Formations lesson for July 22: Forgiving Self
July 6 2001 by F. Calvin Parker , Exodus 34:6-7; John 21:15-17; Matthew 27:3-5

Formations lesson for July 22: Forgiving Self | Friday, July 6, 2001

Friday, July 6, 2001

Formations lesson for July 22: Forgiving Self

By F. Calvin Parker Exodus 34:6-7; John 21:15-17; Matthew 27:3-5 Some Christians argue that forgiving self is a false notion based on humanistic psychology and not on the Bible. One Baptist pastor calls self-forgiveness a "phantom." If we forgive others and accept God's forgiveness, he says, there is no need to forgive ourselves even if we wrongly assume that it can be done. Lewis B. Smedes disagrees. In The Art of Forgiveness, he wrote that solitaire forgiving makes sense because we humans have the unique power to transcend ourselves. "We lie to ourselves. We congratulate ourselves. We enjoy ourselves. We blame ourselves. Why should we not forgive ourselves?"

Smedes also said, "the line between feeling forgiven and forgiving ourselves is so thin that we can seldom tell for sure when we have crossed it." He sees no point in trying to keep the two distinct. Nor do I. When God forgives my sins, they are fully forgiven. But often I choose between two options that are both good, neither sinful, and then wish that I had chosen the other. That is when I need to forgive myself. I berate myself needlessly and far too long.

The Character of God (Exodus 34:6-7) We should forgive ourselves because God forgives us. As this passage teaches, it is God's nature to forgive. His character is one of infinite grace. Notice the catalogue of offenses that God pardons. Iniquity is an offense committed from an evil disposition. Transgression is an act of rebellion against God. Sin is missing the mark, falling short of God's requirements. But even though God forgives all these offenses, they have evil consequences that affect our children and grandchildren. Likewise, forgiving self does not obliterate the wrong we have done.

The example of Peter (John 21:15-17) Peter has denied his Lord three times. In this passage Jesus elicits from Peter a threefold affirmation of his love. The questions and answers are subject to various interpretations, as detailed in the better commentaries on the Gospel of John. But it is clear that Jesus restores Peter to his place of leadership and commissions him to act as a pastor to the flock.

"Do you love me?" was no doubt painful to hear. Peter had wept after denying Jesus, but in this encounter he was forced to examine his heart in greater depth. Could he forgive himself for so enormous a sin? Being commissioned afresh must have assured him that he was forgiven by the Master. His subsequent ministry bore this out.

The example of Judas (Matthew 27:3-5) The case of Judas is as mysterious as it is sad. Betraying Jesus is worse than denying Jesus, but not so much worse that it is unforgivable. Judas showed remorse no less than Peter: "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." Yet how different the outcome. As one writer expressed it, Peter put a handkerchief to his eyes; Judas put a rope around his neck. Could Judas not seek God's forgiveness? Could he not forgive himself?

During World War II, Japan missionary Elizabeth Watkins obtained a teaching position at the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona, where thousands of Japanese-Americans were interned. She persuaded her 79-year-old mother, Lizzie, to accompany her to the camp and live with her there. Lizzie did well during the summer months, but fell ill in the autumn when the desert temperatures dropped sharply at night. She was not entitled to use the camp's medical facilities, and her daughter had too heavy a schedule to be of much help. When at last Elizabeth took her mother to a hospital 22 miles away, it was too late to save her life. Lizzie died of pneumonia.

Elizabeth brought her mother home to Spartanburg by train, riding with the corpse in the baggage car. She was plagued with a sense of guilt. Lizzie would still be alive, Elizabeth told herself, if a headstrong daughter had not taken her to the desert and neglected her needs. Feelings of shame flooded her soul. Elizabeth came down with the shingles, as though incurring God's wrath. Forgiving herself took a long, long time. It was one of the hardest things she ever had to do.

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7/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by F. Calvin Parker , Exodus 34:6-7; John 21:15-17; Matthew 27:3-5 | with 0 comments
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