Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Forgiveness: The secret connection between Healing and Humility

    It was just another Friday morning swim class, and my home schooled children were all occupied in their various lessons (I since then have committed three of my brilliant children to the local public institution for actual instruction, but that's another story and quite boring). Sitting in a plastic chair behind a rope, I was engaged in a rather mundane conversation with another homeschooling mom, when it unexpectedly took a philosophical turn. The other woman was not a believer, and for some time we simply exchanged thoughts and ideas, and respectfully listened to each other's view points.
   I was enjoying the mental and spiritual exercise when a familiar presence filled my being. The Lord was there in our midst and He wanted me to share the gospel with this woman. I waited for the right opportunity, gently attempting to lead the conversation to Jesus, and was rewarded for my patience with one of widest open doors I've ever had.
    The woman was talking about her attempts to teach her children the virtues of "unconditional love" and "forgiveness" through Reiki (an occultic spiritual healing art) with the hope that if they learn them, they will be better people, whole people. She spoke of the "problem" everyone faced when they looked themselves over in the proverbial "mirror of truth" and saw things they perceived as negative. What to do about negative self perception and low self esteem? How do we find healing from hurt and guilt on a soul level?
    I opened my mouth, and out came the gospel.

    As I spoke, I noticed that the woman had tears in her eyes, and when I had concluded, she was silent and swallowing hard, furtively trying to wipe away her tears unnoticed.  The children began to come out of the pool, looking for dry towels, and in that distracting interim, she regained her composure... and her philosophical objections.
   With passion she tried to explain how she dealt with her guilt, using self-acceptance and spiritual healing arts, but finally ended with a weak, "Well, it works most of the time, anyway..." and offered a  semi-apologetic, yet unapproachable smile.

    The gospel had been lovingly shared through an open door and a heart softened and convicted, but then suddenly a wall of self-righteousness barring the way to repentance had sprung up. I've found that this often happens when witnessing. People respond to the love of God, but when salvation is presented as a free gift, requiring nothing but acknowledgement of need and acceptance, a wall goes up. We don't like to think of ourselves as that needy. We might feel bad about ourselves and things we've done or said, but we don't, as humans, usually like to believe that we are an all out charity case!

Yet, the gospel of salvation has been intentionally designed to affront our attempts at self-justification and to offend our pride. This is the "offence of the gospel" Paul spoke of that prevented the world in his day from receiving Jesus. It is the same today.

Forgiveness from God implies a need to be forgiven by God, and that sense of poverty of spirit is mortifying to man's proud, rebellious nature. We want to earn it... to deserve it. And when we in turn offer forgiveness to others, we want it to be out of our store of personal charity, not out of a humble awareness of our own equal footing with the one we are "forgiving."

The simple truth is that forgiveness, received or given, must be borne out of humility.

The Bible says in Psalm 34:18, that "The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit." 

Let's break this down, for this ancient verse holds within it the missing secret to the mysterious process of genuine soul healing.
   "A broken heart..." Although we are familiar with this idiom in our culture, David is not speaking about romance gone awry. The "broken heart" he speaks of is more akin to what we might call a "broken spirit"; someone who has had their human spirit and vitality so battered and bruised by life's circumstances that the person appears to be "broken" in their innermost being. Do you know someone like that? Is it you? I know that, for one thing, it is something we tend to fastidiously avoid in our culture. "Broken", after all, is not generally seen as a positive concept, is it? Yet, be it popular or not, brokenness still happens to us and to those around us. What then? Is there healing for broken hearts? Let's go back to the verse:

"The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart,"

    Who is the LORD near to? Well, it says it right there: the broken! Those whose spirits have been shattered by the hard things in this life. All else may have forsaken them, but not the Lord. He is there with them, waiting for them to simply turn to Him and receive a new Spirit, full of life and love. Does this speak to you? If life has ripped your heart to shreds and you feel like a broken person, take this promise to heart. The Lord is near to you, and has a plan for healing just waiting for you to receive it.
     He calls His Spirit the "Comforter" and assures us in His Word that He will send this comforter to all who need Him (John 14:16, 26). For Him to begin His work of healing and restoration in your broken heart, you first have to invite Him to do so.  Take a moment right now and ask Him. He's been beside you all along just waiting for you to open the door of your heart to Him.
     "... and saves such as have a contrite spirit." Contrite means: "feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt." Here is the reason why most people, broken or whole, do not receive the healing offered to them through Jesus Christ: our pride.  To acknowledge our own sin and error, our own imperfections and misjudgments... our own guilt, is the essence of humility. Contrition is the state of humility before God that enables Him to show mercy to mankind. It says in James 4:6  "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
     Humility is the foundational virtue of Christianity! Without it, faith is merely presumption, and all other virtues become but extensions of our pride. To imagine that I can unconditionally love or forgive anyone, apart from humility, is foolishness. Pride makes all virtues simply outlets for my own self-righteousness, as I deceive myself into believing that out of my own store of "goodness," rather like a god, I can grant pardon to someone else's offences.  Humility, however, approaches the offences of others from the opposite direction, the right direction.
     With a healthy grasp of my own offences before a perfect God, and His vast mercy and forgiveness that He has extended to me out of unconditional love, I am able to truly forgive and love my fellow human being. For what right do I have to hold anything to their account when my own has been mercifully cleared?  Jesus taught this in the parable of the two servants in Matthew 18, ending with the admonition to forgive others even as we have been forgiven by God. If you have never read this account, you can do so right now: Matthew 18:21-35
     The offender and offended are now on level ground, neither one more inherently good than the other, and thus, neither one more inherently bad... the offences are equal. We become simply two sinners, in need of the forgiveness of God, freely offered to all.
     Humility is the foundation for all forgiveness, whether we are seeking it or offering it.
And forgiveness, my dear friend, is the first step towards the healing of a broken heart. To quote myself, (which is sort of weird, but in this case simply more efficient than trying to rephrase it to make it sound fresh. Why re-invent the wheel?):

"We are to forgive them. Plain and simple old fashioned Christianity in action. Remember, forgiveness is not for the one we forgive. It is for us. When we allow the sin of another to embitter us by holding onto it, refusing to pardon their offence, we actually poison our own soul. Friend, what they did to you is nothing compared to what you will do to yourself if you withhold forgiveness simply "because they don't deserve it." Of course they don't. No one really ever does.
     Sins are technically unpardonable without punishment of some sort to pay for them. We instinctively know this, which is why we have such a hard time offering forgiveness, and why sometimes we can't even forgive ourselves. The answer is not to try harder to feel forgiveness, but to remember that all sin, theirs and ours, was actually paid for. It was punished in full. 
      The full punishment for all the evil that I ever did and all the evil that was ever done to me was taken by Jesus on my behalf. The enormity of what He actually did is staggering, and yet sometimes so quickly forgotten. When I live in light of His sacrifice, I am compelled to forgive and to receive forgiveness because the sin WAS punished in full. God, in His mercy, took the full circle of crime and punishment upon Himself, acting as Judge while yet standing in as a criminal in our place.
     Forgiveness is what sets us free from the sin that was done against us. It unfetters our soul from the lasting effects of betrayal and cruelty, and allows us to live and flourish in spite of what happened in the past. Forgiveness is the door to emotional healing and deliverance."
[Psalm 35]

     There are more steps in the process of healing, but the process can only truly begin when we have humbled ourselves and forgiven the wrong doer, completely and wholly, with no strings attached or further expectation on our part. To forgive is to set free, to release, to let go of the sin that was committed against you and to cancel the debt that the one who sinned against you owed you. That sin was nailed to the cross, along with your sins, and that debt was paid in full by Jesus Himself.  Let go of what has already been punished and release the debtor from an account that was already paid.

You will find that in freeing them, you yourself are now free.

That is the secret of forgiveness.


Share your thoughts on forgiveness below. I'd like to hear from you. Blessings.


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