Why won’t some of us stop punishing ourselves for the wrongs we’ve done? I know the question. Long after I’ve asked God’s forgiveness, I have silently cursed myself for doing things that embarrassed me and hurt others.There was a time, though, that I wouldn’t talk this way. I assumed that forgiving me was God’s prerogative not mine. Then I met someone in addiction recovery who was willing to talk about his own struggle. As we talked, he told me that he didn’t have a hard time believing that God forgave him. But he said he’d had an awful time forgiving himself for some of the things he had done.
Then with a smile he said, “But I have a friend who got on my case for acting like I was greater than God. This friend kept saying, ‘Who do you think you are, God Almighty? God forgives you. But you don’t. What is this you’re telling me? Are you greater than God?'”
The good-natured prodding he took from his friend helped me. Later, I remembered words of the apostle John who wrote in his first New Testament letter: “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20 NIV).
Why is it important to remember that God is greater than our hearts? John reminded us that when the sin we have already confessed continues to torment us, God sees more clearly than we do. He sees everything. He sees the wrong and the regret we have acknowledged. He sees the price He has paid to release us from that sin. He sees the trust we have put in His Son. He sees the good work He has started in our hearts. And He knows that what He has begun He will finish (Philippians 1:6).
God also sees something else. He sees the people around us who are negatively affected as long as we continue to condemn ourselves. He knows we will never be good at loving others as long as we refuse to let the love and forgiveness of God flush the guilt and shame out of our lives.
How can the love of God flow through us to those around us if we are saying, in effect, “I know You have forgiven me, Lord, but I have higher standards and expectations for myself than You do. I can’t walk with You. I can’t join You in Your mission of love, because I haven’t lived up to my own expectations.”
We may think that’s humility. But if so, let’s second guess ourselves. Could it be wounded pride? Could the friend I quoted in my last post be right in saying that one of our problems might be that we have too high of an opinion of ourselves? Could another friend be right that we haven’t thought long enough about how much Christ suffered for us, so that we wouldn’t feel a need to atone for our own sin? What about the other friend who acknowledged that while healthy regret can lead to change, unhealthy grief can keep us stuck in our sin, and even give us an excuse for not moving ahead with God?
If you have the time, I wish you’d let me know what you’re thinking.