When Jesus had lifted himself up, and saw none but the woman,
he said unto her, “Woman, where are those your accusers?
has no man condemned you?”
She said, “No man, Lord.” And Jesus said unto her,
“Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more.”
Christ in the Gospel of John to adulteress caught in the very act
You may have grown up being taught to forgive, as when two kids get in a fight and making up. You may have heard platitudes that we should forgive without their really penetrating to your core. Being humanistic, you suppose you are somehow exempt from the whole Judeo-Christian tradition. You are strictly pragmatic about everything.
Hold on, it is never that easy! If you are in America, you are immersed in a culture deeply influenced by the Puritans who landed in Plymouth Rock several hundred years back. Everyone picks up these values, especially the notion of guilt. In Calvinism, we are all totally depraved, and without sovereign intervention, we go straight to hell.
As you grow older, you begin to wise up that you have something to do with all the conflict in your life, regardless of who started it. You begin to take responsibility for what you have done to people, and what people have done to you. If you are truly courageous, you take responsibility even for what others are doing to others all around the world.
How then, to forgive yourself? It is much harder than forgiving your worst enemy, as you live with yourself day in and day out.
As Friedrich Nietzsche put it, we are “human, all too human.” Nietzsche was a brilliant philosopher who probed deeply into our shadow. We are surrounded by “Philistines” who like nothing better than to bring the noble Samson down. Rather than attempt the heroic, they readily go on witch hunts, as we all too often see in politics.
We grow up with standards, whether our own, or others, that we never can quite keep. Whether it is cheating on a diet with a piece of chocolate, cheating on a relationship with a lurid affair or cheating in business to become top dog. When we violate our own standards, we can’t help feeling we are second rate. When we look at ourselves in the mirror while shaving, we are overcome with how much of a schmuck we really are.
The late Robin Williams did an amazing role in Being Human of playing half-a-dozen people throughout time, each one a reincarnation of the other. At the crucial moment, they all blow it and get themselves killed. In the final scene, Robin asks his estranged daughter, “Is this as good as it gets?”
Liberation begins when you realize that you are not alone as a sinner. We all fail to fulfill our latent potential. We all slip into rationalizing and blaming others. We all settle for second best. Even when we accumulate honors, we are convinced we simply cheated and don’t really deserve them.
Early on, I was involved in the human potential movement. Just out of school, that was a real eye-opener. People who seemed to have it all together totally fell apart. Both encounter groups and est, the pioneering transformational training, got us to own our ignoble feelings and petty bullshit.
At some point, you learn that it is not so bad to be “bad.” Everybody is bad at one time or another. In the words of the New Testament, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This is not news, but our common lot. We discover that religious people are not exempt from this sorry plight. When they own their sins, they start to have compassion on their frail fellow humans.
I grew up feeling sin was a moral outrage, a crime against God. You could even see on the shelf, My Sin Perfume, and it sold! Later I found that sin in the original Greek was simply missing the target in archery. You didn’t hit bullseye, the first circle or the second…you missed the target all together. It’s more like being a fool than being evil.
It’s more like being a fool than being evil.
While you may feel beyond traditional values, you will find yourself judging yourself. You don’t need God’s standards; you have standards of your own. You even fail to live up to your full potential. When you actually do, it is a big deal.
All sin, even deliberately harming another human being, can be seen as blowing it. You made a mistake that caused pain to yourself and another. You were royally stupid. Welcome to the club!
The turning point in my life was when I realized that ALL my sins are forgiven forever. I was speaking to my former est trainer on the phone, telling him I was in his training and had stood up to claim, “I didn’t get it.” He went through his mental file and rejoined, “You know what the Master said...Your sins ARE forgiven!”
The trainer said that in such a way that I knew he was referring to Jesus Christ. He put His teachings in a brand new light. God doesn’t simply forgive you AFTER you’ve sinned. You stand FOREVER FORGIVEN, from eternity past to eternity future. God simply doesn’t keep points. Not only is He your loving Father, you are “the apple of His eye.”
It took me many more years to fully realize that we live in a context of total forgiveness. God was never in the judgment game. We were. As Christ put it, “I came not into this world to judge the world, but to save it.” As was later written, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
Francis Thompson wrote a deeply insightful poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” When we are running from God, our Creator, our Source, our Only True Self, God seems like a blood hound. The faster we run, the faster He closes in. All our attempts at beating the Universe flounder. Our insistence on doing everything our own way, rather than surrendering to our Higher Self, seems increasingly futile.
When you finally do surrender, you will find that God is not attempting to beat you up, but to heal you. GOD, in His essence, IS PURE LOVE. He doesn’t care that you have been naughty, stupid or bad, he just loves YOU.
The supreme image of this in the Christian tradition is that of a divine love story, the ultimate symbol being the cross, itself. God loved you so much He willingly died for you, not at all because you were a filthy worm, but because you are infinitely precious in His eyes.
The more you realize that you, yourself, are already forgiven, the more you will forgive others.
The more you forgive others, the more you will forgive yourself. You might flatter yourself that you are sophisticated to condemn yourself. You may not realize that it is arrogant as well as self-defeating to trash yourself, when God judges nothing you have ever done.
The one thing that Jesus harped on in the Sermon on the Mount was to stop judging others. They will judge you in the very same way you judge them. You can break all the rules, and still be a son or daughter of God. That is because you are BORN that way. That is simply who you are. You are inherently divine, even though human. As Dr. Deepak Chopra put it, you are hard-wired for God.
Strangely, Christianity is not the only religion to say this, nor Christ the only Master. You will find this resonates with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and even humanism. Forgiveness is always the way out. When you bless and forgive others, and thank God for the joy they bring you, you become the Light of the World. You fulfill the Great Commission, becoming Christ to YOUR world.