The Bible tells us that it is ‘perfect love’ which must, in the very nature of the case, expel from the heart all hatred and every evil contrary contrary to love, just as you must first empty a cup of all oil that may be in it before you can fill it with water.
When most people read the parable Jesus told in Luke 15, they refer to it as the story of the “Prodigal Son.” Religion traditionally has made this story about the failure and sins of the son, just as religion often focuses more on the deeds of the sinner rather than on what God has done to restore the relationship between Himself and His children. But this parable is more about a father’s love and cry for intimacy than it is a son’s rebellion. Although the son did spend his inheritance extravagantly, how much more recklessly did his father give honor, compassion, forgiveness, and grace to his son when he least deserved it?
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Forgiveness doesn’t require reconciliation. Sometimes reconciliation isn’t possible or safe. Forgiveness is your decision that no one can take away from you. It’s you honoring God. It’s you honoring your healing process. It’s you deciding you’ve suffered enough because of what happened. It’s empowering and it is beautiful. Reconciliation requires that both people are willing to do the hard and humble work of coming back together. If they weren’t willing to honor the work necessary to come back together in a healthy way, that doesn’t make you a failure. Not even close. Your redemption by God is not held hostage by someone else’s choices. It’s between you and God.
When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, ‘What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?’ It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger.
I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology, I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it, you weren’t really to blame.” Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.
Good Friday is the mirror held up by Jesus so that we can see ourselves in all our stark reality, and then it turns us to that cross and to his eyes, and we hear these words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That’s us! And so we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. We see in that cross a love so amazing, so divine that it loves us even when we turn away from it, or spurn it, or crucify it. There is no faith in Jesus without understanding that on the cross, we see into the heart of God and find it filled with mercy for the sinner, whoever he or she may be.
Because Jesus fully satisfied the justice of God toward our sin, God no longer counts it against us. But what about our struggles with persistent sin patterns, when we are tempted to feel that we have exhausted the patience and forgiveness of God? We should still bring that sin to the cross with an attitude of repentance and contrition knowing and believing there is no sin that is beyond the cleansing power of the blood of Christ as God said in Isaiah 1:18 “Your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall become as wool.” We cannot resist the power of remaining sin in our lives if we have not first dealt with its guilt. And the only way to do this is to continually go back to the cross and see Jesus bearing that sin, and paying its penalty through His death. We truly are new creations in Christ.