Ever had the experience of doing something bad? I mean real bad. Not just Luke-Skywalker-kissing-Princess-Leia-without-knowing-they’re-twins bad (second Star Wars reference this month), but the kind of bad that makes your skin crawl. It might not be a big thing; it could be that lying to a friend made you feel this way, or taking candy from a baby (which if it didn’t make your skin crawl, I recommend doing some soul-searching). When I do something that makes me feel this way, I follow the standard Christian path: I feel remorse, repent and ask God to forgive me.
It’s right about this point, though, that I make a wrong turn: I start to think “I’m really grateful God has forgiven me and doesn’t view me as dirty or filthy, but I could never forgive myself.” I suspect that I’m not alone. I suspect this because I know that we live in a culture (and often go to churches) that trumpet confidence and self-esteem, attempting to combat our very struggles with those things. We may be willing to “accept” God’s forgiveness or the forgiveness of others, but forgive ourselves? No way.
But the truth of the matter is that we don’t have to forgive ourselves. It’s not our job! There’s one person who has taken on the project of forgiving our sins. There’s one person who has literally separated our sins from us and placed them on someone else (namely, Jesus). There’s one person who completely forgives and loves to do it. That one person is God.
Yet too often we also want to be in the business of self-forgiveness. Then, we find ourselves completely stuck when we can’t bring ourselves to forgive what we’ve done. We get stuck in cycles of guilt and shame and no matter how much others tell us of God’s forgiveness, we’re simply stuck in a rut. We implicitly make ourselves and our ability to forgive an idol, having greater worth and value than God’s forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not something we do for ourselves, it’s something God does for us. We do not have a more authoritative voice than God himself so what makes us think self-forgiveness would ever be more significant or powerful than God’s forgiveness? Our view of self-forgiveness has to change.
What then do we do? The reality is that many of us still struggle with guilt and shame. We must learn to see ourselves through God’s forgiveness. Seeing ourselves through God’s forgiveness does not simply make us secure in our identity so that we can then forgive ourselves. Quite the opposite. It is a forsaking of our identity as we understand it, to adopt a new one. It is forsaking an identity that demands self-forgiveness to rest in one that delights in the forgiveness of the Father. It is learning to whole-heartedly accept God’s forgiveness and see ourselves through that lens. When we can accept God’s forgiveness, self-forgiveness is no longer needed.
So forget forgiving yourself, it’s already been done. As you celebrate Easter, the Resurrection and the ultimate conquering of sin and death, recognize that it was done for you. See yourself the way the Great Forgiver does-as a forgiven son or daughter.