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On Forgiveness and Grace

By Belinda

Yesterday, reading my friend Dave's blog post: Too Late, Too Little, Too Much I found myself, as I often do, on my daily read at Rolling Around in My Head, with way too much to think about! I mean really, a blog post is a short thing; a thing to be read quickly; to be responded to with an equally quick comment. Only I couldn't be quick! I should know better visiting RAIMH! :)

No fair Dave; starting your post and my morning with such weighty questions; questions that demand thought--and an answer. You asked:

Can an apology be too late?
Can an apology ask too much? 

Questions like that deserve an answer and a very interesting discussion followed and is still going on in the comment section with so many thoughtful opinions on the subject.

I tried to join in but gave up. The question needed more than a "comment" from this quarter. So here I am, trying to put into words more coherently what think on the subject, with no promises that I will succeed.

 What I write has nothing to do with the specifics of the situation that sparked Dave's blog post. Only he owns that situation and his response. I am speaking only for myself and in a general way, about the questions he asked at the beginning.

I think that the answer to the first question is no, and to the second it is yes. (Funny, I only just knew that was what I thought, after I wrote most of this blog post.)

I came to the questions fresh from asking forgiveness and receiving someone's grace this week. "Grace" meaning that I got something I didn't deserve. The person who gave it, wiped away a tear as they gave it. Just bringing it up had reopened a place of pain that they had maybe not realized was still there, because I had (although unaware) caused someone to feel ashamed with my words some time ago. That fact makes me feel ashamed, as it should, and I was grateful to be able to apologize more fully than I had at the time it happened.

If I believe it can be too late, I'm sunk and so is the rest of the world. Forgiveness--getting it and giving it--is at the core of everything I believe. It is not as simple as it sounds though.

I say that I am sorry frequently. It isn't usually hard for me to admit when I discover I am at fault. It's something, ironically, that I have prided myself on. This is weirdly wrong and I know it, because I hate it when someone else points out that I'm wrong about something I haven't realized I'm wrong about yet. The walls of self justification go up soooo quickly, as if to look at myself as fallible threatens my existence!

The other thing I've learned is that the full awareness of my offence towards another is progressive. It can take a very long time before God is able to peel away my self protective shield and get down to the ugly truth of a matter. Until that happens, I am oblivious to the fact that I have not fully apologized. Maybe if I realized the full depths of my blundering (let me use the word that makes me uncomfortable--"sin") against another, immediately, every time it happens, I might live in despair and self loathing. God, who loves us fully and accepts us as we are, with all of our failures, but who also loves us too much to leave us there; takes his time; but I have found him relentless in pursuit of clear vision and Truth. And I am grateful.

What that means though, is that we can be evolving works in progress who are blind and pathetic in our attempts to take responsibility for our wrongs towards others. At least that describes me to a T. 

Is it ever too late, once the blinders begin to come off? Well, sometimes the person I have needed to ask forgiveness of was dead. I've done it anyway. I hoped that somehow the person knew that I finally saw far more clearly than I did back then,when I was up on a high horse of judgement and self righteousness and was as far from being a good example of a disciple of Jesus as anyone could be. It is a painful thing to see clearly how harsh and cold hearted you have been towards another, when you have no right because you are as  utterly human and full of failure as they are (or were)--but seeing it matters.

No, I don't think it can ever be too late to ask forgiveness, although I don't believe it always has to be done directly. I've done a lot of journalling and talking to God about situations I needed to confess and be forgiven for. But if God gave me the opportunity to do it directly, then I would take it, no question, and yes, it would be for the sake of my own soul and without expectation.

Can an apology ask too much? Yes, if it demands forgiveness by the other. An apology is a putting out there an admission of my responsibility for doing someone a wrong. When I do, I humanly hope that person will forgive me, but whether they do or not, my part is to say that I was wrong. 

I have had two big struggles in my life to do with forgiveness and neither one involved the other party directly:

One struggle concerned trying to forgive someone who had hurt me deeply. I just couldn't do it no matter how hard I tried. The hurt and anger were there and saying that I forgave the person didn't make them go away, even though I wanted to cooperate with God!

The other struggle was with guilt for an offence that I carried around like a lead weight and although logic told me that it didn't even belong to me, it clung to me like stinking graveclothes and it was a deep sadness inside.

Both of these situations were resolved in ways that are stories in themselves and their resolution and my subsequent freedom spiritually and emotionally, were gifts from God.

The struggle with guilt helped me to understand more fully than I ever would have done otherwise, exactly what the gospel means. There was a price to be paid for offence. That is justice. Guilt is carried until a price is paid. 

God loved the offender (that is, all of us,) so much that he could not bear for them to suffer the consequences of it, so he did the only thing someone who loves another as fully as he, could do, he came to earth in the form of the man Jesus, and although he lived a perfect life of love, compassion and goodness, he took the role of the offender and paid the price of utter and devastating responsibility for the sin of the world.

Isaiah 53:4-5

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)
The fact is, it was our suffering he took on himself; he bore our pain. But we thought that God was punishing him, that God was beating him for something he did. But he was being punished for what we did. He was crushed because of our guilt. He took the punishment we deserved, and this brought us peace. We were healed because of his pain.

I think I wandered a bit from Dave's true questions,  but I'm grateful for the prompt to think and write out my thoughts, in response.


Leslie said…
As is so often the case, your thoughts get me thinking and that is a good thing! So thankful for how God uses these modern technologies of Blogs.
Anonymous said…
Well put Belinda.
Marilyn said…
Just when I had decided I was done reading blogs for this morning and needed to move on, I came upon yours in my Google Reader and had to read just one more. :-)

So glad I did. I, like you, was pulled in by Dave's questions and started thinking of what my answer to each might be. You covered it all, though! I'm glad you wandered a bit, if indeed you did. Forgiveness is a big topic here these days and it's indeed a blessing to process more fully these thoughts.

Belinda said…
Leslie, I get this mental image of all of us with thought bubbles over our heads and it's all Dave's doing! :)Thank you for reading and for your comment.
Belinda said…
Thank you Anon! It had to come out but I feared it didn't come out as well as I hoped. Your encouragement means a lot.
Belinda said…
Marilyn, hugs from afar, but near in heart. If this post had any small bit of blessing for you, then I thank the Lord. You are in my thoughts so often.
Susan said…
You've got me thinking too...
Sorry I got to this late, I had to leave early and brave some wicked roads to get to the meeting today (where I saw your beloved). I think forgiveness when put in the broader context of prejudice and bigotry takes on a different meaning. I wasn't writing about 'hurt feelings' as much as being subject to an attack on my personhood and my worthiness to experience the love of God. Can someone who fought to keep black people off the bus expect that the fact that they now accept riders of colour to be an apology? At what point does the constant experience of being 'outsider' and subject to threats of violence, loss of job, denial of entrance to the kingdom of heaven begin to leave a 'mark' on one's soul and heart? I don't know the answer to that. I know that for me it's not that easy ... not that easy at all ... and I wonder what causes the most damage ... the expectation and requirement of giving forgiveness or the testimony that comes from living with the results of the barbarous social practice of discrimintation. I'm not being clear ... I know ... but then I'm thinking this all through too.
Your blog is beautifully written and very probing. I did not see Dave's questions but I get the idea. It took me over ten years to forgive a loved one. Funny enough I thought and believed I had forgiven him but the peace that follows when you forgive was lacking. The peace which Jesus gives, the peace which the world cannot give, that peace, which is only possible because of God's grace and love, is always available. So it is never too late to forgive.
Belinda said…
Thank you for your kind words Margaret. And I'm glad you found that peace to forgive at last, too! Only God...:)

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