Grappling with Forgiveness
I am grappling more and more with this issue of forgiveness and how it fits into the process of salvation. Maybe that is a mistake in itself as maybe I am trying to distill out a formula rather than allow that different people likely have to experience things from different directions. I don't know. But at least for myself I do find it helpful to organize ideas, to discover the alignments between them and the directions they lead me to help make more sense out of things.
It is starting to appear to me that possibly forgiveness may be one of the very first steps in setting us on the path toward reconciliation with God. I am seeing that forgiveness is actually letting go of the resistance inherent in offenses, that the very act of letting go itself removes the greatest barrier that prevents God from drawing us to Himself. Since I have come to realize that it is not forgiveness in God's heart that we need – He is never holding any grudges against us and never has – what I really must decide is when 'I' am going to let go of the grudges, fears and inhibitions that I have about what He is like and what He wants to do in my life.
Viewed from this perspective it would almost appear – as strange as it sounds at first – that what is really needed is for me to forgive God before there can be any level of trust between us. And without trust/faith it is impossible to have any real meaningful or life-transforming relationship with Him, or with anyone for that matter.
The essential meaning of genuine forgiveness appears to be this intentional choice to 'let go'; to let go of reservations, offenses, doubts about other's intents toward us, particularly in the case of God. It means ceasing to judge someone no matter how confident I am that my perspective is accurate. It is true that forgiving in many cases cannot restore trust, for there may be many that we have to forgive who may never be worthy of our trust because of their choice not to pursue meaningful reconciliation or a willingness to engage in difficult character changes in their own lives. In those cases it becomes simply an action of liberation strictly on our side to free our own hearts from the chains that bind us in the traps of offenses. But it is becoming clear that forgiveness is the only key for release from that deadly trap as it is the only thing that can dissolve the chains and bars that keep us in that prison.
But as I started out pondering here, the question still remains a bit vague in my mind about whether forgiveness is possibly the vital first step toward God. Since I have come to see that it is never God's mind that needs changing in this dance of forgiveness; that there is never any animosity on His side that is preventing reconciliation between us; then all the action, choice and effect of forgiveness must need to take place in my own mind and heart before any further steps can be experienced.
In many cases – no, in all cases I am confident – our perceptions of how God feels about us must be majorly adjusted before any meaningful reconciliation can progress. So from this way of perceiving, in a sense we do change God's mind toward us. Only it is not the actual mind of God that really is changed but our perceptions of what His mind is towards us that has to be changed. But from our perspective at first it may be hard to discern the difference between the two until we are farther along in the process. In reality it is always our opinions and feelings about His opinions and feelings that must be addressed initially before we can move much farther into reconciliation.
The myriads of lies that we have grown up with and that we have been infected with throughout our life experiences as well as false teachings from well-meaning or not so well-meaning people, and all the other sources that have predisposed us to mistrust God – these all reinforce the core problem of sin that keeps us from living in harmony with heaven and thriving in true life. When this becomes more evident to us we will begin to realize where all our efforts need to be directed to make effective progress in life. Rather than trying to fight sin by eliminating bad behaviors from our life or distilling the right set of doctrines into our intellect, we must come to the place where we are willing to admit the lies we believe about God and allow Him to replace them with positive truth that will heal us and inspire more trust from our hearts in His heart care towards us. Without the removal of these many lies in our own heart no further progress can really be made. It is the light of truth, the light Jesus brought to this world for this very purpose that exposes the lies that hide out in our darkness, and this light is the only way we can begin to be healed and restored to what we were created to enjoy in our existence.
So what prevents us from admitting that we really harbor lies about God, especially those of us who have long insisted that we have 'the truth' because we can prove our doctrines conclusively from the Bible? That is a very difficult hurdle for religious people to overcome and too many are unwilling to make that jump. But those who finally submit to the convictions of the Spirit about the many false assumptions and beliefs embedded deep in their psyche about what God is like and how He feels towards them, then face the step of choosing what they are going to do about those lies that have been brought to their attention.
Putting it this way it may appear that confession (agreeing with God) is the first step. And in a sense it is. But what I am starting to perceive about the nature of forgiveness in my intense study and exposure to this subject recently seems to imply that confession along with, or at least involving, some aspects of forgiveness may be very nearly the same thing. For one to come to the point of confession – a willingness to agree with God's perspective rather than our perspective tainted by lies about Him – one has to at the same time 'let go' of their insistence about the beliefs that have now been exposed as false in the light of new truth about God. These beliefs are not always about doctrines but rather are often beliefs of the subconscious heart that is manipulated by fear and are strongly influenced by false beliefs about what God is like.
And so in effect, to even come to the point of true confession – agreeing that God's viewpoint on what He is like is radically different and better than ours – requires at the same time that we 'let go' of our ideas – forgive – in order for us to take hold and embrace these new revelations of what is actually true. If I am unwilling to let go of my long-cherished beliefs about God that feel so true deep inside, then I render myself incapable of taking hold of the real truths about God that at first feel very strange, at least at the heart level. I might feel compelled to acknowledge intellectually that some of these things make sense and may carry merit, but until my heart is willing to embrace these revelations about God and is willing to respond to them, then nothing has really changed at all; there can be no real progress toward a heart to heart reconciliation with Him.
As I have been learning over recent years, forgiveness is a cleansing process, not a legal adjustment. Since it is not God's mind or opinions about me that needs cleansing but is always my mind and opinions about Him that needs purifying, then all the work of forgiveness has to take place in my mind. But it is not just the lies about God that must be purged from my mind but even more it is the guilt, condemnation, fear and all the other feelings that I have assumed were coming from God but are really just natural consequences of the lies that have been operating in my heart all of my life.
Until we are willing to agree with God's assessment of the assumptions and beliefs about Him in our hearts, we will live in resistance to what He is doing to draw us into a trust relationship with Him. His drawing power is constantly present and intense for every person, but the blocking, numbing effect of the many lies about Him are so intense that His beauty and attractiveness can hardly be noticed much of the time. Unfortunately religion itself has become one of the biggest obstacles preventing us from letting go of our resistance to what He wants to reveal to our hearts because the god we have created through religion has displaced the real God who wants to shine the light of truth in us at the heart level.
It can be terrifying to even consider questioning our opinions about who God is and how He feels towards us. Our perceptions of God are the only God many of us have ever known, and it is terrifying to question the deeply entrenched traditions and belief systems we have amassed about God that have themselves become the gods we worship. We are certain that these are simply descriptions of the only true god there is. These misconceptions are reinforced by the many people around us who share similar beliefs about God. This leads us to fear any questions that might endanger our assumed hold on 'the truth' and we can readily find texts and quotations to 'prove' that clinging to our current views of God is our only safety.
But as the light becomes more intense and makes us more uncomfortable, we are faced with the choice of either clinging ever more firmly to our preconceived opinions and popular beliefs about God based on previous experience and interpreted by our traditions, or we have to risk questioning everything that has defined us and God and give permission for His Spirit to challenge every assumption we have held dear. This can be very frightening and that fear itself often seems to indicate that this is not a safe direction to move.
For most, God's only means of breaking through these massive walls of resistance and fears in our hearts and the many confused beliefs we have about God that have even become systematized in much of our theology, is to keep pursuing our hearts with fresh revelations of His goodness, compassion and true justice. The whole problem between us and God is not a legal problem where we have offended Him and need to appease Him to find pardon for breaking His rules; rather it is God's problem of reaching our hearts that are so filled with false assumptions about Him and finding ways for exposing those lies to the point where we will be willing to question them ourselves and exchange them for the truths He is longing to reveal to us.
Since the essence of forgiveness is to 'let go', then it is vital that we engage in this choice of letting go, of forgiving in order to even enter into the process of salvation. No wonder Jesus said in Matthew 18 that unless one is willing to humble themselves and become as a little child it is impossible for them to enter His kingdom. Humbling ourselves is this very process of letting go of our previous opinions, our pride, our fears, our preconceived ideas about God and reality and truth and to embrace the truths He longs to reveal to us that contradict much of what we have assumed was true before. No matter how much we can prop up our opinions and beliefs with Scripture, that will only serve to block us from entering the kingdom if we make our beliefs more valuable than a humble relationship with God. We must become willing to challenge all of our beliefs and let go of those that do not correspond to what God has revealed in the testimony of Jesus' life and death.
Ironically, because forgiveness is a 'letting go' concept, not only is forgiveness at the very crux of entering into the kingdom but it is also the same principle that will ultimately cause the demise of the lost. The Bible definition of God's wrath is the concept of 'letting go.' God's wrath is then properly viewed as a final release of His insistent pursuit of the hearts of all who continue to resist Him until they have destroyed all capacity to respond to His love for them. In essence, from this perspective it could be said that as God 'forgives' the lost they experience the torture that results from their own realization of His love which induces indescribable suffering because of their incapacity to live in harmony with that love. The Bible is very clear that when God 'lets go' of someone that they are fatally destined to destruction. But ironically it is a destruction induced by themselves, not imposed from God. It may take some time for it to become obvious, but when God finally respects a person's choice to reject Him because He knows there is no more that He can do to reach their hearts, it is the saddest choice He ever makes for it is completely contrary to everything that flows from His heart. It is indeed His 'strange act'. It is the ultimate act of forgiveness but with a very strange twist.