Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Have you ever struggled to forgive yourself?
In her novel The Last Sin Eater, Francine Rivers paints the story of Cadi Forbes, a ten-year-old girl tormented by remorse and self-hatred in the wake of a family tragedy for which she blamed herself. Finding no sympathy in her family and no peace in her heart, she believes herself to be under the judgement of God. Worse than the whispers in her community and the heavy silence in her home is the guilt that presses on her heart constantly. When she is at her lowest point and has lost all hope, the message of the gospel comes to her. The reality of God’s grace in the face of her own unworthiness lifts the weight of self-condemnation from her shoulders and she becomes an unlikely missionary in her community. And it all started with believing that she was really truly forgiven and loved by God.
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2 (NLT)
Like Cadi, I used to struggle to forgive myself when I strayed from the right path. I didn’t have to dig too deep into myself to realize this turmoil was because I didn’t really believe God had forgiven me.
How could He?
I knew my unworthiness too well and the concept of grace seemed too good to be true. The sins I had accumulated over the course of my life appeared too dark to be washed away.
Every time I fell into sin I didn’t just see that act, but another wrong-doing to cast onto the heap of reasons I wasn’t good enough. I would think to myself, “Well, this has to be the final straw. God is done with me for sure now. Just look at all this sin!”
I would put off praying for forgiveness and a changed heart because it seemed inevitable that history would repeat itself.
Wasn’t God sick of me? I was sick of myself and my faults that seemed to rise to the surface no matter how many times I buried them.
In John 8 we find Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery- the story of how Jesus finds each of us. She was caught red-handed, condemned and judged by men, and expected the same verdict from God. This exposure of her sin and shame must have been her worst nightmare come to pass. Yet when she expected (and according to the law even deserved) stones, she received salvation.
It was her role to accept this gift of mercy and grace. She could move forward as a new woman with a clean slate, having been given an unbelievable second chance. Now imagine if she didn’t take Jesus at His word. What if she decided her sins were too dark and her faults were too many? She would have gone on in shame, head hanging low and afraid to share the gospel because of her past. This incredible testimony would have become an unopened gift, no use to her and of no benefit to anyone else.
Christian author Brennan Manning wrote, “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”
The power of our story isn’t just in the end, but in the entire journey with all of its ups and down, twists and turns. We must accept the forgiveness that is freely offered to us. Beyond that, we must continue to journey with our Savior. He longs to use even our bandaged wounds to show others that He has the power to heal. We’re not perfect, but we are His nonetheless.
This is a truth we must come to again and again in our Christian experience. When we speak a harsh word to a loved one. When we find ourselves in cruel gossip or vulgar conversations. When we fall into lust or neglect our responsibilities. None of it surprises God. His love covers the multitude of our sins and not only is that good news, it’s the best news possible.
The apostle Paul said it best,
Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 (MSG)