Sunday, September 24, 2006

There Is Forgiveness In You

I was contemplating the concept of forgiveness the other day, in the context of a spousal disagreement.

For those of my readers who are not married, let me reveal a secret of marriage: typically, the husband needs forgiveness more frequently than the wife. I don't mean this in the sense that men are greater sinners, but I think it's fair to say that - generally - the shortcomings of the masculine sex are more acutely felt in a marriage relationship. By contrast, the people who women sin against are spread out over a broader spectrum of social life, and so while the man and the woman need forgiveness equally as much, the husband and wife, to each other, have a more disproportionate ratio.

It is a very humbling thing to have to ask for forgiveness from the same person over and over. Often this is a difficult task. Yet God is always the chief victim of our sin, and if we should ever be humbled, it is when we approach his throne of grace. As St. Paul wrote in II Cor. 12:

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

Whenever I start to entertain the lie that my sin cannot be forgiven this time, it helps to think of forgiveness in this manner: God eagerly desires deep communion with every person on earth, yet so many reject him - either directly or through a more roundabout process of distraction. His heart burns to restore that lost connection! There are a few - like myself - who return his desire for that intimacy, albeit imperfectly. We struggle, we fall, we sin again, breaking that union.

Of course he will welcome us back! We few are all he has! And while he seeks to save the truly lost, he still tends his existing flock.

This is why Paul could boast "most gladly" about his weaknesses - it was only due to their presence that he is made aware of his true place in the universal scheme of things (which is the definition of humility). If we are not weak, what do need God for? If we do not sin, why do we need forgiveness? The man who says he is strong and sinless is neither.

I have to ask myself what is going through God's mind when he forgives. Is he reluctantly dragging his feet, grudgingly muttering, "I forgive you"? Or is he like the father of the prodigal son, who spying him a far way off, jumps off the rooftop and runs with all the speed he can muster, embracing his penitent son, showering him with kisses and gifts?

This challenges me a lot. When I forgive others, is it with the same eagerness?

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