We begin the Eucharist during the season of Lent saying, "Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins."

We need this reminder as often as possible - every day would not be too often to hear that God forgives all our sins.  My experience is that many of us are not sure we believe that God forgives all our sins and, furthermore, that most of us need to learn how to forgive ourselves as well.  We carry around these heavy loads and can't put them down for fear of being selfish or being careless or being an even bigger sinner than before.

There are many reasons why we don't trust that God forgives our sins.  Sometimes because we haven't been able to imagine God as other than what our own parents were and we ourselves are - human and fallible with a tendency to hold a grudge.  We may imagine that a God who forgives must be too soft to really be God.  Certainly, we think, a holy God cannot countenance or abide unholiness and so we imagine a mighty and stern God always on the lookout for us missing the mark.  And then holding it against us.

Sometimes we don't understand the nature of forgiveness. We may think that if we forgive someone we are saying that what they did wrong - what they did to us - was ok.   That it was ok to hurt us, it was ok to cheat, it was ok to lie to or about us.  We decide that the only way we will forgive is if the person does about a million things to convince us that he or she is really really sorry, and perhaps we will require some kind of restitution, and even then we may well not actually forgive them.  Because otherwise we're saying it was ok for them to do what they did.  And then they get off the hook somehow.

And then we impute this line of reasoning upon God.  And then we can't grovel enough, and even after we have groveled and said the confession every Sunday and perhaps even participated in the Rite of Reconciliation with a priest who has, in God's name, absolved us, we secretly fear that God is still holding our sins against us.

But this is not how it works with God.  (And not how it should work with us, either.)  Forgiveness does not mean that the sin was ok.  We still have to live with the consequences of our sins.  We have to repent, to learn from our missing the mark and try to change because of it.  Forgiveness means not carrying that grudge around, not letting someone else's stuff clog us up inside (someone once called it "no longer renting space inside me to someone else's toxic junk").  Letting go, not letting something fester and hold us back from health and wholeness.  God forgives us because God wants for us to be able to be what God made us to be.  And God did not make us to be crushed under a load of guilt and misery.

Christians claim that what we know about God is what we have seen in Jesus Christ, who died for us while we were yet sinners.  Jesus came to reconcile us to one another and to God.  He said, I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly. That means, we have to learn how to forgive and we have to learn how to accept forgiveness.  That is a truth that will set us free.

Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.  God's mercy endures for ever.


Perpetua said…
Such a helpful post for Lent, Penny. I've spent a lot of time over the years rying to help people to forgive others and themselves and to accept forgiveness and for some it can be one of the hardest things in the world. It's often when they are finally, utterly convinced that God truly does love them that forgiveness can be given and received.
Yep. It takes one to know one - I had to be convinced myself, first!
Kathy Kelly said…
Thanks for this Penny. Mind if I use it for the Adult Sunday School class I'm teaching? It's perfect for where we are in our discussion on forgiveness. I'm also working up a workshop to offer churches on forgiveness including the psychology and theology of the matter. I might use it there as well.
Kathy - I'd be happy for you to use it for your class and wherever else you think it would be appropriate.