“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
– Unknown (attributed to Plato and several others)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
– Jesus in Matthew 11.28.30, The Message
I’d like to try a thought experiment out. Recently, while listening to a podcast I had one of those “AHA” moments concerning life, forgiveness, joy, freedom, and the Gospel. Things clicked in my brain in a new and profound way, which allowed them to make more sense than they ever had. While I’m struggling to put words to it (so hopefully this blog turns out okay 🙂 I’d sum it up like this: What if forgiveness was way bigger and better than we thought it was? What if it is a central message of Jesus’ Good News, but instead of bringing guilt and shame, it really and truly was GREAT News for EVERYONE, because it is nothing less than the freedom to live a blissful life?
I’ve basically been Christian my whole life. To be more specific, for a significant chunk of that time it was of the Evangelical and conservative variety. I say that because a main message we preached, shared, and believed was something along the lines of: You are a sinner. You’ve wronged God. So, you need forgiveness. Fortunately, Jesus died, so IF you believe in Him, you’ll receive forgiveness and be good with God and not go to hell when you die.
Now, I share that not to debate how much of it is true versus how much of it isn’t, but instead to set up what I’m going to say next. The Gospel literally means “Good News”, and Christians are asked to share and spread the Good News of Christ. Given the aforementioned context, the way we shared the Gospel was by in some way, shape, or form telling a person she/he has wronged God by falling short of the perfect Divine standard, needs to ask God for forgiveness (repent), and believe in the Christ to receive said forgiveness and avoid going to hell.
Now, that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s dive into my thought experiment. One of the primary images we have of and relationships we have with God is as our Parent. We’re ALL children of a loving Parent. Our Divine Papa/Mama is all knowing, so understands our actions, thoughts, inactions, and feelings better than we do ourselves. So, I wonder, does God really require us to live morally perfect lives? Would a less loving and understanding human parent expect perfection from her/his kid?
Here’s my point, I don’t think God “needs” to forgive us to LOVE us, be FOR us, be WITH us, ENJOY us, CELEBRATE us, and DANCE with us, because regardless of what we do or don’t do our Divine Parent always and forever cheers us on, celebrates us, enjoys us, dances with us, and loves us beyond our comprehension. This will NEVER change. Instead, I think it’s US who need and crave the forgiveness. And, as I type this, I think there are three levels to this.
First, a fundamental human need is worth. We all want to feel and be seen as valuable. We need to matter. With that in mind, I think God’s forgiveness is a Divine declaration that YOU ARE INCREDIBLY PRECIOUS … PERIOD. No matter what we’ve done or not done, we are beautiful and amazing in God’s eyes.
This ties in with the second point. In the Divine economy, no doing is required. We simply are loved. Period. Full stop. We’re all Olympic gold-medal level successes in life. Period. Full stop. Society tells us we need to do big things and/or earn a bunch of money to be a success. Culture preaches you MUST be physically gorgeous and physically fit to be loved. Bad religion tells us we need to DO X, Y, and Z to have a relationship with God, to be loved by the Divine, to enjoy a good life, and so on. Forgiveness, then, is freedom. It’s freedom from the weight of our mistakes, failures, and ways we’ve wronged others and ourselves. Even more, it’s freedom from the lie that our mistakes define or disqualify us … AND from the lie that our successes and achievements define or qualify us!
This leads me to a third aspect of forgiveness. Author Anne Lamott says: “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” Realizing that we can be freed from our expectations, mistakes, and even successes … Scratch that, realizing you are ALREADY free from your expectations, society’s pressures, your mistakes, and even your successes allows you to forgive others, because she or he fighting a battle you know nothing about.
Truthfully, the vast majority of the time, when you or I DON’T forgive someone whose wronged us, it’s not them who suffers, it’s US! As Anne Lamott indicates, when we don’t forgive someone WE become bitter, jaded, fearful, shut-off, embittered, and so on. Nine times out of ten the other person has no idea.
This leads me to my “AHA” moment, which is the realization we GET to share the freedom and joy forgiveness brings with others. We’re ALL fighting battles in life, and often these demons are the aforementioned needs to succeed, achieve, earn, and so on. As I type this, I wonder if it’s more culture and society that tells us and expects us to be morally, financially, relationally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually perfect than God? The world says we must DO to be loved, while our Divine Parent says we’re loved … period! We’re immensely valuable … period! I think a key aspect of Christ’s Good News, then, is we get to share and spread forgiveness for the ways we’ve failed, struggled, and/or achieved at “life” as defined by the world.
What sparked this realization/thought experiment was Matthew 18.10-22. At the beginning of the passage, Jesus tells the disciples how important everyone, ESPECIALLY the underprivileged and undervalued, are in the Reign of Love. The Christ then goes on to describe how when a shepherd has 100 sheep and one goes astray, he will surely go find it, bring it home, and celebrate it’s return. Jesus then gives some interesting guidelines on what to do when a member of the church sins against you, with the main point being to seek reconciliation and restoration. Immediately following that come these verses:
“18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18.18-22)
What you bind will be bound, what you loose will be loosed … WHAT? What in the world is Jesus talking about? Given what comes before and after this odd saying, I’d say it has to do with forgiveness. More specifically, it seems to me unforgiveness is binding, while forgiveness is loosing. NOT forgiving or being forgiven, when sought, is a WEIGHT. It’s a burden. It sucks. It’s rat poison in the soul. Conversely, forgiveness is freedom. It’s removing the WEIGHT. It’s being given wings to fly. It’s being flooded with bliss. BTW, not only does Peter’s question about forgiveness immediately after Jesus’ binding and loosing statement strongly seem to indicate that’s what the Christ was talking about, it also says something amazing about forgiveness. “Seventy-seven times” is ancient code for always. It means keep giving and spreading forgiveness, because there’s a never-ending Divine well of love, grace, and mercy we’re given to draw upon!
(Me bound on the left and loosed to fly on the right)
Now let’s make this practical. Is there anyone in your life who you haven’t forgiven … including yourself? I recently got married and some dear friends I invited didn’t come, WITHOUT saying anything … at all. When I dwell on it, it makes me bitter or mad or quite sad. YET, they almost certainly had great reasons for not coming and may not even know I noticed or have gotten the invite. My point is, they are NOT hurt by my unforgiveness, but I AM! So, to be free, to fly, I need to let that go.
Two more examples. Think about politics and the national anthem protests. Do Trump or the NFL players or Obama or someone else in those circles make your blood boil? Personally, I don’t think Trump is umm doing even an okay job. Yet, I can forgive him because I believe he’s trapped in those lies of culture. I don’t think he’s experienced the freedom that comes from experiencing the forgiveness I’ve been writing about, and is doing the best he can.
Finally, consider reality/life. Have you forgiven reality? Seriously! Here’s what I mean by that. As a parent and child, in recent years I’ve noticed some form of the following recurring joke: “We’ll be paying for her counseling because of that thing we just did when she grows up!” While it’s funny, I think it’s also true. Yet, truth be told, all our parents “wronged” us in various ways. Part of what it means to be human and a key component of life is it’s a mixture of light AND dark, there’s both amazingness AND suck, things are beautiful AND broken. As much as I hate to say it, that’s simply the way things are.
That said, YOU and I DO get to decide what we MAKE of it! Inspired by Richard Rohr, this is why I ask if you’ve forgiven reality, because forgiving reality will allow you to fully and freely celebrate life! So, I encourage us to forgive our parents’ shortcomings, the hurricanes in nature, the storms in politics, the disasters in our lives, the wrongs bosses or friends have done us, and OURSELVES. You’re not perfect, none of us are, and neither is life or the world. So, I invite us to name the imperfection of you and I and reality SUBLIME. Embracing reality as it is and forgiving it for being a mixed bag, frees you to celebrate life in its totality and people in our perfect imperfections.
So, that’s my thought experiment. As the binding and loosing passage pointed to, I believe the Good News of Christ for EVERYONE isn’t restrictive, heavy, dark, or binding; it’s freeing, blissful, weightless, light, and gives us wings to fly in life! I hope you enjoyed it and would love to hear what you think!
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Grace and peace,