"As Christ bears our burdens, so ought we to bear the burdens of our fellow-men. The law of Christ, which it is our duty to fulfil, is the bearing of the cross. My brother's burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share. Thus the call to follow Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins. Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christians's duty to bear." - Bonhoeffer
"Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him ... When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long ... Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity ... I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD' - and you forgave the guilt of my sin." Ps. 32:2-5
Would you entrust the care of a tender six-month-old infant to a drug-dealer or murderer? God would - and He does, routinely.
When I take a few moments to quietly reflect on my life, I am overwhelmed by my unworthiness. My heart has known some shockingly evil thoughts, and I have sinned in ways which would startle my friends, neighbors, and members of our congregation. Then I wonder, "How can someone so corrupt and defiled be put in the blessed position of being part of a loving family? Why would God allow someone as depraved as me to have the responsibility of being a child, sibling, spouse, or parent?" True, I haven't actually murdered or dealt drugs, but my guilt is still painful enough to make me call myself the "chief of sinners."
We know about our guilt and God's forgiveness from the Scriptures; these thoughts make us feel the power and scope of God's forgiveness. There are some people who keep themselves busy, avoiding solitude and quiet, to prevent themselves from feeling these emotions. Without understanding and feeling our guilt, we'll not appreciate God's forgiveness. The price for all of my sins - and yours - was paid 2,000 years ago; but the realization of that incredible gift seizes me freshly each time I confess my sins to God in prayer.
Only with God's forgiveness can I confidently take my place in my family, community, congregation, or workplace. Without it, I would be handicapped by my guilt. With it, I am humbled, but empowered - empowered to live as a servant, empowered to forgive others.
Knowing my own sin, and the terrible agony of the Crucifixion which it caused, and knowing that the glory of the Resurrection has removed my guilt, how can I then deny this forgiveness to others? Jesus commands us to forgive our fellow human beings (Matt. 18). If God forgives, and I do not, then I harm myself much more than I harm the person from whom I withhold forgiveness. It can hurt to forgive - I must relinquish the "tool" of guilt which I can use to control someone else - I must give up my desire to "get back at" that person. But forgiveness is what allows us to begin living the way God wants us to: in community, not alienated from each other, harmoniously serving each other and all people, and giving glory to God.
O Lord, Maker of heaven and earth, the only sinless One, overlook our iniquities which are more than the sands of the sea, and in your goodness forgive us. Amen.
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