(Tea Talk from June 2, 2020)
I want to talk to you today about forgiveness. Now wait, don’t click off. I know that we priests seem to talk about forgiveness a lot. But today I’m not going to ask you to work on forgiving your family members who have hurt you, or your friends who betrayed you, your co-workers who conspired against you, or motorists who endangered you. Today I’m not going to ask you to forgive your priest who disappointed you or your boss who persecuted you. No. Today I’m going to ask you, to ask God, to help you to forgive yourself.
Forgive myself? Wait. Doesn’t that kind of go against everything we hear in church or see in our prayer books? Isn’t guilt good for our souls and good for our salvation? No! In fact, the reason that Christ came was to free us from guilt, giving us Holy Baptism and Holy Confession to accomplish exactly that!
Now I’m not naïve. I realize that all of us have sinned, all of us have fallen short. All of us committed sins and actions that left us carrying a heavy burden of regret and yes, guilt. But we also believe in Christ and the forgiveness that pours forth from the cross, don’t we? Sure we do...intellectually. But sometimes our feelings and our thoughts haven’t quite caught-up with what we know intellectually. Sometimes we are still tortured by our past sins. But what does our faith teach us? Our faith teaches us that if we confess our sins and acknowledge our faults, that God not only forgives, but He also “forgets.” In Jeremiah 31:34 God says: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” And Micah 7: 19 says “He will return and have mercy upon us; he will sink our iniquities, and they shall be cast into the depth of the sea, even all our sins.” Also, God wants us to put our confessed and repented-of sins in the past, far behind us! We learn this from Isaiah 38:17 “For thou hast chosen my soul, that it should not perish: and thou hast cast all my sins behind me.”
OK. I believe it. But why is it SO HARD for me to forgive myself?
St. Makarios of Egypt might give us a big part of the answer. He says:
“Reminding us of our past sins is a trick of the devil to lead us to despair.” (St. Makarios of Egypt)
Satan, our constant spiritual enemy, loves the past. He can’t see the future, although he pretends to. He hates the future because he fears his own destruction. But he loves the past. He loves the past, especially our past, because he can use it against us and against our efforts to get closer to God. He loves it because he can stir-up feelings of guilt, bone-crushing guilt, for past sins, and derail us on our road to the heavenly kingdom. He is also the greatest projectionist in the world. He loves to constantly project on our minds his “home movies,” mental images recalling our past sins, our past failures, our past terrible decisions, in hopes of creating deep despondency and a feeling of hopelessness in our souls. This is what “looking” back does to us. God puts our sins far behind us, but we keep getting nudged to look back. But we don’t just look, we linger, we stare. Looking back is what Lot's wife did, remember? She looked back with sorrow and regret on her former life. The Hebrew for “looked back” means more than to glance over one’s shoulder. It means “to regard, to consider, to pay attention to.” She turned into a pillar of salt as a result (Genesis 19:26).
So, don’t let the devil succeed in his efforts. Don’t look back. Don’t let demonic logismoi invade your mind and destroy your peace. When he shows up with his movies dismiss him, spit over your left shoulder, behind you, and say “Behind me, Satan!” Forgive yourself.
And maybe when the devil is attacking you with his fiery arrows, you might remember this little bit of truth: the Hebrew word for “forgiveness” is “kaphar.” It literally means to cover, to overspread, to protect. So when God has forgiven you, He has covered you and protected you beneath the shelter of His wings. You are safe! The devil’s darts cannot harm you. Dismiss them. Reject them. You are God’s beloved child. You are precious to him. Embrace His forgiveness and make that forgiveness your own. Forgive yourself as He has forgiven you!