Throughout my life, I’ve always been my own toughest critic. I push myself harder than anyone else, and I’m the slowest to forgive myself for faults or mistakes. A side effect of that is that I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that once God forgives us, we’re truly forgiven. It’s not held against us. We’re wiped clean: God looks at us and sees His child, not a string of our screw ups. On a rational level I know that I’m instantly and completely forgiven for whatever I do, no matter how “bad” it may be on a human scale. But I’ve always had a hard time grasping that on an emotional level: my feelings of guilt don’t subside that quickly or completely. Because I hold such a high standard for myself and don’t like to see myself fail, how do I “feel” forgiven by God?
In the past month I made a bad decision. I’ll spare you the details, but I chose to do something despite people who cared for me advising me not to do it. It didn’t take long for things to sink in and I realized that I made a bad call and handled a situation badly. So of course I felt bad: bad that I’d made this bad decision and bad that I’d done this in front of people who cared about me & (at least before this moment) respected me. So I set out to attempt to make this right. After dealing with the situation appropriately, I tried to check in with the friends who were bystanders of my moment of glory. With some, it was as simple as “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I made a bad decision the other day, and I recognize that.” With others, there were more extensive conversations. But almost universally the reactions were the same: “Its okay. Yeah, you made a mistake. We all do. God forgives you and there’s grace.”
This response blew me away. I was expecting people to be cool about it when I brought it up with them, but I wasn’t expecting the level of genuineness I saw. Moreover, my friends really meant it. Yes, I was wrong, no one’s arguing with that. But this community has recognized my sins and not held them against me at all. I haven’t felt judged and I haven’t seen any signs of people telling others about it.
What has struck me about this most is that this is how God forgives us. Romans 4:25 says “He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Whenever I mess up, God has already paid for it with His son’s death. If I as a Christ-follower believe that the Son of God died for me, who I am to hold onto the brokenness that he has paid for? And it’s not like he forgives me but holds those mistakes over my head: God said in Jeremiah 31, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” They’re forgotten. The way that my friends have forgiven me and moved on with our friendships has modeled the forgiveness of Christ in a really tangible way to me.
I know that Christian community is far from perfect. Because its made of flawed individuals, we will hurt each other. Sometimes we don’t live out Christ’s forgiveness to each other. But there is grace, and it is a crazy beautiful thing to see lived out. So while given the choice, I wish I could undo the situation. But it’s kind of crazy how much I learned about God and about community through me screwing up. God is good, and uses everything for our good (Romans 8:28).