God’s great grace and the power of second chances

People hurt each other all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional. Most times it’s not, and it just happens because nobody is perfect. Communication breaks down. Misunderstandings happen. Maybe you do something you aren’t supposed to do, and you lie to cover it up. Then you have to lie more to keep it covered. And you can’t lie that long without there being consequences, whether you get caught in your lie or not.

In any case, you end up at odds with people. But you forgive them. Of course, you forgive them. Maybe it’s not the strong, independent thing to say, but I usually forgive people pretty quickly, especially if it’s only my feelings that have been hurt. If I’m the only one who has been wronged, it doesn’t bother me that much. But there’s forgiveness and then there’s restoration. And there’s a big, big difference between them.

Unless you’re God.

AD76394B17Today’s verses are Romans 8:1-3.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

I love how God approaches forgiveness. When you come to God with a true view of your sin and your dependency on Him, He doesn’t push you away. He doesn’t scorn you or make you feel guilty. He sees you from a far-off distance and runs to meet you. He wraps you up in His arms and welcomes you home.

There’s nothing in this passage that discusses how we have to prove ourselves to God so that He will restore us to a right relationship with Him. We don’t have to prove anything to God. We can’t. All we are capable of doing is turning our hearts, our wills, over to Him. And He knows full well that we might turn away from Him again (we probably will), but He doesn’t let that stop Him from showering us with blessings and making us feel loved and wanted.

God is a God of second chances. And third chances. A fiftieth chances. And two-hundredth chances. I know that’s been said to death, but it’s true. God doesn’t push anyone away. Not ever. Nobody who ever came to God seeking help has been turned away.

I need that. I need someone who will forgive me when I screw up, because I screw up a lot. Do I think it’s wise to instantly restore another human being to a place of ultimate trust after they’ve betrayed me? No. We can’t prove anything to God, but when it comes to our relationships with each other, trust needs to be earned again after it’s lost.

But still… how often are we too harsh on someone who has let us down? How often do we feel the need to punish those who have hurt the people we love? And is that really what God has for us to do? Are we supposed to make it harder for someone to earn our trust after they’ve failed us?

Jesus says in Matthew that people with vulnerable hearts are happy. Sure, that guy hurt you. Yeah, that gal might take advantage of your kind spirit and stomp all over your heart again. But isn’t God’s grace strong enough to withstand the failings of other people? I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. When someone you love stabs you in the back, it hurts. When someone you trust turns out to be different than you thought, it’s like your insides twist all up. But who are you trusting for your happiness?

God’s grace is enough.

It’s enough to free me from slavery to my own sin. It’s enough to help me forgive people who’ve hurt me. It’s enough to help me forgive people who will keep hurting me. And if God loves me enough to give me second chances over and over and over again, can’t I afford to do the same for someone else?

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Two turtles peeping

Unforgiveness can wreck friendships, even if your friends don’t need to be forgiven.

Do you ever screw up? I do. A lot. Nobody’s perfect, and I’ve been very fortunate in life to have friends who are very quick to forgive, not just me when I have been less than I should be have been but others who have wronged them as well. But what happens when you have a friend who has trouble forgiving others?

Two turtles peeping

Two turtles peeping - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 17:9.

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.

Proverbs is such an interesting book. It doesn’t really give commandments, necessarily, but it does state facts. It doesn’t really focus on the law; it just talks about what happens if you don’t obey the law. In this case, Christians are supposed to forgive. That’s what the Bible says. But in Proverbs, this is what happens if you don’t forgive.

Forgiveness is such a strange concept. It’s one of those paradoxes we often encounter in the Bible. We convince ourselves that holding bitterness and resentment against someone else is going to hurt them, but it actually hurts us more than it hurts them. Because it turns us into bitter, resentful people. And it doesn’t hurt the person you’re angry with at all. Half the time, if you’re feeling angry or upset at someone who has hurt you, they don’t even know how you feel. So as you spiral downward and become a hateful person, the one you’re angry with is sleeping just fine at night.

But when you forgive someone after they’ve done wrong to you? It sets you free from the power of that bitterness and hatred. And it feels like a huge heavy load is lifted off your shoulders.

But there’s another level of relationship that is affected by forgiveness or unforgiveness: your other friends.

Unforgiveness doesn’t just affect you. It affects the people around you.

If your friend is the one who hurt you, of course, unforgiveness will separate you. But, even if your friend isn’t the one responsible, refusing to forgive the person who did hurt you will still put a damper on your friendship. There is something about being around unforgiving, bitter people that makes you want to rip your hair out. Why would you want to hang out with someone who refuses to forgive?

Now, let me clarify.

There is a difference between forgiveness and restoration.

Forgiveness is commanded. Restoration takes trust; trust must be earned over time. We are commanded to forgive, mainly for our own mental health and wellbeing. As many times was we are hurt, we are to forgive. Seventy times seven. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. But . . . do you restore the person who hurt you to the same close place of friendship that you did before they hurt you? No. The Bible is also full of warnings about staying away from foolish people. And if you continually have to forgive someone for the same hurtful actions, restoring them to a close friendship with you makes you just as foolish as they are.

Forgiveness can be very difficult. It’s tempting to hold on to hate and bitterness, but when you forgive someone else for how they hurt you, something really interesting happens: it makes you easy to love. Because to forgive someone makes you humble, and humility is lovable. Arrogance isn’t. And refusing to forgive someone demonstrates that you think you’re better than they are. And you’re not.

All we puny humans are in the same boat. Nobody’s perfect, and we all hurt each other. And even if you need to put some distance between you and the person who hurt you, you can still forgive them for what they did. Trust me. It makes life easier, not just for you but for your friends too.