I’ve spent most of my adult life speaking and writing about God’s love and forgiveness. I believe in it. With great joy, I spent years telling anyone who would listen about the unfailing love, mercy and grace of a good God.
So you might be able to imagine the immense confusion that came along with my season of desperately needing that grace and forgiveness more than ever before, but having deep trouble receiving it.
I knew verses like,
Psalm 103:12 He has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west.”
I knew God wasn’t holding my sin over me. That’s not His nature. So why, then, did I still feel so much shame and guilt? If He had “removed it,” then why was it still haunting me day in and day out?
Because God’s forgiveness isn’t really free. Now don’t misunderstand me, here. I’m not saying that you have to earn it, but I’m also saying that it’s still not completely free. It actually requires something of you. Let me explain.
You see, I was still clutching onto the reminder of my sins and beating myself up—instead of surrendering to His unfailing mercy. And I think in most cases, God won’t take from you what you won’t first willingly surrender.
Mercy defined is, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”
So why not just let go of the destructive shame and guilt and accept his mercy?
Well, probably because receiving forgiveness is hard. Just the very act of understanding that we are in need of forgiveness is a tough pill to swallow. It is humbling to focus on your own shortcomings, while avoiding justifying our actions. Truly receiving forgiveness requires us to own up to our faults. Not “I messed up because of (fill in the blank)”, but merely, “I am sorry for…(fill in the blank).”
And maybe the even deeper issue is that refusing to be forgiven is a form of pride.
It’s saying, “I’m better than mercy. I don’t need this handout. I can earn this.” But only the truly humble person, who realizes he or she never earned it in the first place, can live in mercy.
Richard Rohr wrote,
“The mystery of forgiveness is God’s ultimate entry into powerlessness. Withholding forgiveness is a form of power over another person, a way to manipulate, shame, control, and diminish another. God in Jesus refuses all such power.”
Now, why is it so important that I enter into this “powerlessness” and learn to humbly receive His mercy?
Because we become what we receive. We extend to others that which we allow into our hearts.
I’ve learned more about personal transformation in the last two years than in the 40 before. I don’t become the man I want to be by striving to do this, or promising that, or quitting X, Y & Z. The transformation I long for comes through thousands of surrenders to mercy. A lifetime of received forgiveness allows us to become mercy.
It frees us so that we can both receive mercy without payment, and give mercy without punishment.