Friday, March 5, 2010

Forgiving Ourselves

C.S. Lewis said, “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”

One of the prerequisites for the ability to extend life-giving forgiveness to others is that we experience ourselves as forgivable. I have known plenty of people who claim that they are beyond forgiveness. As C.S. Lewis says, they have set themselves up as a higher tribunal than God. This claim of being beyond forgiveness is an example of false humility which is really pride. I think we need to learn how to accept forgiveness from God and when we have learned this lesson, we can begin to forgive ourselves. We confess, repent, and accept the forgiveness of God and others and find ourselves reconciled not only to God and others, but to ourselves as well. One thing we eventually learn is that we are just like everyone else, both unworthy of such great love in our sinfulness and worthy of such great love because we are created for it. It’s just who we are. When we begin to know this, we begin learn to forgive ourselves. As we forgive ourselves, so goes our forgiveness of others.

When we say that we may never be able to forgive ourselves for causing some great harm, what we really mean is that we may never get over the guilt we feel. We may be right – we may always hold on to that guilt. But we don’t need to and in fact, we need not to. It can be a long, slow process and may take years. But there is a process, and just as we must forgive others, we must forgive ourselves. We confess what we have done, we repent and change our behavior, and we accept forgiveness from ourselves.

Suppose someone else commits the same transgression that you have committed and find unforgiveable in yourself. It may seem easier to forgive the other person for that same transgression than it is to forgive yourself. But then, we proclaim that there is no unforgivable sin. (I have always interpreted Jesus teaching that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin as meaning that when we reject God, we reject forgiveness and remain unforgiven because we have disallowed it, not because it is not extended to us). But then it seems, that the same rule of no unforgivable sin does not apply to ourselves (our pride again!). We may acknowledge the forgiveness of another and still refuse the forgiveness offered to ourselves. The truth is then that we don’t really believe the other transgressor is forgiven either. As we forgive ourselves, so goes our forgiveness of others. It’s just the way it is.

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