“Real Forgiveness”, Essay by C.S. Lewis (God’s Mercy, Forgive our trespasses)

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Essay on Forgiveness by C.S. Lewis

By Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc. N.Y. 1960

We say a great many things in church without thinking of what we are saying. For instance, we say in the Creed ” I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” I had been saying it for several years before I asked myself why it was in the Creed. At first sight it seems hardly worth putting in. “If one is a Christian,” I thought ” of course one believes in the forgiveness of sins. It goes without saying.”

But the people who compiled the Creed apparently thought that this was a part of our belief which we needed to be reminded of every time we went to church. And I have begun to see that, as far as I am concerned, they were right. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not so easy as I thought.

Real belief in it is the sort of thing that easily slips away if we don’t keep on polishing it up.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement.

It is in the Lord’s Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t we shall be forgiven none of our own.

Now it seems to me that we often make a mistake both about God’s forgiveness of our sins and about the forgiveness we are told to offer to other people’s sins. Take it first about God’s forgiveness, I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality asking Him to do something quite different.

I am asking him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.”

If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two.

Part of what at first seemed to be the sins turns out to be really nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven. If you had a perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your actions needs forgiveness, then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some “extenuating circumstances.”

We are so very anxious to point these things out to God that we are apt to forget the very important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves without own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.

There are two remedies for this danger. One is to remember that God knows all the real excuses very much better than we do. If there are real “extenuating circumstances” there is no fear that He will overlook them. Often He must know many excuses that we have never even thought of, and therefore humble souls will, after death, have the delightful surprise of discovering that on certain occasions they sinned much less than they thought.

All the real excusing He will do. What we have got to take to Him is the inexcusable bit, the sin. We are only wasting our time talking about all the parts which can be excused. When you go to a Dr. you show him the bit of you that is wrong – say, a broken arm. It would be a mere waste of time to keep on explaining that your legs and throat and eyes are all right. You may be mistaken in thinking so, and anyway, if they are really right, the doctor will know that.

The second remedy is really and truly to believe in the forgiveness of sins. A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that is not forgiveness at all.

Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.

When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people, it is partly the same and partly different. It is the same because, here also forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive.

The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet that the excuses are better than I think.

One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt that is left over. To excuse, what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness.

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night “Forgive our trespasses* as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.

*Trespasses=offences, being offended or offending.

“What Possesses our Hearts?”, from L.Willows (forgiveness, righteousness, justice)

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Positions about being right can be held like possessions that are dear to our hearts.

But is it for our good and does it bring us closer to God? Is it possible that the need to be right, especially in times that can feel so ‘out of control’ can actually separate us from the very help from God that we are seeking and deeply needing? What possesses our hearts will own us. Then it controls us and our lives.

Righteousness and Being Right

In today’s world, it appears acceptable to feel “right” yet no one wants to claim the possibility that we might actually be moralizing. It seems to be everywhere. Being true to something is different than being right. True means being devoted or being loyal to something that you believe in.  That can be “positional” based upon your beliefs. We all admire that quality but start to argue about what truth is and what to be loyal to.

Being right is entirely different. It is a moral point. Right and wrong go deeper than cultural or historical or even personal beliefs. (For the sake of this writing)

Moralizing is the very common action of personally commenting either to ourselves or to others about what is right and wrong. Is anyone immune? Be honest. We see it constantly in the world around us. It appears to be encouraged. It becomes easy to gather momentum with a sense of right and wrong. Moralizing is judging. It casts ourselves as superior, as the one with the power to weigh right and wrong. When we do that to ourselves and to others it is equally wrong.

Romans 13:13 -“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”

Matthew 7:1-5 -“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Can our Judgements Possess us?

Have you had an experience when afterward you reviewed it to yourself and decided that someone or something was “right” and the other was “wrong”, and you placed yourself in the role of the commentator or judge? As the judge didn’t you feel that you had compiled knowledge about the subject? From that did you eventually feel wiser. Then comes a sense of relief, perhaps even satisfaction. But did the issue feel resolved? Maybe not. It may have recirculated. This can happen to us.

We review and review. As judges, the “court” of appeals is never over. Have you noticed that? We, as moralizers and arbitrators of right and wrong, are imperfect judges. We weigh with mortal hearts. We make ourselves the “eye” of the righteous one.

Proverbs 21:2 -“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Romans 2:1 – “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

Matthew 12:36 -“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”

The reason for that is because when we judge, we are stepping away from our purpose. We slip into moralizing and into pride. We lose grace. We step away from our relationship with God because we start to make little gods of ourselves. We make ourselves the ones that try to control the Outcomes. When we insist on making things right and wrong, especially taking sides in the arena of life we are literally lowering ourselves into a battleground that is not “ours to fight”.

Finding our way Back

1 Peter 3:4 -“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”

Philippians 2:3 -“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

The rights and wrongs of this world are injustices that are seen by the Eyes of God.  When we are appointed to speak out, and those moments will be known to us vividly and boldly, God will lovingly supply the moment, the words and the message.

Psalm 34:15 -“The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.”

1 Corinthians 16:13 -“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 -“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

That is different than judging and moralizing by a longshot, don’t you agree? Can you tell the difference in your own life, in your own world? We are asked to be merciful and to trust that the Lord is with us and will not forsake us. We are not to fear or to be dismayed.

When we trust that the Lord goes before us, that He prepares the hours, the days and each detail of our lives – we can rest in faith. We live in trust in God. Then, we stand firm in Faith.

Standing Firm in Faith

In Corinthians we are reminded to be watchful, to stand firm in our faith and to be strong! When Psalm 34 says that the eyes of the Lord are towards the righteous it means that those that serve the Lord are called into obedience to His Law. It asks that we submit our hearts before God at all times for review, asking for his blessings in obedience to the laws of forgiveness and with the observance of His sovereignty in justice and mercy.

We place the desire for righteousness in the space that is reserved for the invocation of God . In that sacred and holy place where we are meant to step back and understand that we do not have the power to make all things right, that God is sovereign even when This World appears to be moving ‘out of tilt’ with what makes sense to us, it may be the very moment of opportunity for a door to open that we ourselves by our own power could not. 

Invoking the Righteousness of God

Galatians 6:9 -“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

1 Peter 3:14 -“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”

Psalm 112:6 -“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.”

Proverbs 21:3 -“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

The biblical definition of Righteousness is that it is one of the chief attributes of God as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct (for example, Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:1; Psalm 1:6; Proverbs 8:20). In the Book of Job the title character is introduced to us as a person who is perfect in righteousness.

Beholding Holiness

What is suggested is that rather than acting from our moralizing which encourages us to step away from God by creating a false right and wrong of our own, we lean into the character of God, beholding His holy righteousness. 

Acts 18:9-10 –“And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Colossians 3:12-14 -“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.

God’s holy presence shows us that He embodies forgiveness. How can we hold one another as right and wrong in our hearts and also behold Him as Forgiveness? When we see how much we have been forgiven ourselves, it becomes very difficult to view others, even the world through such a lens of right and wrong.

Yielding to the Power of Forgiveness and Love

We yield the perspective back to God, who surely must be the One WHO sees and KNOWS, the One that has prepared a way for us all to walk forward. I pray that we can each prepare our heart to receive His Blessing and live our lives boldly and courageously so that we are led to participate in that Holy plan. We each have a way to walk in it. Only the Lord can impart that to you.

The only one that must Possess your Heart is God.

© 2019 Linda Willows

“Generous Forgiveness”, from L.Willows (motive and value, a measure of mercy, generous love)

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I love the idea of generous forgiveness. To me, it means that love surpasses all. Ultimately we allow everything to fall through the heart of a love bigger and stronger than anything that we know or fathom and “it” wins.

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”. Matthew 7:2

We are called to faithfully follow God’s law and use good judgment. Good judgment is discernment. This is related to wisdom which is an inner knowing sourced in genuine truth, while judgment is sourced in fear. 

Judgment, Righteousness, and Motive.

We usually believe that we are right. It is our most notable characteristic through the ages. So when we judge something, we do it whole-heartedly. Have you ever half-heartedly felt that something was true and right? Then we hold onto it. Here a few questions to help to determine the source. You may have better ones:

  1. What are my motives in holding on to this feeling, this judgment?
  2. What would change in my life of I let go of it?
  3. How would I need to adjust my heart in order to let go of it?
  4. Do I have a history with this person or circumstance that colors this judgment?
  5. Am I willing to heal this? Why not? What would happen if I did?
  6. What is the fear that I may not want to feel about this issue?
  7. How would it feel to be free of this? What might I learn from releasing this?

When we hold onto an accusation in our hearts it binds us to what we are judging. Hearts and minds are not only holding onto thoughts and feelings, but they also become the slaves of what has been judged. We cast a part of ourselves onto it like a hook and there it stays until we remove it.

When we cast is our ego forward as our worth, it becomes the measure used in the future.

It is a false sense of worth and value. Yet it a mortal ‘default”. We assess ourselves against an “other”. (measuring) As long as this lasts we are not free. The hook is in. This is the bait and hook that self-righteousness produces when it comes to accusation and judgment.

We have created the “measure” by which we will be measured. (That same hook will find us again someday)

If the “other” is not reflecting something that makes us feel worthy or valued then one leans towards the need to judge it. Fear rises up with an accusation. By making you wrong, “I” can stay right. “I can keep a fuller measure of good worth for myself”.

Noting the word, “myself” is helpful. The key to understanding how to unlock freedom is learning how not to live for the lesser self (me, myself) but to lift it up. Lifted living being turned towards the Love, Truth, and Spirit of God for identity. Worth and value are poured from that source rather than from worldly sources. The result is that perspective shifts. Heart view alters. The core of self lifts from where it was to a new place (literally). It moves to the Altar of God.

We are called to follow higher law, to live as seekers of wisdom and discernment.  We are more than “just myself”. We have the spirit of God in our hearts. Good Judgment is living from His truth and in obedience to God’s law.

When scripture says, “For with what “judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged”, the importance is upon the words for with what. It suggests that there is more than one judge.

Only With God

We are not the arbiters of truth. In the world, we attempt to use laws to arbitrate civilly. In human life, there is no measure. We step in. We often feel helpless. We cannot see into the hearts of one another with clarity and depth though we do try, we do earnestly long to know. We forget that God is there. Scripture tells us that there is only one Judge and that He is God.

 “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:12

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” 1 Corinthians 4:4

When we accuse one another and become accusers, we are holding ourselves to be “gods” before Him. We are saying that we know better. We are claiming that moral compasses are working with greater clarity than His. Or, we are saying that God is not there, does not exist, or is powerless to act. We are actually also accusing God as well when we judge others. We are accusing Him of 1. not being able, 2. of not being present and 3. of not being Sovereign. We are taking His place.

“And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear.” – Isaiah 11:13

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

Measure for Measure, Generous Mercy

I love David Guzik’s explanation in his commentary on this scripture so I will quote it here:

i. According to the teaching of some rabbis in Jesus’ time, God had two measures that He used to judge people. One was a measure of justice and the other was a measure of mercy. Whichever measure you want God to use with you, you should use that same measure with others.

ii. We should only judge another’s behavior when we are mindful of the fact that we ourselves will be judged, and we should consider how we would want to be judged.

“with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”.

The measure that I would put before my heart first needs to be God law.  As a Christian that is my first plea and purpose. It isn’t easy. I fail at it often. Honestly, we all do because we are still on this journey, in this life, not yet perfect but walking with Christ. But the encouragement is that by filling our hearts with His Spirit, there is wisdom, renewal, and the strength to walk with generous Love. 

When our hearts are filled with God’s Love we fulfill his laws. The generous and full measure of what has been given to us pours into and through us towards life. A measure of mercy- the measure of mercy which has been so very great towards us, can be directed towards life and others. 

When we realize how much we have been given, hearts turn from looking out with  ones that have the capacity to judge and accuse to those that are at peace restful gratitude.  

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Romans 14:13

The Treasure

The measure that we are given is the full treasure of Christ, His gift- planted within each of us at birth. As we view His Glory we can only see what is true and be inspired to love as he does. From that, we will all fall lovingly into lives that forgive generously and walk with mercy both toward all that we know and encounter and on the inside, with the transforming nature of our hearts so devoted to Him.

© 2019 Linda Willows