Forgiveness. I love forgiveness! It is, after all, a cornerstone of the Christian faith. To embrace that concept in its entirety, to be freed from our offenses, is unfathomable. Without God's forgiveness, we would be hopeless and despairing, slaves to sin, dead in our sins. Forgiveness is beautiful.
However, there are times that forgiveness isn't my most favorite word, and it really doesn't feel all that beautiful to me. This is when it requires something of me...to extend forgiveness. It is not easy.
So how do you forgive? I remember pondering deeply this question as I thought of one particular friend who hurt me through a betrayal. "How do I forgive this? How do I let this go? Surely I can't release my offender before retribution occurs. Surely I can't be expected to move on without any type of reconciliation!"
This is where our faith meets our life in one of those ways that radically changes us in a most unnatural way. Because the very expectation that we think is impossible - to release and forgive our offenders - is indeed the very thing we must do. It is not an option. It is not up for discussion. The ability to forgive, to release one from the offense committed against you, comes first from the reality of the forgiveness you have received from God.
"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear." Isaiah 59:1-2
Isaiah 59 is a passage that explicitly describes the reality of our sinfulness. Speaking to the Israelites, Isaiah describes their predicament: they have rebelled against God and are facing consequences for their sins. They call to God, but it is in vain, not because God is unable to save them, but because of their hardness of heart. They call to God but continue to follow their sinful rebellion. Although Isaiah is addressing the Israelites from the historical context of this passage, we find truths and a description of sin that applies to all humanity.
Lest we are tempted to think our sins as "less than" the severity of others, Isaiah equalizes the playing field:
"For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity." Isaiah 59:3-4
He goes on to describe "works of iniquity" and "thoughts of iniquity." There is no distinction between one sin being greater than the other. Humanity suffers from the depraved condition of sin, and it infects every aspect of the person. Where does this sin condition leave us?
"Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men...For our transgressions are multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities..." Isaiah 59:9-10, 12
Oh, the despair. The hopelessness we have outside of the light of Christ! Isaiah's description is accurate: we are undeserving of forgiveness and desperate for salvation, but we are hopeless to achieve it on our own. However, the following verse serves as the turning point in this passage, and in the course of history:
"The Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought Him salvation, and His righteousness upheld Him." Is. 59:15-16
We know from history that God provided deliverance to the nation of Israel, extending mercy and forgiveness where none was deserved. He intervened and exacted justice against the enemies of Israel for the purpose of His glory. And in the greater historical context of humanity, God also stepped in and provided a way to salvation. Ultimately, "His arm" brought salvation to all through the work of Jesus Christ. He has extended mercy and forgiveness to you and to me where none is deserved.
I hope you will pull out your Bible and read Isaiah 59 in its entirety. I hope that you will let the reality of God's forgiveness radiate in your heart today. If you read this as one who has never experienced God's full and complete forgiveness, please visit this website and take care of your relationship with God today. We will explore the nature of God's forgiveness in future posts, but if you would like to read more now on this topic, Charles Spurgeon gives an extensive study on God's forgiveness in this sermon.
We forgive because we are forgiven. Until we put aside the blinders that keep us from seeing just how depraved we really are apart from Christ, we will not be able to access the godly humility and grace needed to forgive our offenders.
"For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:12-13