Trevor wrote something yesterday that I thought was profound and meaningful (Don’t tell him, though – it will just go to his head.) In talking about the nature of God’s forgiveness, he wrote:
Sin is forgiven at the cross. All of the things we do to mess up God’s world and hurt other people is forgiven. Done with. Gone. There is nothing impeding your relationship with God. God is not holding on to your offense in case it needs to be used against you later, and God is not looking at the crucified Jesus and saying: “Look what you made me do.” Neither is God hoping you will work your way back into God’s good graces.
There is nothing impeding your relationship with God. What an incredibly true statement.
And yet I would have one point of contention with that remark. I think there can only be 1 thing that impedes your relationship with God; only 1 thing that can stand in the way of God’s mercy:
The only thing that can get in the way is you. Forgiveness is a constant with God. His gift has already been given. The way he feels about us does not change. So the only thing impeding your relationship with him is you.
Let me illustrate using a couple of film clips.
The first is from Saving Private Ryan. The movie follows Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) as he and his band of soldiers trek through war-torn Europe to find one soldier — Pvt. Ryan (Matt Damon) — and send him home to his family. The climactic scene includes a dying Miller telling Ryan to “earn this”, in essence to live up to the sacrificial gift that he’d been given. This is the end of the movie:
The enduring picture is not of a man set free by an enormous gift, but rather someone burdened by others’ sacrifice. He spent his life desperately trying to live up to something that was simply unattainable. A gift that should have brought freedom instead haunted him.
This can be our response to God’s forgiveness. Instead of freely receiving a gift beyond measure, we can live as burdened people, dragging the weight of grace around like a ball and chain, ashamed of our inability to earn such a benefaction.
Or we can learn to fall into the arms of grace.
The picture of this for me comes from Good Will Hunting. The story here is of the troubled genius Will Hunting (Matt Damon, again) who is being counseled by Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). In this clip we see Will finally being confronted by all the evil done to him, his mistakes and behavior in light of it all, and someone willing to offer him grace. The language in this clip is incredibly rough, so please do not click the link if that is a issue you’d like to avoid. (You have been warned!)
The beauty of this scene, with Sean repeating “It’s not your fault”, is not about dispersing guilt to others. Rather, it’s in the admission that the world is dark, that many of us have had evil done to us and that we have all added to the darkness by our own attitudes and actions. And by falling into Sean’s arms, Will finally is released and able to say “I’m sorry.” He’s finally able to find the forgiveness that’s always been available. He’s finally free.
The key to accepting forgiveness is letting go of shame — for the things done by us and the things done to us — and wrapping our arms around humility. The humility that we are the recipients of a gift we did not earn and never could.
Shame whispers in our ear that we are terrible. Humility admits that although we have done terrible things, that the arms of God are always ready to embrace us. Our errors have already been forgiven.
We simply need to get out of mercy’s way.