Forgiving Ourselves

Recently I’ve been doing some work for my brother-in-law on a love seminar/book that he and a friend are putting together. We were covering some material on forgiveness, and I was reminded again of the work God has done in both Joel and me regarding this area. One key thing I have learned is, we are most able to forgive others, when we recognize God’s incredible grace in forgiving us. Holding God’s forgiveness at arm’s length only impairs our ability to know Him better, and love others well.

Joel has shared with me a struggle he faced with forgiving himself that really demonstrates this. He knew God had forgiven him, but he kept feeling the anger rise up in him again, at what he’d done, every time there was a new or more painful consequence.  He felt like, “God can forgive me, but I deserve to be punished. I can’t forgive myself. That would be taking my sin too lightly.”

It was very similar to the idea of penance that Martin Luther and other monks of his day struggled with. Many even cut themselves and went without food for long periods of time, in order to experience physical suffering, because they felt compelled to suffer for their own sin. Joel kept coming back to this tendency in himself.

Then God spoke to him through a book he was reading, and said, “When you try to hold out on forgiving yourself, you are saying that your justice is more equitable than mine. You are telling me that Christ’s sacrifice, though good enough for me, is not good enough for you. You set yourself up to be your own god. It is not humility. It is pride that keeps you from forgiving yourself. It is the idea that you could have done better, and that since you didn’t, now you will, by making yourself pay. You squander my grace, when you accept my forgiveness superficially and continue to try to atone for your own sins.” This was a real turning point for Joel, one that he has to revisit each time he wants to begin the cycle of punishing himself or being angry with himself again. It’s essential because Joel’s acceptance of Christ’s forgiveness which leads to forgiveness of himself, is what sets him free to love and obey Christ in the future. This has been another aspect of the forgiveness that Joel and I have been through on this painful journey.

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