Unforgiveable, and unforgiven
by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel
Just yesterday, a sister in Christ requested prayer support as she prepares to face a task requiring a measure of courage and strength of character that I don’t believe I could ever achieve: she has been named prisoner advocate for a man on death row who is expected to be executed within a matter or days. Pray for her, and for him…especially for him, that no matter what has happened in the past, no matter what crimes he has committed, God will find a way to reach him and lead him into salvation.
There are some who sincerely consider capital punishment a fit and just penalty for certain crimes; there are others, equally sincere, who believe it inhumane and unacceptable in an advanced society. No matter which side of the complex issue you may support, one incontrovertible truth exists that every Christian claiming to have God’s interests at heart must proclaim: no matter what the crime, no matter how despicable the criminal act, God is more anxious to forgive than to condemn. After all, For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17, KJV). And that intent embraced even the least forgivable!
I am haunted by one aspect of the subject of forgiveness, the single aspect that appears to me the most difficult to overcome: forgiveness of one’s self. The power of God’s love has intervened throughout history, making it possible for one person to forgive another in incredible situations. I have found that the better I come to know and understand another person, another group of people, the more difficult it is for me to despise them and the easier it becomes to accept and forgive them for offenses real or imagined. The exception is one’s self. It is difficult to accept one’s own weaknesses, admit to one’s own faults…and to truly forgive one’s self.
Strangely enough, the inability to forgive one’s self seems to stem, not from self loathing, but from self esteem. The more highly we think of ourselves, the more readily (and deeply) we are offended by own faults, weaknesses or inadequacies. We believe we ought to be so much superior to what we find in our personal heart-search, we begin to question even God’s power to fully forgive, to cleanse…to change. We know that God can change others; we’ve seen it, we’ve heard testimonies to it, we are convinced it can happen. But the fear, the deep-down secret fear that we don’t admit even to ourselves, the fear that can shake even the most outwardly confident among us, is the conviction that not even God can change—or forgive—the hidden person that is the real “me,” the me that is master of my fate, the me that knows where the skeletons are hidden—the me that doesn’t deserve to be saved.
Sounds paranoid, doesn’t it? Perhaps because it is. Mental health is probably relative, and we’ve all got our issues, but this issue is serious, because it’s not just a head issue—it is a soul issue. Basically it comes down to the question of how much we can really trust God. Can we really trust him with the secrets of the soul, the hidden, repressed, undealt-with issues that haunt the darkest depths of our being? Can we really trust God to deal with the arrogant, guilt-ridden “me” that we hopelessly hope is hidden from him? Might as well…
Not the thief on the cross, not the prisoner on death row… not even I…have ever been able to hide the most secret thoughts of the heart from the God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Might as well surrender them to him. (Nice word, that: ever notice how the “I” gets lost in the middle of “him”?)
Forgiveness of one’s self, acceptance of one’s self, is all part and parcel of God’s plan for you and me. Failure to forgive one’s self, refusal to believe that even God can (and does) forgive one’s innermost weaknesses and sins, is symptomatic of a quality of personal arrogance that says, “this part of me is too much, even for God himself.” It is the same arrogance that leads a man to say, “I ignored God all my life; I’m not gunna come crawling to him now,” and to pass needlessly unforgiven into hell. Jesus wept; the Father weeps; the Holy Spirit grieves, as one more soul refuses the offer of life eternal.
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation (Rom 5:6-11, RSV).