“How could I DO that! It’s not fair! It’s not right! That just hurt them too much! How can I say I love then, when I did that?!”
For the past couple posts, “In Love We Trust” and “Please Forgive Him!”, we have been discussing intimacy and the immediate love relationship with the Divine, and how it both reflects and is reflected by, our relationships with one another.The central theme I present (with which you are welcome to disagree if you choose) is:
We cannot truly love those we do not trust. And we cannot truly trust those we do not forgive.
One day, Jesus was asked…
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:36-40]
Now, Jesus was only asked about ONE SINGLE commandment. And He answered the question. But notice, He simply COULD NOT leave the statement at that. For Him to address our relationship with God, without addressing two other relationships was simply not acceptable to Him. That would have been wrong. And He refused to do that.
“TWO relationships?” you ask. Yes. It is easy to see that Jesus speaks of our relationship with others here. In fact, time and time again we see this text and that of the Good Samaritan circumscribing Jesus’ understanding of “neighbor”. But there is another entire relationship contained in His simple words “as yourself”. Contrary to a great deal of religious-looking thinking, writing, preaching, teaching… we are NOT to “despise ourselves”.
This may be a strange thought to some, Gentle Reader, but we are to hold ourselves in the same sacred love as we hold others… the same as Jesus holds us… the same as the Father and Spirit hold us. Please, stop, for just a moment, and consider that statement.
Why? Why are we to do this?
Because this is what God does, what God has willed, what God has done.
The Apostle Paul discusses this incredible reality in his letter to the Romans:
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” [Romans 5:6-11]
God loves us FIRST! He loves and came/comes to save SINNERS, the UNRIGHTEOUS, His ENEMIES!
We SAY these things so readily and blithely, Gentle Reader. But so seldom do we stop and think them through. Are you in Christ? Indwelt of the Holy Spirit? Does God hold you in the hollow of His hand? I suspect so. (Otherwise, this isn’t a blog likely to appeal to you, so I trust that to be so.) But beloved brother or sister… just as for myself… that didn’t happen and doesn’t happen because “we got sorted out enough to entertain His presence!” Far from it. He comes to those who NEED Him, and receive Him in that need. It has nothing at all to do with our getting “cleaned up enough to touch Him”… He is the only one who can “clean us” in the first place!
So, why am I bothering to belabor such a fundamental Truth?
Because it is so very easy to forget our own helplessness, as we grow in Him. As we grow, our conscience becomes more sensitive, more attuned to right or wrong, to godliness or dissipation, to purity or depravity, to righteousness or callousness, to love or indifference. We become more aware of the moments when we forget His presence and grace, and act out of appetite, pique, or adrenalin. The Spirit within our conscience points out such moments in our considerations, we know remorse, repentance, and we grow in our understanding, compassion, and love.
It seems an odd thing, but the more we mature in Christ, the more loving we become. But at the same time, our “internal standard” increases as well. Our expectations of ourselves rise, so that often, rather than acknowledging and praising God for our growth (our increase in loving others and decrease in wounding neighbors) we feel more dissatisfied than ever. Our guilt, our shame, our dissatisfaction can increase rather than diminish. There is a subtle trap of darkness here… undermining grace, hope, gratitude… endorsing and affirming pride and a sense of hopelessness or despair.
Now, this post could become a long, scripture-laden, multi-faceted teaching… or we can keep this simple. So I just want to put some ideas our here, let you consider them (prayerfully), and see what you think. I would appreciate comment, response, reaction, and discussion if/as you feel led. So here we go…
- God loves FIRST. He did. He does. That’s it. We can choose to receive that or not, but we never did, we don’t, and we never will… “merit”… “deserve”… or “get good enough” to deserve or earn that love. We can just reflect it to Him, and refract it to others… but only He IS and RADIATES Love as His very essence and being.
- In this life we yet walk subject to “glass darkly” incomplete vision and understanding. We know moods, feelings, reactions, adrenalin, illusions and temptations that from time to time we use our free will to choose, in place of God’s will. That is, sometimes we sin, treating one another or even God Himself as less than sacred and holy.
- When we recover our peace in Him, we become aware of such past moments, and experience remorse, perhaps even shame or guilt. We can respond to such awareness with either of two kinds of sorrow, one that leads to death, the other to repentance.(see 2 Cor 7:10)
- The sorrow that leads to death haunts us, dwells in a closet of buried regrets, and emerges in our lowest hours to foment a sense of despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt that robs us of any sense of joy or life. It drives us away from God in our shame and the desire to hide from Him. The sorrow that leads to repentance is clear and can be uncomfortable, but seeks light and cleansing and hope. It is a sorrow that seeks to reconcile and render relationships whole again, rather than distant and disrupted.
- The crucifixion and redemption of Jesus at Calvary, the sacrifice of His blood shed on the cross, was so complete and so perfect that it forgave all sin for all time: past, present, and future. Such that there is no further room in the life of the believer for an ongoing sense of sin, guilt or shame.
- God, in the crucifixion and redemption, paid for and REMOVED all sin and its stain, from those who believe. As far as east is from the west. There was a Writ of Transgressions (a charge sheet) against us, which has been nailed to the cross and obliterated in Jesus’ blood. Our sins are buried in the deepest abyss of the sea. There are TWO goats in the Atonement Sacrifice, one that dies to pay the price of sin, the other on whom the blood is poured and is driven from the camp (the Scapegoat). There are TWO sets of “books” at the White Throne Judgment: one BOOK (singular), (The Lamb’s Book of Life) containing the names of the redeemed, and the BOOKS (plural) (The Books of Deeds) that are opened ONLY for those NOT in the Book of Life, who are judged according to their deeds.
- Jesus has clothed us in His own robes of righteousness, which is why and how God sees us (right now!) as clean before Him.
Now, do we all “feel” this, “realize” this, walk in full “awareness” of this all the time every day? No! We yet experience our own frailties and faults, failures and missed marks day after day. Nonetheless, God has already woven all of that, and this, into His plans, His tapestry of time… and it is all accounted for in His will.
“Forgiveness” is a yes/no proposition in life. Either we choose a universe where Forgiveness exists… for ALL… or we do not. Forgive others. Yes. Forgive God. Assuredly. But also… of great importance… Forgive yourself!
So many people “stand apart” from God, because there is something in their past (or even their present) that THEY cannot forgive, so they dare not embrace Holy God.
Know what? He knows about that. He always did. He knew about it before you did. He knew about it before you did it, before you knew it was wrong, before you repented it. He LOVES you… and LOVED you BEFORE you did it, WHILE you did it, and now. He does not, and never has, despised you or been ashamed of you.
So here’s the challenge: If God Himself loves, forgives, and embraces you (and me)… knowing full well (even better than we do) all our shortcomings, vulnerabilities, failures and habits… who are we to condemn ourselves and retain our shame and guilt? If Jesus Himself DIED, according to both His and the Father’s will… to FREE us from sin, guilt, and shame… is there any merit in holding on to those despite His sacrifice?
Do you have faults, Gentle Reader? So do I.
Does an “accountability list”, or an inventory “examination of conscience” sometimes seem to fill you with despair or disgust? Well, I do that sometimes.
But it took a really REALLY long time, before Jesus sat me down one day, hugged me, and said, “I know every stumble every time, and I always have. I know every flaw and failing, and I always have. And yet I chose to die for you, knowing all that, just because I love you that much and I want you to embrace Me as I embrace you. Now… if you are ‘good enough for Me’ just as you are, will you please let yourself be ‘good enough for you, too’? Since *I* forgive you… will YOU please forgive you, too? If you can quit focusing so much on the stumbles and frailties, and focus on My embrace, instead… you’ll find you stumble a lot less.”
So there you go, Gentle Reader. Since He has forgiven you so much, and gone to such trouble to make it so and take all stain (past, present, and future) from you… Please forgive you, too! It’s a choice we make. We can live WITH forgiveness… or not. It’s entirely up to us.