How does the Lord forgive? When He looks down at us covered in scarlet, watches us as we choose the dung over Him, daily, hourly, how is it that He decides whether or not to offer forgiveness? Is it when we are clean enough? Is it when we finally break down and find ourselves spewing out the laundry list of specific ways that we have sinned against Him... is that when He finally finds it in Him to offer us His perfect forgiveness?
I've been thinking about it nearly day and night for weeks now. I've been searching the Word, my eyes scanning the pages in search for His example. And the most amazing thing has been happening in my soul. Because if you've ever searched for forgiveness, if you've ever wanted to really truly know the depths of Christ's undeserved love for the nations, His indescribable love for His sin-stained, broken, messy children who even on their best days are nothing more than dirt, then you would be blown away by not only what He asks of us, but even more so by what He offers us. Christ's kingdom is the upside down way, polar opposite of this world that surrounds us and sometimes swallows us up, trapping us in the lies of self. The enemy says, "protect yourself, guard your heart, only allow your soul to get hurt X amount of times, then just shut down... it's the safest way to live a life." The Lord says, "Love extravagantly! And not for even an ounce of your own gain, but for the opposite, to Give EVERYTHING of yourselves." Ephesians 5 (MSG).
In an exchange of emails, one that I love and I write back and forth about pursuit and whether or not we need to pursue those who have hurt us... whether or not Christ would pursue us in our own mess? And I keep coming back to the same verse, "WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS, Christ died for us." It doesn't strike her in the same way that it strikes me. I'm at a loss for words, unable to explain the depths of undeserved grace that that one little verse offers. But to me that one line says it all when we find ourselves wondering what it means to forgive. The Lord Himself did not wait for us to seek Him out and wait to hear us confess the specific ways that we have hurt him throughout this one life that we've been given before He was willing to give EVERYTHING of Himself to us. EVERYTHING, His entire being, His very last breath... for what? For dust. He pursues us in our crud... IN OUR CRUD.
But lucky for us forgiveness and grace, and how we might learn to love the way that He loves is ALL over His Word, not just in that one little verse that strikes me so.
This past Sunday at church. We open our Bibles to Hosea, and the pages surprise me and I'm not sure why... because don't these words fall suit with the rest of His Word? Is it really all that surprising that God asks Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman? The same God who writes in the sand and with a handful of words, gives the verdict of life to an adulteress woman who's on the verge of being stoned by a determined mob. The same God who's ultimate rescue plan for His lost children involves the horrific death of His one and ONLY Son... the greatest gift given, all to offer hope to the nastiest of sinners.
And when Hosea's wife leaves and gives of herself again to other men, the story goes... "The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes." (Hosea 3)
TO literally go down to the street corner, pick up his bride, knowing FULL well that she is involved with a handful of men, take her home, and LOVE HER! LOVE HER! How? How is this possible? How does God expect Hosea to love a woman who wears her sin all over sleeve. Out of all the women that GOd could have picked for Hosea, is this really the one?
Because the story of Hosea and Gomer, is really the story of The Lord and us. Yes, it is undeniably hard to swallow... But the brutal, honest truth is that we are Gomer... ALL of us... each member of my family, me chief... and each member of every family. Can I hear that? Can I really hear that I am the prostitute? I am the one on the street corner and He is the one who is coming after me in the absolute THICKEST part of my sin, and He's taking me home, and He's purposely choosing to love me. That one truth is both devastating and life-giving, all in one breath. It's so incredibly hard for me to grasp that my sin is the same as the murder, the adulteress... exactly the same.
How could THe Lord have asked Hosea to go get his wife off the street corner?
Because fortunately for us, He doesn't love the way the world loves. He doesn't quit when things get hard. He doesn't run the other way when our darkness gets brought into the light. Instead, He takes our blood stained hands and out of His complete and utter selfLESSness, He trudges through the muck and cleanses us into pure white. And by the way that He lives, He teaches us to love. ANd by the way that He loves, He teaches us to forgive.
Because the Lord directs our lives for His glory, not our own. He sees the bigger picture. He knows that it's His kindness that leads hearts to repentance. He knows that we love only because He first loved us. He's an advocate for obedience even when we lack understanding. He lifts HIGH the humble hearts. Nearly everything the world suggests or promotes when it comes to how we should love is clashes with the way that the Lord defines love.
What then? Does that mean that He lacks justice? By no means. But justice is His and His alone. (Romans 12:19) Not ours. His call on our lives is love, simply love. More specifically, to love even our enimies. (Luke 6:35) Can this really be true? It's so contrary to this world, to everything we hear, to most of the counsel that we receive, even from those who are professing Christ followers.
Later in the book of Luke Christ tells another parable about two men who could not pay back their debt. One had a small amount of debt, the other a large amount... "Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" (Luke 7:42) Could it be then, that greater we forgive, the greater we display His splendor through the lens of love?
We have got to learn how to love. God is love, so in my mind, His example must be the best one to follow. And the way that He loved was with His life.
Even later in the book of Luke, Jesus tells 3 more parables of three things lost; a sheep, a coin, and a son.
Most know the story of the son... How he left and squandered everything that his Father had given him. And in the end of the whole fiasco the most unlikely picture of grace... The son goes off and spends years making foolish decisions until one day he hits rock bottom and returns home...
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."
Did you catch it? The Father looks up and sees his son coming down the road, and completely contrary to what any middle-eastern man of his day would have done, he dropped everything, and he RAN to his son. He didn't stand in front of his house waiting for a list of apologies. He didn't meet his son on the road and recant all the ways that the son had sinned against him over the years. In this parable, I see the Father's humble, gracious heart, pouring out forgiveness on his broken lost son.
Isn't this the story of all man kind?
If we could only see each other for who we all really are, dust, would that change anything? Could that one truth change everything? If we truly truly saw each other's faults, mistakes, short-comings as a description of ourselves, would it be any easier to offer one another the same deeply undeserved, yet joyfully received grace to one another that Christ Himself offers us... Him knowing perfectly well the grossness of our hearts, the embarrassing truth that He chose well known adulterers to be His bride? He knew we would lie, cheat and steal... even so, He made us, He chose us! He CHOSE US! He's not embarrassed by us. He sees us for what we are, nothing more than a broken speck, and then He rains down a flood of compassion on us, knowing full well that we will only have life if we find it in Him.
Is it not true, that those closest to us, the ones that we love most, are the ones that are sometimes hardest for us to love. For with deep love, often comes deep pain. But we want a world full of love without the pain. The irony is that we can never really know love until we've gone through the pain. Not staying stuck in the pain, but muddling our way through the pain with the moment by moment help of the Holy Spirit.
And it is easier and often times more comfortable for us to stay in the pain than it is for us to offer grace and go down the long , often rocky road of restoration. But He did it... He went down that road for us, for His adulterous wife. He did it knowing full well that those for whom He died would smack Him in the face and leave long hurtful messages on His phone, ripping deep into His heart, breaking Him all to pieces. He knew, and He gave everything anyway. He passionately pursued. He loved fervently. He lived sacrificially. There it is again... that one liner... "While we were yet sinners."
We've got to find a way to push through. We've got to find a way to refuse to believe the world and determine to believe Christ when He says that we are to forgive seventy times seven. He would not ask if He could not promise to deliver.
If we claim that we love Him, if we claim that his sacrificial gift of Christ on Cross is our everything then we must learn to live like Him, breathing grace in and out, whether deserved or undeserved... because, truth be told, we are all undeserved. Was Jesus not pained by those He loved? And in that pain, did He shun or did He give ALL of himself? " On the wood, He said, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Again, He knows what we are. We in turn need to know who we are. When we come to a place where we are truly aware of our own sin, our own ugliness, then, and only then, can we get to the place where we truly truly know the depths of His grace. Is it possible for us to offer that undeserved grace to those who have pained us? He doesn't ask anything of us that He Himself has not shown by example.
So where do we start? When everyone living on our family trees are broken and pained by the memories and the words of years past lived, how can the damaged tree be brought back to life?
I have a few thoughts...
I can begin by seeing myself and others for what we really are, dust. We are all going to fail one another over and over again. It's a given in this life. If all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, then I must grow to accept that sin is a part of this life, and I can combat it with the giving of forgiveness and grace, or I can choose to spend my life defending my own pride, rattling of the skimpy lists of things that I think I might have done right as a defense mechanism for protecting my broken heart. But the truth is that the latter will only keep me stuck in the pain. At least in the former their is hope for restoration and true, joy-filled life. :)
Then I can remember that in my own ugliness, Christ offers me this indescribable grace. It's wild! And so incredibly life-giving. If I so choose, I have the privilege of offering that same grace to others. If I really, truly, in the deepest parts of my heart, KNOW, the grace that I have been given, the bucket loads of forgiveness that He has generously lavished on me, I will want to offer it to others... freely, daily.
Let down that guard, and let Christ into those broken places. As I step out and offer forgiveness, He is able to begin the life long process of restoration. I might never know how the spewing of Life-giving words might actually GIVE life, even and especially if I'm offering them to the very person who has wronged me... all the more reason to give the kindest of words away.
And finally I can remember that when I find myself standing before the Lord in that final judgement, He will not give me even ONE moment to talk about or blame others. The only person that He will be asking me about is myself, the choices I made, the way that I chose to love, the way that I chose to forgive.
I'm going to be brutally honest here. If Christ forgave me, the way that I have been "forgiving" others all these years of my life, I would not want to be a Christ follower.
Shutting of communication and blaming the other person for my silence. Really I'm just ignoring, simply because the pain is seemingly to deep. But no one ever told me. No one ever took me through the scriptures and poured the life-giving truth that the Lord forgives completely contrary to the world. You would think that I would have figured it out after sitting in church every Sunday for nearly twenty years now. But I guess forgiveness is just one of those topics that cuts so deep that people don't want to spend time talking about it... better yet spur one another on towards actually living it. And because we are trying to forgive the way that the world forgives, us Christians are dying inside because our families and relationships look just like the world's and we're at a complete loss as to why. But the reason is written all over the pages of His Word. The reason we're dying is because we don't want to do the hard work of living. Christ calls us into the hard, life-giving work of forgiving even the biggest of jerk-faces. It is work! It is Hard! But the benefits are beyond compare!
Thank God He does not forgive as I do! Thank God, He goes out of His way to love on me. Thank God His kindness humbles me and makes me want to be more like Him. Thank God when He forgives that He declares that my sins are as far as the east is from the west, and unlike any human I know, He actually means it. Thank God that when I have hurt Him with my words or with my actions He still chooses to come after me, to speak His great love into me, to restore me to himself.
I am by no means an expert on the Bible. I don't claim to be some great Bible teacher. But I'm confident, with ALL OF MY HEART, that all over His Word, He pursues, He undeservedly forgives, & He loves in action and in truth.
Can I learn to do the hard work of forgiving the wounds of a broken past, wounds as close as yesterday? Can I choose life giving words and offer them to those who have pained this heart of mine? If I have been crucified with Him, then it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. The life that I NOW live in the body, I live by FAITH in the Son of God who loved me, and GAVE himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20) With Him in me, the answer is YES!
Some resources that have been captivating my heart on the topic of forgiveness...
The Work of All Children: How To Forgive Our Parents An article at In Courage by Ann Voscamp
Parenting With Hope In The Worst Of Times A sermon by John Piper on first being aware of our own need for Christ, our own ugliness, our own sin, as a means to powerful, meaning parenting.
1000 Gifts, A Dare To Live Fully RIght Where You Are This whole book has made me look at each of my moments in a whole new light. It is the best book, besides, the Bible, that I have read, ever, period! Yes, for me, it is that good! :)
A Message about Hosea A message of Christ's Restoration on a Sunday. :)