Posts Tagged ‘sin’

(image from Gaudenscor)

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples when they asked (bet they regretted that one) that they had to be prepared to forgive someone who sinned against them seventy times seven (sometimes put seventy-seven times. Not sure which is more correct, but it doesn’t really matter – it’s A LOT).

There are lots of other verses about forgiveness spattered throughout Matthew and the rest of the Bible. You get the impression that it seems to be a good idea. It brings with it the idea of reconciliation and shalom (peace and wholeness) and joy and renewal and mercy and the general topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of God.

Wonderful. Sounds like such a good theory, doesn’t it? Forgiveness seems to bring benefit to all, even the person who has to get out there and do it. And they all live happily ever after.

Only, I’m just not sure that that is always the case. What if the pain from the hurt is constant and ongoing? What if the person doesn’t recognise that they have done anything wrong? What if they act like you and your hurt don’t exist?

It seems that the jury’s out on whether you need someone to repent before you forgive them. I’m not sure either way. Certainly, it’s not a great idea to carry round a heavy burden of pain which could be laid to rest, but without any acknowledgement from the other party, sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is anywhere safe to put it. As sinners, we need God to forgive us, but the Bible is pretty clear that in order to turn to Christ, we need to repent of all the things we have done wrong.

But then if you look back into recent African history, you soon discover that the people there are good at this. They seem to recognise the value of laying down the burden which some see as being “trapped in a prison of hatred”. (see Rwandan forgiveness article) Terrible things have happened in Rwanda, to name just one country, but people have been prepared to be able to move on. So challenging for us.

Forgiveness hurts. It isn’t easy. It isn’t glamourous. It isn’t fun. And you might never gain recognition for it, because the person who sinned against you may never admit it either to you or to anyone else. They may never demonstrate any sort of remorse. Are you prepared to forgive, even without repentance?

Somehow the cross has to be central. Our burden of hurt is something we can lay down at the foot of the cross, knowing that our sins and those of the other can be met and dealt with there. Jesus died for me and also for the person who abused me. He died for me and those who have rejected me. He died for me, just as he died for everyone.

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. And it never should. Forgiveness is just that. It means giving up our resentment against someone. It means we don’t harbour a grievance against them.

I think that the seventy times seven reflects the difficulty of this challenge. We have the choice as we wake up each day, as to whether we will forgive so-and-so or not. Seventy times seven. Surely, that’s the number of times we have to forgive each offence, seventy times seven different ones? (Though in some cases, maybe it is more than just one wrong.) It requires continual effort and grace.

It might be painful. It might feel (and quite frankly often does) totally crap. But it is somehow necessary. And the God who does not remain silent, the God who forgives us our sin, and who sent his Spirit upon us is there throughout, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Am I there yet? No. Do I want to be there? Maybe. On a good day. But I do have to keep on trusting in the goodness of God, in and through everything.

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Shame

Posted: April 2, 2013 in A little about me, Hope
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Sometimes, I want to hide everything. I worry so much about what people will think of me when they find out what I’ve done to myself. People either don’t understand at all or, even worse, want to help. “why don’t you just think happy thoughts?” Or they think it is something they have said or done – and often it is.

I think though, that that is only part of the story. I think there is part of me that has been ashamed of what I’ve done. How much I’ve worried people. How something that just seems so wrong can make me feel better.

So I worry about telling people who I really am. I think about the label “self-harmer” that I’m happy to employ myself but I don’t want others to use. I don’t want people to know about the battles that rage inside of me.

But actually, this is so wrong. Because there is nothing that I haven’t already brought to the cross of Christ. God made me to be the person I am warts, thunder thighs, self-harm and all. That doesn’t mean he is happy for me to hurt myself, or not to be the person he has made me to be and all that. But it does mean I can be free of shame.

And also, there is nothing that I have ever done or will ever do that is so bad that it can’t be dealt with by Christ on the cross. And the same goes for everyone. Yes, I have to turn to Christ. But I do because he is the only one who can help.

The Gospel shines its light into even the darkest places. And that means I have nothing to be ashamed of.

A warning

Posted: March 24, 2013 in Hope, Turning away from God
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I don’t know if you noticed much this winter, but there were a lot of severe weather warnings, and some even continue today. In all its wisdom, the MET office issued “Yellow Snow Warnings”, to warn people that they might get stuck.

I’m not sure if you know this, but yellow snow is definitely something to be worried about. It means that a passing dog has done his business. Basically. So something that we should avoid.

It’s funny really, because snow is so like us, and the yellow bits (or dark grey muddy bits if it is on the edge of a road) are like our sins. We begin as white as snow, but then we screw things up somewhat. What began as pure is totally ruined. And only God can make it better. (Yes, I know, we could argue for days about whether we really did begin as pure, but here I’m mostly thinking Eden days…)

Sin is one of those big bad words which I’m not always convinced we really understand. It feels like one of those “Christian” words that belongs to a bygone age back when people drove around in carriages and said thee and thou. It makes us feel like miserable offenders who can never get anything right or like we need to try to be perfect and never get anything wrong.

But, actually, I am a sinner. And, although I don’t know you, I think it is likely that you are too. How many times have I wandered away from God’s purposes for my life? How many times have I thought horrible things about people? How many times have I decided that I know best (and there is a story of when I was 3 and decided I could swim by myself and jumped into the swimming pool without any armbands…and of course I sank…) How many times have I simply tried to ignore God and pretend he isn’t there?

But because Jesus offers us the hope of forgiveness through the cross and resurrection, I (and you) can be forgiven for this. It is amazing. We can live in hope of grace that we don’t deserve but God gives us anyway. However far we have fallen, or whatever we have done, we can know God’s forgiveness.

However, this does mean I try my best not to screw up, otherwise the grace offered by the cross becomes a joke – I mean, Jesus died so that I could go free. That means that the yellow snow warning comes as a warning to me, to seek after purity and holiness and good. Not to give into the desires that I know will lead me into bad places. And to give sin and all patches of yellow in the snow a very wide berth.

Well. Forgiveness. It’s a big one isn’t it? Somehow, it is something that always sounds really, really simple and easy. For those little things. But then something big comes along and you realise that you have to forgive there too.

And sometimes, you see people on the news, or on a TV programme (I remember they showed us one like that in R.S. at school) where there are people who have had terrible things happening to their families, and yet they have forgiven those who did it.

But as for me, I’m still angry sometimes. Sometimes I need to be reminded that it’s not about the big, public gestures but the everyday things. The choices I make and the attitudes I take. Do I remember each and every day that I have forgiven, so I will not carry that particular load any more. Somehow I doubt it.

For me, I have to keep forgiving something massive – the abuse from when I was smaller. But also the neglect from those who should have realised that there was something wrong. Somehow, that seems harder – I mean, surely it was at least noticeable that things weren’t right? That I wasn’t eating. That I was alone always. That I completely stopped talking.

What will it take to completely let go of all of this? I don’t know.

But one thing I do know, is that I have been forgiven much as well. Maybe not as much as a child molester, but let’s face it, I can’t stand right before God by myself. I am a sinner, but I have been made clean. And I think that is where I have to start.

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A lament

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Misconceptions
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 1 I am one who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

 7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
   he has weighed me down with chains.
8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
   he shuts out my prayer.
9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
   he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

 13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and sated me with gall.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for people to bear the yoke
while they are young.

28 Let them sit alone in silence,
for the LORD has laid it on them.
29 Let them bury their faces in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let them offer their cheeks to one who would strike them,
and let them be filled with disgrace.

31 For people are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
   or grief to any human being.

34 To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?

Lamentations 3

A few weeks ago, I heard this passage read in a sermon and I found it really difficult. Somehow the idea of God causing suffering didn’t really appeal to me. I know it says later on that the Lord does not willingly bring affliction on to anyone, but that seems to be contradicted earlier on. Life in exile was bad for the Israelites. People were killed and raped and starved and kept as captives… but God brought this on them? What sort of God would that be?

Yes, I know they had sinned. But what sin is bad enough to cause that sort of punishment? As someone who has been abused, I would not wish it on anyone.

And then at that moment, life just seemed to be very unfair. I mean, why me? What had I done? I was a child when it had happened. Maybe I hadn’t always behaved myself like I ought to have done, but this?

So I had a chat with someone wise who pointed out the difference between sinning and being sinned against. So, my abuse was a result of sin. But not mine.

And somehow, that changes everything. I can understand that that is not God’s desire. At all. In fact, He must have been having a pretty bad and sad day when it happened too. But He did not cause it to be.

And He knows that it hurts. But it doesn’t have to any more.

 

I’m not going to lie. I know that I am a sinner, made clean through the death of Jesus. Every day I screw up in some way or other – I do something that is dishonouring to God and often something which is horrible to those around me. I am a sinner.

I think it is both easy and difficult to define sin. In many ways, the simple explanation is “sin is something which involves turning your back on God”. And that is definitely true. But someone once asked me whether I would consider someone who was acting in a particular way due to illness as a sinner – maybe someone who was bi-polar on a high behaving in a way that was not their normal self. Would I?

There are people who would answer yes to that question. But there are also many others who would say no. I was one of the yes people, until I realised that that was how I was seeing myself and my self-harm. Self-harm is a mental illness, which makes us behave in a way that we wouldn’t normally. If that is the case, can we really describe our self-harm as sin?

Sin grabs us and takes hold. Yes. But the devil also makes us feel guilty about the things that we can’t control. Instead of feeling guilty about my “illness”, I needed a new way to think about it. Yes, what I was doing did not honour and glorify God, and represented me turning my back on the future he has for me, but it was not like stealing from a shop or murdering someone.

Do not fall into the trap of seeing yourself as a worse sinner than anyone else because of an illness, whether self-harm, anorexia, bulimia, depression, or whatever. The Fall had many consequences, and a broken world was one of them. This is why sin is so difficult to define.

What does it mean for us that our actions arise from brokenness rather than sin? It doesn’t mean that it is ok to give into the temptation to self-harm. But it means that our confession and our cry out to God can come from a different place, a place that can be free from guilt and shame.