I wrote most of this blog entry on March 25th but never posted it. Never felt done to me; something was missing. After talking with a friend yesterday, we stumbled onto the one missing fragment that would make all this bind together.
“Father forgive me.” I remember saying that to the priest every week when I was a kid. In case I haven’t mentioned or you forgot, I grew up Roman Catholic. The whole confession thing made a huge impression on me, a scar that had been with me up until recently. Forgiveness was earned. That was the truth seared into my soul. There were hoops to jump through, it was all about religion. That was the impression the practice of confession and penance left upon my adolescent mind. Do what it takes to keep God happy.
Of course, I am not knocking confession. That is a necessity for a transparent, authentic relationship. We are to confess to one another; it is the idea that someone doles out forgiveness or the steps to forgiveness in the place of God. In fact, there’s only supposed to be one intermediary between God and man…but I digress slightly.
Confession is for God. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and forgives our sins. No mention of Hail Marys, rosaries, or Our Fathers. Just forgiveness. Grace given to us from the hand of God.
This is an idea that struck me as I was reading about David and Bathsheba. When confronted by Nathan, David says “I have sinned against the Lord.” Not that he hadn’t also sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and even Nathan as he indignantly lied to his face. But David knew where forgiveness started.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. – Psalm 51:4
With my new perspective, when I read the account of David and Nathan I understand why David came to this conclusion. God had anointed David king. He delivered him from the hand of Saul. God gave him the house of Israel and Judah. If that wasn’t enough, He then promised if that was too little David would have been given more. David was thumbing his nose at God and defying His law. As if David made his own way as king. Or as if he could now go his own way. It was a bold faced denial of God’s sovereign power in his life. Like a dare. I dare you God to take it away.
I did the same thing. Ignored God. Put my pursuit of Him on hold. Denied my heart for Him and made the pursuit of my happiness the main thing. It worked out poorly for David and likewise it worked out poorly for me.
My pursuit of happiness caused me to focus on everyone else’s sins. How my wife was wronging me. Perceived betrayal by friends. Anyone who tried to get in my way was automatically deemed wrong. Didn’t matter what they said.
So it is from this vantage point that I understand David’s seemingly oblivious words that it was against God alone that he sinned. Until I sought forgiveness from God, I was incapable of seeking forgiveness from anyone else. That realization had to be first. It’s the lynch pin. Without God’s forgiveness nothing else of value can happen. Against him alone had I sinned.
It did not just apply to seeking forgiveness, but offering it as well. I could not genuinely offer my wife my forgiveness until I was forgiven by God. I could not forgive others until I had received the grace that God promises.
I would always say I’d forgiven my wife. In truth I was just burying it. You’re supposed to look the part of the happy, well-adjusted couple, right? That was the mask I was wearing. The pit I was stuck in. Mr. Forgiveness. Only it was a facade. My expectations of her were still intact. I wanted to say I’d forgiven because I wanted to get.
For me it was a hard place to get to, receiving God’s grace. Accepting myself, imperfections and all. Realizing God loves me and knows all about the imperfections. He wants to grow me beyond them, but first I have to acknowledge awareness of my weaknesses and lay them at His feet. Stop only playing the part and put the mask away.
One of the results of finally being able to accept and live in the grace and mercy of God has been a return of my love for people. Not a selfish love because of the affirmation or affection I could get, but love born out of love and forgiveness. He who is forgiven much forgives much. By gratefully receiving, I have a greater desire to give. It is freedom – freedom from expectations, freedom from worldly measures of wealth, freedom from the mask – free to be who God made me. All because I accepted a forgiveness that I didn’t earn.