I think one of the hardest things to do is to forgive yourself. What can I hold out as evidence of that?
First, off, I will confess that it has been a difficult thing for me. For a long time I held onto this little subordinate clause: “But you are not good enough.” Secondly, it is one thing I have heard about a lot in the bishop’s office, perhaps more than anything else. How could I help others forgive themselves when I didn’t do it myself? Well, I have forgiven myself. And if there is any question, I reforgive myself. Out loud. All the time. And I feel much better, much closer to my Heavenly Father.
Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why can’t we accept the forgiveness that Christ offers us without second guessing it or making up special exemptions for ourselves?
I am comforted by the words of John: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17.) The mission of our Savior is to save, not condemn. It seems like mankind got that backwards—we collectively are so much more inclined to condemn than save. Truth is, if we weren’t so angry at ourselves, we would likely be much less angry at the world. It is something we all need to work on.
Here is a perfect example of how God does not condemn us, also taken from John (chapter 8, the first 11 verses).
Jesus was sitting in the temple in Jerusalem teaching one morning when some Pharisees and scribes—the religious establishment of the day—brought to him a woman taken in the act of adultery. You can just feel their wrath and condemnation coming off the page. But weren’t they justified in their zeal? I mean, adultery is a very serious sin.
They said, “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”
Well, when they heard that they were “convicted by their own conscience,” and one by one they all left the scene, until Jesus was alone with the woman. Standing there, she must have had her eyes on the ground. Can you imagine how embarrassing a moment like this might be in front of anyone, let alone the Son of God?
It was time for a short interview. Jesus stood up again and saw no one around except the woman. Then He says, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” On two occasions, Jesus addressed his own mother as Woman in the Gospel of John (John 2:4; 19:26). In this context, the title certainly was intended to show the woman respect.
Here is a key. Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
There is mercy. Jesus did not condemn the woman taken in the very act of sin. Why should we condemn ourselves then, especially for sins long past?
I see it mainly as a matter of faith. Does Jesus have power to cleanse from sin? Yes, of course. Then when we have done what we can and should do about our sins, why don’t we trust that by His grace He has forgiven us? And if He has forgiven us, then why don’t we in turn forgive ourselves and others? (It is often awkward to forgive others when we won’t forgive ourselves because we tend to take out our self-loathing on them.)
It’s the natural man in us that resists the mercy of God. The natural man wants to be in charge of everything, and boss you and everyone else around. The natural man is all about the immediate, not the Infinite. The natural man takes pleasure in a victim role, in being stuck, in taking on and holding onto sorrow and pain and misery and blame, instead of giving it to the One who can cast it all behind His back (Isaiah 38:7).
So let go and trust. God is worthy of our trust. It’s His plan, not ours. Leave your sins at the doorstep of heaven and walk in. Put the natural man in time out, where he belongs—and take yourself out of time out. You’ve been in long enough.
I love this passage from Ezekiel. “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live” (Ezekiel 18:21,22).
It’s not necessary for us to mention them either, once we have repented. God bless us all to find peace in forgiveness, not only of others but of ourselves.