Updated: Jan 18
Dr. RB McFee
“If you don’t forgive trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Does that include forgiving God, too?
When is the last time you heard that question? When is the last time you thought about your relationship with God in such terms? Have you ever considered you and God have a dynamic interaction going on, with discussions, expectations, prayers, actions, learning, faith and love as the key activities?
Because one could argue of all the ingredients to a faith life, the most essential, the starting point, is our relationship with God. Think the hymn “what a friend we have in Jesus.” Or for me the hope of becoming like Abraham – God’s friend. And no friendship or relationship can survive without forgiveness, honesty, and trust.
Speaking about forgiveness; just how does that factor in a relationship with God, since He can do no wrong?
And why talk about it in the context of God? Did I miss the memo on Job or Psalms or other Old Testament teachings…. “What is man that God is mindful of him?”
Consider a while ago during a very intense devotion time with God, thinking about my life, the doors that opened, and the ones that didn’t, the successes, and disappointments, highs, and lows, thoughts of disappointment intruded ones of gratitude I had for God’s blessings along the journey. Ashamed of those feelings, I quickly inserted a sincere attempt at understanding, if not outright gratitude for the challenges and painful moments. It was then that I heard these two powerful questions come into my soul, my mind ….”do you forgive yourself, and do you forgive Me?”
Wow! Those questions hit me like a blast of cold wind. How do you respond to God when he asks those questions? Yet, God started me on a very healthy and loving dialogue between us, Creator and His creation, me!
Although God is sinless, holy, perfect, and pure, does that mean we don’t feel at times that He let us down? Even when we want to trust, live in faith, accept what happens with the confidence God knows what is best, as mere mortals can we always whistle a happy tune, when things go wrong, yet we think we did everything right? As a result, do we hold back from fully giving ourselves to God, not really sure about Him and His influence on our lives? Perhaps we want to commit to Him, but remember something that hurt us that He didn’t fix?
Put this way is there a barrier that needs to be taken down? Does that require us to forgive Him? The only way we truly enter into a relationship, especially with God is to love with the sense of a clean slate; something Jesus was trying to teach His Disciples, and us.
That said, a major theme of the New Testament is forgiveness. Sermons and Scripture repeatedly talk about God, and Jesus forgiving us for our sins.
Now before you think I’ve lost my mind or faith, fell on my head, misread the Bible, or are way out there, recognize this is about love – unrestrained, unrestricted, unbridled love towards God. This article and what we’ll discuss is from a place of love. But can you have love without forgiveness? Can you give yourself over to anyone – friend, sibling, parent, spouse or God if you are harboring a hurt? Or you haven’t been truthful with yourself to forgive yourself, too?
I think about the book by Dr. Armand Nicholl titled The Question of God. In it he discusses the early lives of Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis. Both were raised as Christians, yet when God didn’t save someone they each loved in their youth, both became atheists. Freud remained so; one can imagine his suffering a lifetime at war with God, and perhaps himself, too, while Lewis ultimately became a person of faith. One wonders how did Lewis make peace with God, and himself? Was it through forgiveness?
To be sure, we really aren’t in a position to forgive God because He is blameless, and truthfully it’s our perception of the situation that leads to the pain, the blame, the grudge. But if we can’t put it out there, and talk freely with God, how can we ever fully love, or trust Him?
So ask yourself do you treat God as if He let you down? Have you ever been disappointed in an outcome you expected differently from God? Do you still harbor that frustration down deep in a place where nobody but you and God can see it? Are the disappointments of the past holding you back from fully trusting in God for your present life, let alone the future?
Perhaps a better question might be ‘are you still holding a grudge against God?’
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then how can you get past it?
You see for me, an authentic, loving relationship, and real trust can only occur after forgiveness is given, hurts are forgotten, or to put it the way my parents advised – “just let it go!”
To be sure, God does nothing wrong. But our disappointments are barriers to practicing faith in Him.
And too often we feel, either by upbringing, or other influences, if we question, or have an honest dialogue with God, it is disrespectful, or lacks faith. I would suggest, if you can’t be honest with God, who can you be honest with? If you can’t treat Him as your Father, and bring your love, and hurts to His attention, you can never expect to be fully connected. It is at that point when we can admit to God, not in anger, or shame, but lovingly, our frustrations, our not understanding why bad things, sad things happened, that is when true healing begins. And it is when our trust in God begins, too.
Think about the iconic “Footprints” sculpture and story….a man and Jesus are walking. The man points to the single set of footprints during the saddest moments in his life. Then he asks Jesus where was He in the midst of the hurts and hardships? Jesus tells the man that the single footsteps are times when the Lord carried him.
It is only when we shine the bright light of honesty on those times in our lives when we wonder “where were you God?” or “why do I feel like You let me down God?” that you can think about where you are now, and how He got you through it. How He provided for you – friends, family, an act of kindness. That it wasn’t all dark and disappointing.
It is during authentic times with God that He provides clarity.
It is during those times we also learn to give forgiveness to the hardest people of all to forgive – ourselves! Because chances are, some of what we blame God for, might just be our own mistakes, inexperience, errors, not His! Unlike God, we’re not perfect. So listen to mom….“Just let it go!”
God needs us to clear the air, to move forward together.
Clearly God is sinless. He loves us. Yet let’s be frank; at times the Bible’s guidance on God in our life can be a bit confusing. Which is why, through honest dialogue we can focus on God in our life, to grow our understanding of, and relationship with Him. It is about us building a trusting relationship with God.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
Proverbs 3: 5-6
Whether Proverbs, or elsewhere in the Bible, God constantly reminds us to trust Him. Trust is an important part of any relationship, and can unlock His power in our life. Like forgiveness, it is a discipline, a commitment.
Once we look at our lives from the trust perspective of a loving God, we see a pattern of blessings emerge that might otherwise be overlooked if focusing only on the disappointments. If we invite God to be a significant part of who we are and where we are going, we start to see Him more and more. He becomes Present to us the more we trust Him.
Is this to say His actions will always be obvious? Not a chance! But if we approach Him authentically, we are more likely to be fully present to God, and in return, more aware of, receptive to, and connected with our Creator. That is a barrier buster!
As a barrier buster – forgiveness is key.
Consider Jesus’ messages to us throughout His life, in sermons and teachings, all the examples he set forth in the New Testament. Throughout the Gospels Jesus counsels His followers the importance of forgiveness. In fact, one could argue forgiveness is one of the two themes of His ministry, and among the most important acts we are tasked to do as Christians.
Recall the discussion between Jesus and His Disciples when He was asked how often do we forgive someone? Or the need to turn the other cheek (a metaphor for forgiveness, not a recommendation to get frequently slapped in the face).
There’s a reason forgiveness is so important that it factors prominently in The Lord’s Prayer.
And among all the symbols of forgiveness described in the Bible, is the Cross itself. In fact it is the ultimate symbol of forgiveness. In spite of torture, betrayal and false accusations from Romans, the Jewish leadership, and His own chosen Disciples, in spite of excruciating pain, Jesus asks God “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23-34).
As an aside, I believe when Christ told us to carry our cross, he wanted to remind us of our two responsibilities as Christians – sharing love, and giving forgiveness.
Is it time to forgive?
If you feel a sense of disappointment, being let down, frustrated, don’t seem to get His guidance or hear His voice, confused where God is leading you, or the outcomes in your life aren’t what you wanted, or it seems like there is more rain than sunshine in your life, maybe it is time to be candid with God.
Having this painful and honest time of self revelation and then bringing it to God is the real beginning of a trust relationship with Him. It shows you want to be ‘all in’ with God. It shows you care enough about the relationship to be honest. It reveals to God a willingness to be closer with and healed by Him. It demonstrates you are ready for the next steps in faith with God.
By letting go of the frustration, by recognizing His sovereignty, as well as His love of us, by accepting He sees the complete journey, while we only see the road ahead of us, by sharing with Him a willingness towards relationship, and then by making a daily effort to share our lives with Him – this is how we love God.
So when I asked “Do we forgive God, too,” it was not about disrespect for our Creator. But for lack of a better way to describe the process of “letting go,” of our perception He disappointed us, and in the process, apologize for the lack of faith and trust we had in Him, or being frustrated with Him.
We can’t enjoy a healthy, loving relationship with anyone if we remain holding onto a hurt. True love requires a heart for forgiveness; they go hand in hand. Our love of God is the most important relationship we can have. We build a strong bond with, and approach who we care about, especially the Almighty, with love, trust, and forgiveness.
If we want to fully experience God, we have to let go of what we blame Him for. When we do that God will affirm to us He truly is trustworthy. It is about going to Him authentically, and bearing our soul, sharing a fully honest discussion where we feel God let us down, and asking forgiveness for those feelings. Entering the conversation with gratitude that He is a God of mercy, and love, and telling our Father we really want to trust Him with our life, such is the beginning of a trusting, loving relationship with the Almighty.
“The Lord is merciful and forgiving.”