Sunday, April 24, 2011

Forgive and...then what?

The God of the Bible is a forgiving God, and there is no doubt about that. Throughout the Bible we see God graciously forgiving those who do not deserve it. In fact, the entire Bible is a book about forgiveness. It is a book about God's mission to be reconciled unto man and what He did to make it possible for us to come to Him. The very basis of the Bible is that man has a need to be forgiven and that God is a God who wants to forget. The prophet Jeremiah, prophesying by inspiration concerning the New Covenant that would come under the Christ had this to say concerning God and forgiveness in the age of Christ:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Did you catch the last line? God will forgive their iniquity and will remember their sin no more. That's the great thing about God. When He forgives my sin, it's gone. It will never be brought up again. God will not use it against me. He will not remind me of all of the mistakes I made nor will He remind me of how much of a "dirty sinner" I am, and imply that I should be thankful that He would have enough love to forgive me despite my flaws. That is not a God I want to serve, nor is it a God I WOULD serve. We must realize that God does not forgive unconditionally. God does expect us serve Him, to do our best, to seek after Him, and admit when we mess up, but when we do ask for forgiveness, it's done.

The problem is that in this area I am often unlike God, and many Christians doing their best to emulate God's character aren't any better than I am when it comes to forgiving and forgetting. I'm sure we've all heard about someone doing or having done something marginally wrong. We learn that someone is a heavy smoker, that someone we know spends many nights drinking or doing drugs. We surf a brother's Facebook and see that he curses and lists filthy movies and music as his favorites. We look through a sister's profile and come across pictures of her in skimpy outfits, bikinis even. It comes to the surface that someone is having sex outside of wedlock or even is dealing with the consequences that could come from that, that is, a child conceived out of wedlock. I could go on, but hopefully you get the picture. We learn that fellow Christians aren't perfect and that there are things they might struggle with or maybe have made a mistake. Am I compromising on these issues? Am I saying these are just minor things that we should overlook and never saying anything about? Not at all. But what do we do if we approach someone and they repent of the issue?

Sometimes we expect perfection in that area. I know a great sister in Christ who is currently dealing with an addiction to cigarettes. She knows they are hurting her wallet (being a good steward and all), her influence and her body and she wants to make a change for the better. She is strong and has shown it by going six days without a smoke at the time I wrote this. What happens if she were to slip up though? She's human, is she not? She's fighting a powerful addiction that most people can't ever seem to break, yet wouldn't a gut reaction to the news that she messed up be to think of how weak she is and that she must lack dedication? For many it would be, but that isn't the case. I know she's the type of Christian who would realize her mistake, pick herself up and start back the hard trek she's making. None of us are perfect, yet for some reason we expect every other Christian to be so, at least in the areas we personally think should be easy to deal with. The problem is, what's easy for me, might not be easy for others.

Sometimes we allow a stigmata to stick with someone regardless of what they do afterward. Let's look at an out of wedlock pregnancy. Unless you've never left your house and never talked to anyone outside of yourself and a pet, you probably know someone that has had a child out of wedlock. Chances are that person might even be a Christian. "How could that be?!?" you might ask, "Don't they know sex outside of marriage is wrong?!" I'm sure they do, but people make mistakes. We live in a culture where the secular side flaunts sex as normal in whatever situation it might occur and the religious side is often only willing to discuss the sinful side of sex and rarely the beauty that is godly sex between a man and a wife. This, combined with a cultural average of higher marriage age, often only adds to the burden young men and women feel as they deal with love and the natural desire for sex that God gave them. A couple might have a child out of wedlock though, and even if they, and sometimes just the mother alone, repent of their actions and do their best to raise that child in a godly setting, many in the brotherhood only see them as sinners and the child as a product of sin. Do we not realize how ungodly this attitude is?

It seems like we are quite often overly unfair to living children of God. We read through the life of Moses and skim over the fact that he murdered a man. I mean, he was the one that received the Ten Commandments. He's got a whole Law named after him. He even led the Israelites to the Promised Land! Why would we focus on a silly little murder? What about King David. This is the man who watched a woman that was not his wife bathe on her roof. Once he got a glimpse of her in the nude, he did what any great child of God would do and summoned her to his bedroom where he impregnated her. Once he realized what had happened, he tried to make it seem as if her husband was the father, and when that plan failed, he simply had the husband killed so he could marry the new widow. Yeah, I suppose that wasn't the BEST thing to do, but this was the king, and even God said he was man after God's own heart, so a little adultery and murder shouldn't be a big deal. What about Paul? I mean, he wrote the majority of the New Testament, so the fact that at one point in his life he dragged men, women and children out of their homes simply because they were Christians shouldn't really be something we spend time focusing on. When these men did wrong though, and were confronted by God's truth, what did they do? They repented. If these men were just "normal brethren" today, they would never live it down.

When it comes to forgiveness, Christians need more compassion and to practice godly forgiveness. It isn't a forgiveness that is unconditional or an act that simply ignores sin out of so called "love," but when one repents of their sins, the ordeal is finished. We have no reason to go around and whisper about what type of person they must really be, or formulate where their parents went wrong or if their parents even tried. We have no justification for spreading around what they had done though "now they've thankfully repented and been forgiven." Obviously they haven't earned forgiveness from us if that is the case. I want to be as God like in my forgiveness towards others as possible. I won't be perfect though, so please forgive me when I fail.

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