Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions
By Chris WittsThursday 15 Oct 2020Morning Devotions with Chris Witts
If you were to ask ministers or counsellors the most frequently asked statement they hear from people it’s probably this: I think God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.
It’s such a sad sentence, and you may have said it yourself. Is there any hope? I can never forgive myself for what I did or said. It must be very hard for people to cope with this nagging and disturbing feeling.
Psychologists tell us that we have to forgive ourselves for whatever wrongs we think we may have done in the past. We have to get past those things, and put a bright face on it all. We have to tell ourselves that it’s OK for us to move on. Don’t be so hard on yourself, our friends tell us. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, and forgive yourself when you do, today’s therapists say.
I’m not really qualified to say that’s good advice or not. Have you ever felt that familiar uneasiness that comes when you remember something wrong that you have done in your past—someone you hurt, or something you never got around to doing but probably should have? You wonder, What could I have done? What should I have seen? What might I have said? The questions go on and on, and every person’s situation is different.
I heard the true story of a poor woman who, many years ago, accidentally ran over a child with her car. He had been riding along the street on his bicycle, suddenly turned to cross the pavement, and drove right into the path of the oncoming car. The woman whose car rolled over his little body struggled with deep trauma for years afterwards. Her friends would sometimes find her in quiet places, sobbing with grief.
God Promises to Forgive Us
There was no reason for her to feel responsible for the accident and yet she was plagued by guilt and very likely thought to herself, I just can’t forgive myself. If you study the Bible you won’t find any teachings on this matter of forgiving yourself. God promises to forgive us, but this is slightly different—it is quite a complex matter, and not easy to discuss in a short time. But it’s worth saying something just the same.
The New Testament story of Judas gives us a glimpse of a man who knew Jesus. He served and worked with him, but made a terrible decision to betray him for money. Did he come to the desperate point where he thought I’ve done something terrible. I have sinned, and can’t forgive myself. He had actually betrayed Jesus—a terrible act of treachery. But he didn’t repent and confess his wrong doing. He may have thought I’ve gone too far—there is no way I can forgive myself. No-one can forgive me. And Judas hung himself in an act of desperation.
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All he needed to do was listen to Jesus’ often made call to repentance and belief. All he needed to do was wait and listen to Jesus forgive the thief on the cross, and then watch Jesus die to save us all. Judas simply needed to receive, in the depths of his heart, the gift of God’s grace. He didn’t need to forgive himself. He couldn’t. When we don’t forgive ourselves, it can mutate into the kind of reality-denying over-compensation. It may display itself in a lingering listlessness or sadness that robs you of the capacity for real joy anymore. We need to watch out it doesn’t destroy us.
We Must Adjust Our View About God
One of the things that keeps us from allowing ourselves to be forgiven is the fact we have some wrong views about God. If we are going to be able to forgive ourselves, we must first adjust our view about God. Maybe we feel like God is out to get us, or that he does not love us—maybe we think God is some mean guy who likes to extract punishment out of us. I’m sure we can have some negative images of God we have acquired from our childhood, church communities or other ‘authority’ figures. That God is like a policeman out to punish us for our sins.
Psalm 103:12-14 (NASB) says:
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
If God, the creator of the universe can forgive you, why can’t you forgive yourself?
Many of us think that God cannot wait to pay us back for the wrongs we have done. God gives us his Word, the Bible, to live by and in his word we find true freedom. Once you know that God has forgiven you through the death of Jesus on the cross, you can not only forgive others, you can also forgive yourself. Don’t go through life punishing yourself. In Jesus Christ, you are a new person. The old has gone, The new has come.
Maybe you’re too hard on yourself. You’re not perfect. As a wise man once said, “Go forward always with confidence, without letting yourself be touched by the grief of a sensitive pride, which cannot bear to see itself imperfect.” You and I need to be in company of some good and honest people who will help us, and keep us accountable. Don’t do life on your own. It’s very difficult, especially if you feel guilty all the time. You are not God. Try not to define your life by your mistakes and worst moments, but by the good and helpful things you have done.
You can forgive yourself because God has already forgiven you in Jesus Christ. If God, the creator of the universe can forgive you, why can’t you forgive yourself? Are you greater than God?