us forgiving ourselves.

This language actually isn’t directly biblical, so it doesn’t get discussed too much.  As a result I hope this morning doesn’t sound more like a pep talk than a bible study.

If someone wrongs you, you have the right to forgive them, whether they are sorry or not.  This is clear enough.  It can be hard, especially if the wrong done has caused you great grief.

But what if you did the wrong?  What if you caused the grief?  What if you did something that caused the death of another person?  What if, for example, you knew you were tired but you kept driving, you caused an accident and someone was killed?

Suppose another family lost a father or a mother or a child, and it was your fault – they might or might not forgive you, but how would you forgive yourself?

Strictly speaking it doesn’t make sense, because you are not the one wronged, so you don’t get to forgive.  But at another level, you blame yourself for the wrong done, you hold yourself guilty, and internally you set yourself the punishment of everlasting suffering.  Why should you not suffer when they are forced to suffer because of you?

I set the case as an extreme one so you can see how hard it can be, but there is worse.  Remember Corrie ten Boom’s guard from Ravensbruck from last week?  With a wakened conscience, how is he to forgive himself for the atrocities he committed?  That was what he was doing talking to Corrie – he needed to hear it from her, because he was still trying to work it out for himself.

And of course there are countless smaller cases that wear us down by degrees.  But they are still of the same kind.

There are a couple of things to remember about forgiveness.  (1) forgiveness does not make the wrong okay.  It actually declares it to be so clearly wrong that the only antidote in the world is forgiveness.  (2) forgiveness leaves the ultimate judgement in the hands of God.

“But,” you say, “I don’t deserve to walk free.”  And it is true.  But no one deserves to walk free.  Not one.  What good does it do the world that everyone is a prisoner to their sins and bad choices?  What good does it do the victim that you punish yourself forever?  What good does it do God?

The thing is, it does no good at all, only more evil.  This is the trap.  What we need is deliverance from the trap so the cycle of evil can be broken.  And of course it has been.

It is true that you don’t deserve it, but Jesus has delivered you from the power of sin.  He has paid the price, taken your place.

Maybe you once took that as a light thing, or a theoretical thing, that stood a distance from you, and “thank you” seemed a sufficient response to a problem you didn’t really understand.

But here you feel your guilt.  You know you don’t deserve to be free, you have no right to be free, especially if the ones you hurt are still suffering.

How could the guard from Ravensbruck accept God’s freedom when so many died at his hands, when so many living still suffered terrible because of him?  Can’t you see the injustice of his freedom?  Perhaps it even makes you angry.

Forgiveness isn’t about justice, it’s about healing.  Justice isn’t the cure for evil, it’s just the natural consequence.  And the natural consequence leads to more suffering.  That is the outworking of the law of sin and death.  But Jesus has created a new kingdom in which the law of sin and death no longer applies.

In Jesus’ kingdom, the law is forgiveness and life.  And instead of evil producing endless cycles of suffering, in Jesus’ kingdom, forgiveness breaks the cycle of suffering and produces freedom.  And it is available to perpetrator and victim equally.  It is available to the victim to forgive, and to the perpetrator to be forgiven.

Do you hear that – forgiveness is available to perpetrator and victim alike, to as a result freedom is available equally to both.

Now if you think this is unjust, you are right.  Paul wrote correctly that all have sinned and justly deserve God’s condemnation.  But it is God’s desire to set the guilty free and create a new world from the ashes of the old.

But this can only happen when guilty human being accept the forgiveness they are offered.  There is no other way.

So please, won’t you hear again the desperate call of Jesus?  Look again at the cross he died on, in a desperate attempt to set you free.  Do you want it to be in vain?  Do you want to resist the good God is trying to do, because he desperately needs to do it in you, or it will fail.

We need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us do this, because it can be very hard.  We need to hand our guilt over to God, and let God deal with it.  You must get free from your self-condemnation, or you will continue to feed the world’s suffering.

And we need to be here together in church, as people working out how forgiven, free people in the Kingdom of God are supposed to live.  The world around us isn’t living that way, so this is the place to be if you want to live this life in Jesus.

Video of week 2 of forgiveness, readings and message, runs 26:41.

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