Yesterday afternoon as I was driving home from church, something from my growing-up years suddenly flashed through my mind. It was not a pretty memory. I couldn't imagine what it was about the cars rushing past me at 80, 90 miles per hour on a Labor Day weekend that brought that ugly memory to my mind. It was enough to bring me to a screeching halt in the middle of the highway, but I kept going.
When I got home I thought about my unsettling flashback that had not occurred in decades. Why now? Why after a church service filled with fervent celebration of God's goodness? I don't know, but after I spoke to God about it, He said, "I don't remember it. Why are you allowing the enemy to torment you with this after all this time? I have forgiven you; now you forgive yourself."
Humbled and grateful, I said, "Thank you, Lord."
And I thought about forgiveness.
It's never an easy task to forgive someone who has wronged us. We can always say "I forgive you", but oftentimes we harbour the pain and resentment of whatever the act was. That is not what forgiveness means. If we cannot let go, if we cannot pray for and bless that person without cringing, then we haven't really forgiven them. Notice I said, without cringing. Because we are going to remember. It might come to us suddenly and without warning, or it may come each time we see the person. But if being in the same room with that person causes us pain, anger or any negative emotion, then we haven't really forgiven.
Even more difficult is forgiving ourselves. We have seen videos of people in other cultures who flagellate and cut themselves to atone for their sins. To those of us who are born again Christians, these acts may seem absurd, but we are doing the same thing when we struggle with guilt over past sins. We are saying to God, "I don't believe I've been forgiven. I don't believe the blood of Jesus can really wash away my sins."
The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. One example is the story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. After they found out who he was, they were afraid he would try to pay them back for what they had done to him. But Joseph said, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:19-20). NIV
After God spared the life of Hezekiah, king of Judea, he prayed, "...In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all sins behind your back" (Isaiah 38:17). Isaiah prophesied to the people of Israel, "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist ..."(Isaiah 44:22).NIV. And the One who bought our redemption, Jesus Christ, said, "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" (Matthew 6:14-15).
Let us, therefore, thank God for His wonderful love that causes Him to forgive us when we ask, and just as He does to us, let us also do unto others.