What does it mean to forgive? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
C.S. Lewis has a brilliant essay in the Weight of Glory where he talks about our idea of forgiveness and what it means. When we talk about forgiveness, he thinks we more often mean not forgiveness but excusing. We want God to understand the circumstances behind what we did and say, “No big deal. You’re off the hook.”
It is a big deal though. Every sin to some extent is a form of divine treason. It is a denial of God’s knowledge because you act like He doesn’t know it. It denies His omnipotence because you say He doesn’t have the power to judge. It denies His omnipresence because you say He doesn’t see it. It denies His goodness because you say He won’t do anything against you. It denies His truthfulness because you think He’s holding out on you. We could go on through the list. Every one of them is this.
So what do we want God to do? We want God to say “I know you didn’t mean any of that. Let’s still be friends.” Now there are unintentional sins to be sure, but let’s face it. We all have times that we do the wrong thing and we know it’s the wrong thing and we do it anyway. Those times, we don’t really care. There are times we want to do the wrong and then ask for forgiveness later.
But there is no excusing what we do. It cannot be done. There is no justification ever for doing the wrong thing. That’s why it’s the wrong thing. There are circumstances where it’s understandable why one did it and one can always point to good motivations or good results from doing it, but if it is wrong, then the good that can come and the good motivations do not matter.
Not only that, there will always be something seen to be good in it. “Well, my wife wasn’t fulfilling my sexual needs, so I turned to pornography.” “Well, my family was going broke, so I decided to mess with the books a little bit when doing our taxes.” “Well, I’ve been incredibly lonely in my marriage, so I decided to have an affair.”
Having needs met or providing for your family or overcoming loneliness are not bad things, but there are good ways to deal with those issues and wrong ways and if you go the wrong way, then it is a sin. There is no excusing it. There may be things around it that can be excused, but the sin itself is still wrong.
It doesn’t need to be excused because it can’t be. It needs to be forgiven. It needs to be seen that first off, it is a big deal. It needs to be shown that real damage has been done to a relationship. In human terms, it could be marriage and family, friendship, co-workers, or just your neighbor you don’t even know.
You did something wrong. That’s it. No justifying it. It needs to be faced that you have caused harm in a way that has no justification for it. You have done something against God Himself and undone the goodness of redemption in some way.
You participated in what led to the crucifixion.
Yes. This sin needs to be seen in all of its wickedness. Only then can you realize what forgiveness means. Forgiveness means you realize God could throw the book at you. He could sentence you to hell forever. He could banish you from His loving presence. I don’t care what your doctrine of hell is at this point. Everyone who is a Christian agrees that whatever happens, it’s something you don’t want. God does not owe you forgiveness like that. He does not owe you His loving presence. You owe Him everything.
And yet, that is what makes forgiveness so incredible. God still looks at you and makes it clear that you don’t deserve forgiveness. He is not improved by forgiving you. If anything, forgiveness was a cost to Him. Still, despite all of that, He says He’s going to forgive you and restore you to proper relationship with Him. You are still a child of His.
Forgiveness means that God is telling you you are still in the family. There may be consequences still, but none of those consequences include you losing your place in the family. You’re still one of His. You are forgiven. God does not owe it to you, but He has promised it to you if you come and sincerely repent.
It’s still there today. You can be forgiven. It is truly a big deal.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)