Sorry for the long silence. I’ve been dealing with some heavy stuff here. I think it’s getting better. Prayers are appreciated. Or if that’s not really your thing, cash is always an acceptable alternative.
Today, I want to talk about what happens when we refuse to believe we are forgiven. Like everyone else, the people around me have sometimes treated me in ways that weren’t the best or even done outright awful things which I then needed to forgive. Fortunately for me, forgiveness has always come fairly easily. If nothing else, my self interest kicks in and I realize that the benefits of letting go of the wrong far outweigh whatever payoff I might get from hanging onto my hurt. In doing so, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. That what other people do is about them and not me, for example. And that it’s easier to recover from being hurt than it is to recover from the way the fear of being hurt warps us.
However, I have often been befuddled and frankly, hurt, over the years that some of these same people who I have readily extended grace to for some pretty major things were often unwilling to extend grace to me for relatively minor faults and failings. For a while I thought that maybe the problem was that the sort of people who required extreme grace were also the sort of the people who were just kind of jerks anyways. However, over the last couple of years, I have discovered that there has been something entirely different at work.
What I’ve learned is that either because I didn’t communicate it well enough or they still felt guilty or the easy grace seemed too good to be true, a few of these people didn’t believe that I had really forgiven them. They believed that even if I had openly communicated forgiveness, in my heart, I was secretly angry, hostile and score keeping. Which made it easy for them to see my (numerous) faults and failings as evidence of hostility, passive-aggressive revenge or withholding. The truth of the matter is that I’m just far more flawed than these people may have realized.
These people who didn’t believe themselves forgiven didn’t just assume that there was an unfinished conflict between us. The assumption of this unfinished conflict colored their whole way of seeing me and our interactions. If I was forgetful or short or overtaxed, they assumed it was if not deliberate, then certainly a sign of my real feelings about them. In turn, they would be resentful or become more demanding or pull away from me. And I would struggle to understand why people who I had extended so much grace to were so quick to judge, criticize and be angry with me.
Now, my point in sharing this isn’t to brag about how great I am at forgiving. First of all, I can’t claim credit for being temperamentally inclined to forgive. And forgiving should be the norm and not in the least exceptional for Christians. Plus, I’m far from perfect. There are times when I will or struggle to forgive or allow the relationship to break even if I do forgive because remaining in it caused more pain than I was willing to deal with.
The reason that I’m sharing this is because I think there’s a very similar dynamic which often happens between us and God. God, of course, doesn’t have my imperfections and doesn’t need us to extend grace to him in reality. Yet, I can’t help but think of how often when things don’t go well or when we hit a spiritually dry time, we jump to the conclusion that it’s because God is angry or disappointed with us. We’ve been told we are forgiven, but much like these people around me, we don’t really believe it. And it colors the way we view God and our relationship with him.
Of course, it could well be that there is some sin or character flaw which God is pushing us to acknowledge and bring to him for tending to. But once we’ve done that, it’s done. It’s gone – between us and God at least. But whether due to guilt or disbelief, many times we continue waiting for the other shoe to drop. Yes, we are forgiven, but there will be a price to pay at some point seems to be our working assumption.
So when we hit a rough patch we don’t recognize it as a normal part of life or an opportunity to grown, but as evidence that we haven’t been fully forgiven – not until we’ve paid our pound of flesh, at least. And after a while, when the rough patches keep being rough and no rain comes to the desert, we become resentful. “Haven’t I already paid enough for my sin?” we ask ourselves. We demand of God, “what do you want from me? Why won’t you let it go so I can move on? Where’s this forgiveness you promise?” And often, we’ll just withdraw from God. If not entirely, then a certain coldness and lack of enthusiasm creeps into our relationship with him.
The truth is that even through our rough and dry patches, we have always been forgiven. That work’s been done, but the power of it does remain elusive so long as we disbelieve it and allow that disbelief to be a lens which colors how we see God working in our lives. It seems to me that it is essential to a healthy faith life for us to refuse to see whatever we are going through – no matter how incomprehensible or painful – as a sign of God’s anger or rejection of us. Although it may feel unnatural or even presumptive, reality is that we must give up our disbelief in God’s forgiveness before we will be able to see his movements with any clarity.
Disbelieving forgiveness can destroy a relationship. I know.