Tag Archives: forgiveness

Stop and Think About the Bible

torah_500

 

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
   according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
    For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
    Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
       so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Psalm 51:1-4 ESV

  • The Psalm is attributed to David when he repented of his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Why should it be included in the Bible for everyone to read and pray? If I have not committed adultery, what does it have to do with me?
  • Secular thinkers believe that people can know what is right by determining what makes them happy. If adultery with Bathsheba made David happy, why does he now call it sin?
  • Secularists reject the concept that God establishes what is right. They reject God’s existence, and they declare that no power has sovereignty over humans. Why does the psalmist disagree? Why do you disagree?

          Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

          Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
          Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Psalm 51:5-7

  •  Secularists say that it is child abuse to tell a child he is sinful. Why does the psalmist say that he was born in iniquity?
  • One of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” Exodus 20:16 ESV. How does the psalmist express God’s expectation?
  • Where does the psalmist get the idea that hyssop is an instrument for purging sin away? What does it have to do with your daily life? How would you explain the necessity of cleansing sin from your life to a secular thinker?

Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
    Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Psalm 51:8-9 ESV

  • The psalmist is suffering because of his sins. Why? What does he think is necessary in order for him to recover his joy and peace in life? How has God prepared healing for the wounds of sin described by the psalmist?

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Psalm 51:10

  • This verse is central to a popular praise song. Why do people identify with the words of this song?
  • Why does the psalmist compare the experience of forgiveness and cleansing from sin with a heart transplant? From where would a new spirit come?
  • Can you pray this psalm with integrity and internalize its petitions for yourself? Consider memorizing this verse and praying it when you know you have failed God.

 

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Torah Scroll
Source: http://library.duke.edu/exhibits/hebrewbible/torah.html
License: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

Secular Thinkers Have Discovered Sinful Human Nature

reconciliation

A recent article described a phenomenon called “microaggressions” which is the latest threat to good order in US culture. Microaggressions are bad acts by unthinking people against people sensitized to aggression by their marginalized positions in the culture. In other words, in plainer language, microaggessions are things people do and say that hurt other people without knowing that they have offended anyone.

Everybody is guilty. Anybody can commit aggression on a micro scale simply by using the pronoun he generically, or by saying something simple like, “I believe there are more Asian students in the chemistry department this year.” Microaggression can be microassault, microinsult, microinvalidation, or even microrape. There are lots of ways to hurt lots of people, and anybody can do it.

Secular thinkers appear to have discovered that human beings are born flawed and must live with eternal guilt, because there is no way they can ever be sure of doing the right thing. (Actually, it only feels like eternity, because secular thinkers are limited to time and space.) Human beings inherently hurt other people in a thousand different ways, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

This concept sounds just like sinful human nature. The apostle Paul wrote about it when he said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) In response to that problem, Christians teach that sinful human beings “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24 ESV). This same Christ Jesus lives to save people from the enslavement to Satan that was their fate due to sinful human nature, as manifested by microaggressions and other sins.

Secular thinking does not offer any help for the problem of microaggression, or sinful human nature. The offender is simply doomed. The offender has no defense against the person who alleges that offense was given, because by definition, the offender did not know about the offense. Yet the offender in secular thinking must always pay for the offense. There must be a fine or a jail sentence or re-education, or all these things. This is exactly what goes on in starkly secular countries such as VietNam or Kazakhstan or North Korea. Those governments deal with people who disobey the secular government’s moral guidelines with heavy judgments administered by courts. This sort of outcome is the natural result of progressively more assertive secular government.

Christian teaching offers what people really need if they want to recover from the blight of sinful human nature, or microaggressions. Christ himself. Even though people can sin with or without giving it a lot of prior thought and planning, they can be forgiven because Christ died for everyone. Even those who are guilty of microaggressions. Secularists pretend that punishments can be tailored to fit the crimes, but the truth is that the punishment of an offender provides no healing for the offended The beautiful truth is that Christ died for the person who was offended by microaggression also. Christ himself forgives the sins and heals the wounds. Christ leads people to forgive each other. Instead of the offender on one side of thick walls and the offended on the other, both suffering, Christ breaks down those walls and leads both parties to forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

Secularists have discovered sinful human nature, but they don’t know what to do with it. Christians must demonstrate what Christ has done to cleanse, forgive and heal human beings trapped by their sinful human nature and doomed both to offend and to be offended at the drop of a microaggression. It is very hard to be a Christian in a secular world, but Christians have good news to share with secular thinkers, now that they understand what sinful human nature can do to people.

Jesus taught us how to deal with the problems caused by microaggressions and all sorts of other manifestations of sinful human nature. When he taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In other words, Jesus knew all about aggressions, macro and micro, and he taught the right way to handle them. He also sent the Holy Spirit to live within humans and empower people to do what was hardest of all–to forgive.

Christians must live the gospel so brightly that the Light of the World shines on offenders and offended alike. Christians must carry the good news on their sleeves and in their hearts to all the people suffering from the fear and the destruction of aggressions both macro and micro. God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son to bring healing and reconciliation to all who suffer because of microaggresssion—sinful human nature. Even though all people are born that way, God’s good news is that all can be cleansed of the motivations for microaggression and all can be healed of the wounds inflicted by microaggressions.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. —Romans 5:8-10 ESV

by Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com

image source: http://eph.tuckdb.org/  licensed under cc by-sa

Looking Backward

Several years ago I read a book that made a big impression on me. A major part of the impression was the discovery that I was not the only child on earth who felt that her mother saw or foresaw evil whether it was there or not.

My childhood memories include more than one spanking that proved to have been for crimes not committed. Mother thought I had done something wrong, or she thought that both my brother and I had done something wrong. She dispensed justice despite our frantic protests, and when she learned the truth that we were innocent of the “crime” for which we had been punished, she simply said, “It wasn’t a lick amiss. I’m sure you did do something I failed to punish you for. It will do for that.”

Before you judge my mother to be a monster, know that she had many valuable qualities, many endearing qualities, and if you weighed her good deeds and evil deeds in a balance scale, I doubt hers would be evil in a greater proportion than yours, or anyone else’s. She was a very normal saintly sinner who was sometimes a sinful saint.

In A Woman of Salt, Mary Potter Engel tells a profound mother-daughter story, with parallels to the story of Lot’s wife, who became a pillar of salt when she disobeyed God’s direct order and looked back at the destruction of Sodom. It is a book worth reading if for nothing other than the interpolated midrash. Reading these midrash taught me that there might actually be more than two sides to any story. That discovery all by itself is a valuable insight when applied to challenging relationships.

The central character, Ruth, looks back at her childhood and remarks that “my mother’s eyes [were] everywhere, watching for the evil she saw inside me to emerge.” As she turns to look at her past, she asks if she might be better off if she escaped her past, and then she asks if perhaps it is a good idea to look at the past as long as she looked with the hope for a sign of God’s mercy. Then she asks, was that what Lot’s wife was doing?

I look at my past with that hope, too. I play and replay scenes from my past in my mind, asking if God’s mercy was at work in dark and painful interactions with my mother. Fortunately, God has not turned me into a pillar of salt. Happily, I have actually found some hope.

I did not find my hope until after my mother died. The traumas that marked our relationship made it hard for me to grieve. People need to grieve the dead, but I could not grieve her death until I had made peace with her life. Several months after her death, I made it my Lenten project to forgive my mother. I had learned enough to realize that forgiveness would be much more about pulling poison from memories in my heart that it could ever be about telling her that I forgave her. I could not tell her anything, because she was dead, but the poison in memories of her was corroding all my memories. I was able to see only one side of my entire life story. I needed some new perspectives, perhaps a midrash.

I felt exactly what Ruth, the central character of Woman of Salt felt when she said that her mother was always on the alert for any sign of evil in her daughter. My mother was alert in the same way. She accused me of wanting to hurt her when I failed at a goal she set for me. She accused me of trying to kill her when I invited her to go with me to a movie that scared her. She put me on a diet when she thought I weighed five pounds too much and quizzed the mothers of girls I visited overnight to find out if I ate outside my diet while visiting. (The mothers found those questions peculiar enough to ask me if my mother were well.)

For many years, memories like these were the only memories I really knew I had. I thought the miserable memories were the only ones. That is why I finally realized that I had to forgive my mother. I could not go on thinking of her as a vindictive person who hurt me. I needed to be able to remember that she had also blessed me. I needed to remember that she searched high and low in three counties for a specific pair of shoes I said I wanted. She stayed up all night making a dress for a church festival, literally sewing me into it five minutes before we left for church. She stretched an already stressed family budget to send me to college, not wanting me to work, for fear it would hurt my grades. She taught me that the will to succeed makes any goal achievable.

My experience learning to forgive involved a lot of prayer and meditation on Bible texts. I wrote poems about my experiences and my feelings, and as the weeks of Lent passed, those bitter poems became prayerful. Some might even have qualified as nascent midrash, the bare beginnings of my own midrash. I was beginning to see more than one facet of my experiences. As it happened, our church scheduled a service of healing and reconciliation the Wednesday before Easter that year, and I attended.

I did not know what to expect, but I came full of hope that my effort to forgive my mother was finally about to bear fruit. Toward the end of the service, people were invited to the altar if they wished the pastor to pray for them. I went forward, and I expected the pastor to ask me why I was there. He didn’t. Instead, he looked me in the eye as he marked the sign of the cross on my forehead with oil, and then he prayed. When I heard the words, which I do not now remember, I burst into tears. They were about my relationship with my mother, and he could only have spoken those words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Grief for my mother’s death welled up inside of me and flowed out in streams of tears. I forgave her with all my heart, and as the poison of my anger and pain flowed away, I remembered a thousand reasons to love her.

After that experience, I discovered that forgiveness is never a done deal. As my mother would have taught me, it takes will to succeed at anything. When you lose the will to forgive, for example, you stop forgiving. You start poking at old wounds and simmering over old anger. To forgive requires a commitment to do it and do it again and keep doing it.

I still know that my mother’s eyes, like those of Ruth’s mother in Woman of Salt, were always “watching for the evil she saw inside me to emerge.” However, because I have forgiven my mother, and I am forgiving my mother, and I will forgive my mother, I also know that she was alert to the evil of sinful human nature in me, because she wanted to teach me how to reject evil and choose the good. It was her hope that in me, the evil would not dominate my good qualities and destroy them, as happens in the lives of people without mothers attentive to the truth of human nature.

That is why I can look back now with hope that I will see the hand of God, acting in mercy in my life, even through the flawed instrumentality of my mother. Maybe especially through the flawed instrumentality of my mother. I am discovering that there actually are more sides to my own story than I ever realized while I was fixated on only the story of injustice and shame. My memories are more like the collection of midrash surrounding Ruth’s story in A Woman of Salt.

I hope my own children are able to see the same thing. If you want to know what Ruth learned in Woman of Salt, you must read the book for yourself.

A Hymn for Meditation

Jesus, the very Thought of Thee
By Bernard of Clairvaux
Lyrics from http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh175.sht

Jesus, the very thought of thee
with sweetness fills the breast;
but sweeter far thy face to see,
and in thy presence rest.

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
to those who fall, how kind thou art!
How good to those who seek!

Jesus, our only joy be thou,
as thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now,
and through eternity.

  • While thinking about Jesus is a sublime experience, what is a greater joy?
  • The hymnwriter rejoices in the hope Jesus gives to a contrite heart. What is a contrite heart?
  • How does Jesus treat people who fail? How should we treat people who fail?
  • What is the greatest prize a person can aspire to receive? How long will this prize last?

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollI wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5

When I was a little girl I did something my mother had explicitly forbidden. I felt guilty while doing it, but I felt even worse when she discovered the truth. I cried. “I am so sorry! I’m sorry!” My cry sounds like the psalmist, crying out to God after he recognizes his sin.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
Psalm 130:1-2

  • Secular thinkers reject the idea of sin. They reject the phrase “sinful human nature” even more. They also deny the existence of God. How would you explain this cry to them?

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.
Psalm 130:3-4

  • Anyone who reads prophecy knows that God keeps track of what people do. What is it about God that causes the psalmist to suggest that God does not have a record of all his sins? The psalmist lived long before Jesus. On what basis was he forgiven? (Hint: John 17:24, 1 Peter 1:20)

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
Psalm 130:5

  • Why does the psalmist put his hope in the word of the Lord? Human beings sometimes say, “My word is my bond.” Have you known someone in whose word you could trust? How does that compare with trusting in God’s word? Why can the psalmist who is grieving his sin put his hope in the word of the Lord?

My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
Psalm 130:6-8

  • How long can you wait for the Lord? Do you ever really wait for him?
  • On what basis can you identify yourself with Israel in this psalm and claim promises made to Israel?