I decided to forego the Aladdin diatribe for this.
Forgiveness is an extremely difficult concept. You would think it would be easy. We do something wrong, and we want the other person to cleanse us of the offense. We want to know that we can make things right with that person. However, forgiveness ends up being something that it is hard to ACCEPT. I can understand if someone doesn’t want to accept an apology – that person really hurt us and we want to be able to stew for a while. But to not accept FORGIVENESS? That doesn’t make sense.
Maybe, our problem accepting forgiveness stems from our problem granting forgiveness. Think about it. How many times has someone come to you after hurting you and tried to apology, but you have to get in that one last mini lecture or hurtful look before trying to forgive them. Or maybe you have said that you will never never never forgive them ever. They hurt you just too badly. This may have been a parent who abused you or a friend who betrayed you – maybe a spouse who was unfaithful. To forgive them is just asking too much. It is letting them off the hook – or so it feels to us. We want them to hurt as much as we did.
Faith Hill’s song “Cry” addresses this. In it, she wants the person who jilted her to cry a little, show some pain. She wants to know that the other person suffered on a par with her. It is like they have to PROVE their remorse is real. Words are not good enough – there needs to be something concrete, some kind of physical proof. We want restitution.
This could be why it is so hard for us to understand and accept the concept of being forgiven. We are so used to making others jump through hoops that we expect to have to jump ourselves. And when it comes to God’s forgiveness, well He HAS TO have some kind of punishment for those sins we committed. When the Bible says that all of our sins are forgiven, we don’t take that at face value. Instead, we try to convince God that we are really really sorry. And we will take these fifty steps to make sure it never happens again. And, even after all of that, we still don’t believe Him. So we sit there crippled by the sins we have been toting around.
The really ironic and sad thing is that those sins are gone. God isn’t holding them against us. He has already forgiven us – regardless of our opinion on the matter. He blotted them out, threw them as far away as East from West, remembered them no more. And on top of that, He covered us with Christ’s righteousness. So when He looks at us, He sees a holy person. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be comical – watching a person that is dressed like a king staggering around under the weight of sin’s imagined and removed burden. God already took that big old sack of garbage off of us and tossed it away when we accepted Jesus in our hearts – we just refuse to believe it.
There is a phenomenon in people who lose limbs called “phantom pains.” This is where they feel pain in the body part that is gone. I remember reading the biography of Dave Dravecky – and he talked about how he was in agony for a long time with pains in his hand. Only he didn’t have a hand on that arm. But it was the body trying to re-orient itself. We kind of act like that with the burden of sin – we carry around a phantom burden on our backs, wear phantom leg irons, sit behind phantom prison bars. We are completely blind to the fact that Christ shattered all of those things.
Isaiah 61:1 is obviously a very dear verse to my heart – and to the heart of Defender Ministries. It shows us clearly that the Gospel is designed to remove the burden of sin, fling open the prisons, free the captives, heal the crippled. The message of the Gospel is FREEDOM. This isn’t freedom to live like a hellion. It is freedom from the bondage of sin that has imprisoned mankind since the Fall. We are FREE. I always get the picture of some huge warrior breaking into a prison – like the ones in “Count of Monte Cristo” or “Mask of Zorro.” He comes in with a sword, a ring of keys, and a torch. He has used the sword to defeat the guards. He takes the keys and fling open the cells. And then he takes the torch and lights all the candles to show the escape route. “FOLLOW ME, YOU PRISONERS OF EVIL! FOLLOW ME TO YOUR FREEDOM!” He runs out the front door – and there is no one behind him.
The prisoners all stayed in their cells. “This freedom can’t be for me – I’m beyond redemption,” one mopes. Another cries out, “Oh, if only I could be free from these chains like the others.” A third angrily shouts, “I’m sure that this is just a trick. That warrior is outside waiting to trounce me.” (Good vocab for prisoners.) Meanwhile, the warrior is just shaking his head.