Forgiveness

Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son-James_Tissot

On Wednesday I wrote about repentance, today I’m looking at forgiveness.

Repenting from sin and turning to God holds the promise of forgiveness of sin as Peter preached in Acts 3:19. Being restored to a place of unhindered fellowship with God is more than worth any humbling, grief or sorrow that repentance entails.

There is also an interpersonal aspect to repentance and forgiveness.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
(Matthew 18:21–22 ESV)

I think this incident was recorded especially for people like me. I not only sin and disrupt my relationship with God, but am also distressingly consistent at damaging my relationships with other people.

But I cannot expect forgiveness from people I have let down in the same way I can from God. People have smaller capacities to cope with such selfishness and failings than God does. There is also a need to earn trust again after letting people down. God knows us too well to trust us not to let Him down.

When I have put my selfish wants over consideration for someone I claim to love, they are rightfully skeptical if I say it won’t happen again. In this situation the roles of Peter’s question are reversed: ‘How often can I presume upon another’s forgiveness?’ Don’t try to tell me the response would be, “seventy times seven”!

From Matthew 5:23-24 it seems the answer would be more like, “Less than one time.” God is not happy to receive my worship until I have gone out of my way to be reconciled with the person I have offended. Also, I must take the initiative, as soon as possible (see Matthew 5:25). As much as it depends upon me, I must seek peace and reconciliation in all my relationships (Romans 12:18).

Finally, because my selfishness has most affected my wife, I am keeping in mind Peter’s word to husbands:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)

I’m not sure about the ‘weaker vessel’ bit, I’m pretty weak myself. The point is that a disrupted marriage relationship leads to problems with prayer (a topic for another day).


About the image: The Return of the Prodigal Son (Le retour de l’enfant prodigue) by James Tissot. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. I chose this image because the story of the prodigal son is the classic story of unconditional forgiveness and I particularly like this artist’s depiction of the father embracing his son.

Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, (ESV)

Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (ESV)

Matthew 5:25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser… (ESV)

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV)

Rock bottom

The inside of an old industrial chimney shaft photographed from the bottom - circular stone wall with tree growing from it and blue sky with white clouds in the opening in the centre, verticalIn 2014 I hit rock bottom.

In just one year I dug myself into a huge credit card debt, gained 10 kg of excess weight, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in a suicidal state, and almost ruined my marriage. Not my best effort.

Fortunately my depression has improved and my wife is graciously giving me a chance to make things better. I urgently need to change how I “do life”. This year my blog will trace my journey to ‘a better me’.

This is not about ‘radical’ or extreme changes, there is no room for such things when I am in debt, have health problems and have to work full time to support my family. It is also not a quest for perfection, all of us let ourselves and others down every day. What I am aiming for is to be a better person. Not perfect, not even ‘the best’, just better than I am now.

Because I have made such a mess of things and failed in a multitude of ways, this self-improvement project will range over many areas. Of particular interest to me is how to make changes stick and finding what will have the biggest payoff for even small improvements.

Loving God

loving-god

Over the last few months I have been slowly re-reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. This week I read the final chapter and seemed to finally grasp what she is getting at. It now makes sense why Ann included a chapter about her trip to Paris and her response to a Rembrandt painting.

I could bless very God.
Not take anything. Not ask anything, demand anything, petition anything. I could simply give something to God. A gift to Him! (One Thousand Gifts, p216)

When we love someone it is a delight to give to them. I can bless my wife by giving her some thing she would like, or by doing work for her which relieves a burden from her, or by praising her – letting her know how I delight in her. This is powerful, to be given the gift of being deeply valued for who you are. When genuine and truly given with no motive other than love, such a gift goes deep into the soul of the recipient – an act of love.

This seems to be what Ann means when she writes:

God, He has blessed – caressed.
I could bless God – caress with thanks.

It’s our making love.

(One Thousand Gifts, p216)

A brief passage which has upset some folks. Yet deep spiritual interaction with God is what most of us are desperate for, even in our crazed pursuit of everything other than God. To find the core of what it means to truly live is a source of constant unrest, unease and anxiety because we know it is essential to find it.

I know this is what drives me – beyond all else I must know God. So when someone describes knowing Him in the closest way possible, I pay attention. Even if a word used forces me to reach for the OED to confirm the meaning as being: “communion between human beings and God.”

… this is intercourse disrobed of its connotations, pure and unadulterated: a passing between. A connection, a communicating, an exchange, between tender Bridegroom and His bride. (One Thousand Gifts, p218)

If God is saying, “enjoy Me”, I am a fool to not do so. Purposely being mindful of thanking and praising God for all He gives is a precious interaction with Him, the form in which we each do so is not overly important. I continue to write out my thanks to God, but am no longer numbering or keeping count as this can be a distraction for me personally.


Image: WikiMedia Commons

Missing them

My Friday effusion of words in 5 minutes. The theme today is together, something I have both been greatly blessed with and am also missing all in a single week.

Go:

Alone at work in the middle of the night.

I don’t enjoy this. I want to be at home with my wife and three children, together in the same house, sharing our lives.

This separation is the way it has to be during this particular season. There are some benefits but the cost of separation is high. For some, perhaps, not having the family routine we had become so accustomed to would be a trivial thing. I have a good job, an adequate income, this is a great blessing.

Yet the evening routine with it’s ‘jungle hour’ when the kids become hyped-up and unruly, the wrestling of baths and pyjamas and nappies while trying to catch snippets of today’s news and tomorrow’s weather from the telly. Wanting to collapse with a cup of tea, just my lovely wife and I, but needing to do the bedtime routine first. The dishes to wash, toys to pick up yet again, stories to read for the hundredth time (does he ever tire of Thomas the Tank Engine?).

I miss these things, the mess of being a family together.

Stop


I trust you because


To Heather,

In writing on this topic (‘I trust you because’) it took me a long time to figure out why I trust you – I just do. There are plenty of reasons, here are three:

Promise

You made a vow to me in the presence of God. I know you well enough to understand this makes a difference – that it was made before God.

We are both well aware that it was God who brought us together, and know His warning about ripping apart what He made one. So this is the unconditional fence guarding our marriage, but there is much more than obligation holding us together.

Vulnerability

I know I can trust you because you have already entrusted so much of yourself to me. You have made yourself exquisitely vulnerable to me, mere words from my mouth could crush you. Having opened your heart to me so deeply as to need me in order to function, I know you are not going to walk away or intentionally injure me.

This goes both ways. My weaknesses are blindingly obvious to you and with this knowledge you could have a powerful weapon. Yet for over a decade you have chosen to unload that gun and lock it away to prevent accidental discharge. Your proven record of trustworthiness.

In some situations vulnerability, even when mutual, can lead to fear. Fortunately we do not have a ‘cold war’ in our marriage.

Friendship

We like each other. Our idea of a good time is to sit together with a cup of tea in our wonky cottage looking out over the harbour and just chat, passing the time of day with no particular point to the conversation aside from being together.

That you care about me is evident, your smile when I come home always lightens my burdens. There is no doubt in my mind that you like me and want to have me around, and I hope my enjoyment of being around you is also obvious.

Perhaps an indication of our friendship is our mutual desire in life to simply grow old together.


What’s this all about:

A blog I follow is running a series of posts called Marriage Letters in which they write a ‘letter’ to their spouse with the idea that by enriching their own marriages they also enrich the marriages of those around them. I’ve been enjoying the series and had good intentions of joining, this is my first attempt. The topic for this week is ‘I trust you because’. Amber hosts a link-up on her blog where you can check out letters from other bloggers.