Forgive. Yourself?

The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. 

It is better to forget about yourself altogether. 

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

A friend is struggling to forgive herself. She repented of her sin. She confessed it to God and to the person she hurt. The two forgave her. My friend did the job right. But months later, she just can’t forgive herself. 

Maybe that’s as it should be. Because maybe the problem isn’t a forgiveness problem, but a pride problem. Before you call me cold-blooded and calloused, let me explain. 

Proudly Pre-Occupied With Our Sin

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5b-6

The connection between feeling unforgiven and being proud is not obvious. But it’s there, not too far beneath the surface. Because, rightly understood, pride is not just thinking too highly of ourselves, it’s also thinking too lowly or too often of ourselves. 

Neither does being humble mean tearing oneself down. Humility, in other words, is essentially a form of self-forgetfulness which is opposed to pride’s self-preoccupationIf we accept these definitions, it means our fixation on sin we’ve already confessed may in fact be pride’s counterfeit version of humility. It means, in short, that the focus on feeling forgiven is not an itch we must scratch. 

The humble, forgiven saint doesn’t get hung up scratching that itch. He can let it sit. When the boys were younger and would scratch mosquito bites until they bled, I would dab on the Benedryl and distract them with toy to keep their little hands busy. They stopped scratching. The focus was off the bug bite. 

But self-condemnation can sneak in under the guise of humility because it doesn’t boast or belittle others.  But don’t rule out underlying pride, writes Jason Meyer:

Self-degradation, self-demotion, and self-condemnation all come when the show is on the other less-fortunate foot…Why would we want others to see these things? Ironically, self-demotion can be a sneaky form of self-promotion because we’re actually fishing for the affirmation and reassurance we believe we deserve…Self-condemnation passes judgment on us when we fall short of our own standards. Sometimes we carry out the painful judgment on ourselves. We can mentally replay poor performance in order to beat ourselves up over our failures. Self-condemnation…feels shame for falling short. (Killjoys, p. 11)

Pride doesn’t want us to forget our failure. Pride wants us to camp there on a shameful, beside Camp Woe-Is-Me. Humility camps elsewhere, writes Meyer. Humility pitches its tent under the mighty hand of GodPride insists on carrying its sin and failure, but humility is fast to cast its cares on God. But since God in mercy is faithful and just to forgive our sins, we’d best accept it. We’d best cast our post-confession cares back to Mighty God and camp out there. 

I don’t mean to be cavalier here. I know it’s no cake walk, accepting forgiveness and moving on. I’ve been there. I’ve spent plenty of nights at Camp Woe-Is-Me and never once have I had a good night’s sleep there. Sometimes after I repent of the selfish, stupid things I’ve said or done, and I don’t feel instantly refreshed (Acts 3:19). So I wallow in my guilt for a while, astounded that I could think, say, or do such ugly things; that conduct so un-becoming a Christian came from moi. I was, as Lewis aptly put it, sorry to find that I was the sort of [wo]man who did those things. 
So why the big push for self-forgiveness these days? Why do well-meaning friends urge you to “forgive yourself”? It’s no doubt because they want to see you at peace, not in pain. They really want you to be able to move forward and live joyful. But the expression betrays a misunderstanding of biblical forgiveness.

Why We’re Confused

While Scripture assumes that we love ourselves (Lev. 19:34, Eph. 5:29), it nowhere calls us to forgive ourselves. Throughout its pages, forgiveness is transacted vertically between the sinner and his God, and horizontally between the sinner and the one he has sinned against. Nowhere is it transacted inside the self-same sinner.  

So why do we feel a need to forgive ourselves? Why don’t we feel forgiven? 

Maybe we stay and wallow in self-deprecation because deep down we feel like we still have to atone for our sin. It’s too good to be true, this message of Christ’s mercy. Maybe it’s because we haven’t grasped the immensity of the price Christ paid to purchase our pardon. Maybe we haven’t, maybe we aren’t, truly humbled and amazed that, He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21)

Or maybe it’s because, like little kids, we confuse being forgiven with having no consequences. Forgiveness doesn’t mean no consequences. We know this. We know we can forgive a son who stole some cash and still make him pay it pay it back. We can forgive a daughter who broke curfew and still deny her Friday-night privileges. Forgiveness quite often co-exists with consequences. 

But our feelings confuse us. We think that if we’re still feeling bad we need more forgiveness. Could it be we need more grace, more faith, to keep the humble tent pitched there where it belongs? Maybe we should pray, 

Lord, we believe we are forgiven. Still, help our unbelief. Help us look on you more and think about ourselves our success and sin less. May these sins of earth grow strangely dim in the light of your mercy and grace. Please help us accept your forgiveness and your loving discipline. 

Forgiven Like David

And make us more like King David, the man after your own heart

David is a marvelous model of how to humbly accept forgiveness and consequences. After Nathan’s confrontational, convicting you-are-the man sheep speech, David and Bathsheba’s borne-of-wedlock baby dies. David’s servants are confused when, rather than weep and wallow, he rises from his mourning and, worships. He explained, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said,Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 2 Samuel 12:22

At the end of his life, against all wisdom, David orders a census. His conscience is quickly pricked and he repents. God makes him choose his consequence. David’s answer:  Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lordfor his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” 2 Samuel 24:14

When David sinned, he repented. When he repented, he was forgiven. But, still he was disciplined. David might have felt unforgiven, but lying in the bed he made for himself, but he wasn’t trying to forgive himself. He did not grovel under it or spurn it. He didn’t despair nor express entitlement. 

David? He did the right thing. David humbly hoped in God’s goodness. He camped right under God’s mighty hand, and accepted God’s mercy and his consequences.

Me? Discipline after being forgiven, but not feeling it, can leave me groveling; prone to the “all or nothing” syndrome. Either, I’m so horrible. How could God possibly forgive me for the mess I’ve made?  Or, equally faithless, I don’t deserve this. 

You?  Do you pitch your tent in that refreshing, shady spot? Do you humble yourself like David and move on? Do you camp under God’s gracious, merciful mighty hand? 

Godly Grief

For you felt a godly grief so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.    2 Corinthians 7:10

So, Should We Learn To “Forgive Ourselves?” The Corinthians were at fault and Paul had called them out. They had repented and he had forgiven them. But they maybe hadn’t moved on yet. Maybe they just didn’t feel forgiven. John Piper believes 2 Corinthians 7:8–10 is the closest biblical paradigm for dealing with this issue. 

Ponder what Paul means by godly grief and worldly grief…They need to move through worldly grief over sin to godly grief over sin and beyond into life and freedom. And the difference is a grief that leads out of death-giving self-condemnation to life-giving acceptance of God’s, and in this case Paul’s, statement of no condemnation. 

So the biblical way out of death with this so-called self-forgiveness is to humble ourselves and admit we have no right to take the role of judge and pronounce the death sentence on ourselves. That is pride to think that we can hear God’s verdict of not guilty or our friend’s verdict of not guilty; that is, I forgive you, and refuse it. We refuse it and set ourselves up as the new judge and pronounce a death sentence over ourselves. The biblical problem with that is not a failure of self-forgiveness. That is not a biblical category. It is an arrogant failure to trust in the free verdict of God: no condemnation.

David trusted God’s verdict. When he says, if you confess your sins he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse, believe it. Get out of the Judge’s seat and humble yourself. Move on. Believe he meant it when He said, 

“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”  

No, I didn’t help my friend forgive herself. Instead, I say to her, and to you, and to myself: Let’s go pitch our tent in that humble place, under God’s, mighty, merciful hand. Let’s cast our cares, even our post-confession, not-feeling forgiven cares on Him. 

He really does care. 

*   *   *   *   *
Here we have a firm foundation, Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation, Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded! Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded, Who on Him their hope have built.

Stricken, Smitten, & Afflicted, by Thomas Kelley


Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

Look to the LORD and his strength and seek his face always.

Psalm 105:3b-4

I get why ancients worshiped the sun. I understand why snowbirds fly south, and sleep is denied to watch the sun rise. I see why.

Because I stalk the sun.

It’s deep in me, this light-seeking behavior, the insatiable draw to the sun. It was in me before, aglow on a south-facing sofa and swooning at sunsets as I scrubbed pots. But moving into our two-year-new dwelling place made it clear, overt, pronounced. 

Your see, our brown ranch is enveloped in a hickory forest. Not a grove-a forest. Stray rays sneak in between leaves, though. And I stalk those rays. I stalk the sun.

In summer I pursue these precious streams outside. Stalking sun means I rise, take up my chair and shift with the light. I move often, maybe four times each hour. Each day we spin away and the leaves soak her light and I strive to catch every bright bit of her I can. 

Come winter the rocker migrates to the brightest spot in a dim house. I stalk until I find bright light. Once found, I drag the rocker from living to laundry room where she beams. Then, in her glow I read or fold. Catlike, ensconced-I bask in the warm golden rays. 

I seek and find. Then I realign to catch the sloping rays. It is always worth the effort, the stalking of light. For you see, stalking true light is at once a quest for joy. 

Learning to Seek in the Shade 

Living in the shade teaches me what ceaseless, unrelenting desire to seek looks like. I must seek the light of God’s face with as much-with more- purpose and dogged determination than I exert to get around the limbs and leaves and align my chair with to the sun’s ever-shifting rays. 

I must get around those blocks and go where light can be found. Behind our house is a meadow. I go there and walk on its sunlit paths. I seek sun in back when it’s blocked in front.

I stalk sun and my husband stalks it with me. Like the lame man’s friends, he cut through a ceiling. They cut to get to the Son; he to get to the sun. 

Dogged determination brought a lame man to the Light of the World (Mark 2:6). Dogged determination brought the sun light in. First, a chandelier wired through. Bright eyes followed. Light floods a once dim dining room. 

Seeking One Shining Face

This is the job description for a Christian: seeking Him, stalking the joy found only in Him. In his presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). This is the life of a Christian. 

We’re like the prophet Elisha who fixed his gaze and stared intently at him, so that Hazael was embarrassed (2 Kings 8:11)Like, but unlike, because God invites- he commands-our gaze. And unlike sinful man he is not ashamed but glorified by an unflinching gaze.  

God blesses our dogged determination to seek his face. Those who look to the LORD are radiant, their faces are never covered in shame (Psalm 34:5)Persistent pursuit of His presence is rewarded. Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted (Psalm 89:15-16).

Keith Green was all over this, this one-track-minded seeking. O Lord, you’re beautiful, your face is all I seek, and when your eyes are on this child, your grace abounds to me. The Psalmists were too. They knew gazing on one shining face meant blessing and love and grace.

  • Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love. Psalm 31:16
  • May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us. 67:1
  • Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your statutes. 119:135
They all were just echoing God’s own words. Thus you shall bless the people of Israel, God instructed Moses. And so those words my dad prayed each night over me and I pray most nights over my boys are words of shining-faced blessing (Numbers 6:24-26). 

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace

Set, Seek, Stalk

I have set the Lord always before me. Psalm 16:8 

Seeking Christ doesn’t stop at conversion. The stalk has only just begun. Seeking him is the Christian’s life calling. Resisting drift is our work. To believe on Jesus, to fix our gaze on the Lord and seek his face always, that is the work of faith. 

We must believe that fullness of joy is found in His presence. If we do, we seek. We stalk joy. And so the image of Flannery O’Connor becomes the image of Abigail and Jim and Jonathan and Julia: 

Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy-fully armed, too, as it’s a highly dangerous quest (The Habit of Being).

King Jehoshaphat set his face to seek the LORD (2 Chron. 20:3). I don’t know if his teeth were clenched. David cried out, Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD! (Psalm 4:6). Stalking is the natural next thing. 

It’s what David did. It is, I think, what all saints do. Maybe, it’s what make them saints. What makes us saints. I have set the LORD always before me, he wrote in Psalm 16:8. And when we are set to seek his face, we come into his presence. And, in your presence is fullness of joy. 

Drastic Means

Jim trimmed another window. It’s a testimony to his love for me and to my love for light. Last week no sunlight brightened our bathroom. Now it’s aglow with natural light. But access to light meant drastic means; it meant cutting through a wall. 

Endless obstacles block His light. Sin is our biggest Son block. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil (Psalm 34:16).  We’ve got to confess and turn; we must move our chairs and realign. 

Coast through life and you’ll lose sight, too. The dull lull of spiritual drift dims the Son’s light. We must be diligent to set our mind and heart to seek the LORD (1 Chronicles 22:19). 

But God’s grace abounds and bids me come. Come, listen to my Word on your iPhone app while you jog. Come. Come, in the mini-van and hear my Word in a sermon, on a CD. Come. Come, away from Facebook and catalogs and talk to me. Come.

And grace tells me go. Go worship for He inhabits the praise of His people. Go fellowship with one another in my light. Go. Go to life group when the game’s still on and the laundry’s undone. Go. Go walk through autumn leaves and wonder at my world. Go

Come and go. Come away from what blocks the light of God’s shining face, the sin and neglect that stand in the way of joy. Go where His face shines. Go to his Word, to his Church, to Him. Get into his presence where joy is full.

Teeth ground, go.

Stalk joy.

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you, 
  “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
       Psalm 27:8