Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about some things in my past, it seems like I spend a lot of my prayer time confessing long-past sins, telling God how much I suck, things like that. On Saturday, in the midst of my 8 mile run, I was again spending my prayer time and it hit me. I’m unable to forgive myself. So, I started to reflect on that concept a bit. What does it mean to forgive oneself?
Yesterday, I saw a post on a youth ministry blog that I follow, the post was entitled, “How do I forgive myself?” Seems like I’m not the only one. This morning, I was again praying while running and the thought hit me that a possible reason that I’m not able to forgive myself might be because of grace. In the Old Testament, the people had some sort of offering to give, something to do, something to burn, and it was that thing, that effort that stayed God’s hand (notice I did not say that it cleared the conscience). In short, I decided that the trouble with forgiveness now is that there is unmerited grace, we’ve done nothing to deserve forgiveness, so the guilt might pile on. Yet, we are told that Christ’s final sacrifice not only eliminates the sin, but also clears the conscience. Why, then, do I rehash sin? If indeed my conscience is clear, would I still be thinking about it?
I believe that the answer is found in Isaiah 38. King Hezekiah has just been delivered from the Assyrians by God. Afterward, the king is sick and at the point of death. He seeks God out, and Isaiah comes to him and tells him that God has granted his wish, Hezekiah gets another 15 years. Beginning in verse 9, Hezekiah writes a psalm to God. Starting in verse 15, he praise God for healing. In part he says:
“I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul.
Lord, by such things people live; and my spirit finds life in them too.
You restored me to health and let me live. Surely it was for my benefit
that I suffered such anguish.”
I believe that Hezekiah is on to something here. Perhaps what I feel, what many people feel, is NOT lingering or unwarranted guilt (after all, we HAVE forgiveness if we seek it) rather, perhaps it is anguish over our sin. This anguish leads us to humility before God because we understand that we are not God. It is this anguish over my separation from Him that causes me to live in a state of humility. This is to my benefit.
My purpose in writing this is not for us to ignore conviction of the Spirit. I know that I have things I try to hide from God (which is it’s own blog post). Hezekiah tells us plainly that God has put our sins behind his back. He has indeed delivered us. But, this anguish remains so that we remember the cost to Him of our sin.