“Why is ‘forgiving yourself’ so difficult? First, it’s impossible…”
The children of Israel have walked through a miracle: the parting of the Red Sea (Ex. 14). Not only have they been delivered from a devastated Egypt, they were delivered from certain death at the hands of Pharaohs army. Trapped in an area called, פִּי הַחִירֹת, “the mouth of the mountains,” with the sea before them, and mountains on either side of them, the only way of escape was filled with an army.
What was Israel to do? Surrender to their vanquished enemy? No, as Moses said: “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today” (Ex. 14:13).
The winds blew, the waters parted, and Israel walked through the divided sea on dry land. When they emerge on the other side, they sing. In Exodus 15:2 we read these beautiful words:
זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ, אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי וַאֲרֹמְמֶנְהוּ
“…this is my God and I will praise Him; my fathers God, and I will exalt Him.”
The first clause above is incredible: “this is my God,” amplified: “the God of miracles, deliverance, safety, and faithfulness, I will praise Him … the God whom my father exalted, I will also exalt.” What they have witnessed and received, they rejoice in, but there is something deeper imparted here as well.
זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ, in many translations reads, “this is my God and I will praise Him…” Yet, according to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, וְאַנְוֵהוּ, “and I will praise,” from the root נָוָה/nāvâ, the form of this word lends itself to being understood in several ways, an example:“and I will prepare a home for Him.” This is not referencing the future tabernacle, but rather, the individual. In the midst of this praise song, Moses is expressing the hope of his heart, also of those singing with him, to be a habitation for and to offer one’s life to be a home for the Spirit of God.
Yet, Moses was not perfect, none of them were. Moses had taken human life. He argued with God when called by Him. He continued to doubt the message of deliverance and redemption of Israel given to pharaoh as it resulted in even greater suffering for them. How could he believe himself to be a worthy physical habitation of God?
The language of נָוָה/nāvâ, habitation, home or resting place, also speaks of the beautification of that place. The cleansing of it. By what means? Faith-ing to God. Trusting Him. His choice of Israel to be His people. In order to receive Him, they would have to be cleansed, prepared, and forgiven.
Forgiveness is a difficult subject. Forgiving and “releasing” those who wronged us (Matt. 6:14-15), or being forgiven and “released” by those we have wronged (Matt. 18:35). This author has recently taught on forgiving those who have wronged us, but a small treatment on “forgiving ourselves” is in order. How can we forgive ourselves for the wrong we have done, participated in or gave approval to?
In Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, we have been moved from a position of condemnation to forgiveness (Ro. 8:1). This is a greater miracle than the Red Sea. Yet, we are still in a world saturated in sin, and from time to time, sin, of one type or another, finds a point of entry, causing us to stumble. We must remember that all of have fallen short of the glory of God (Ro. 3:23). In Christ we are trusting in His righteousness, and His forgiveness. His forgiveness, and the cleansing that results, causes us to become a habitation of the Holy Spirit, as Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Cor. 3:16). When the house of Cornelius, gentiles after the flesh, heard the gospel of Messiah, they were filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45; cf. Acts 11:18), whose indwelling presence sealed their acceptance by God (Eph. 1:13-14).
“Forgiving yourself,” as it is oft constructed, is theological incorrect and confusing. You mean to express the sorrow of having participating in or committing a sinful act. Of this you cannot forgive yourself. Only God can. When repented of, He does, and then we walk out the forgiveness of the Father in daily life. Maturing the heart knowledge of the reality of His forgiveness by the blood of His Son, not just an intellectual recognition of it. The apostle John explains, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:8-9). He is faithful to forgive and cleanse the conscience of confessed sin, should we then continue to enliven it?
This forgiveness and cleansing should take us, in our minds, back to the song of Moses referenced above, that having experienced the miracle of deliverance and redemption: “and I will prepare a home for Him.” We will tend to the inner space of our hearts and minds by the Word, walking out the forgiveness we have received by the blood of the Lamb, and ultimately resting and abiding in Him (Matt. 11:28-30; Jn. 15:4). Do we trust in the work of Christ on the cross for a complete cleansing of sin? “Forgiving yourself” is recognizing that His work of redemption and cleansing is, was and will be enough. You cannot add to it by self-imprisonment, self-condemnation, or self-mortification. Doing so shackles one to the past, not the beautiful freedom of the present victory. Paul writes:
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Paul, who gave approval to the stoning of Stephen, could not press on if he was condemning himself. He was set free. Free, even when knowing how bad he really was. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” should still echo in our hearts today. There are times when we remain in a position of self-condemnation without fully knowing what we are doing. Breaking His heart. “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Ps. 32:5).
Why is “forgiving yourself” so difficult? First, it’s impossible, as forgiveness flows from the innocent party to the guilty party. Second, it demands we stop playing the judge. Third, we must trust His grace. Yet, knowing, “how bad I am, or how bad I’m prone to be, can He really forgive me?” Yes, from here to eternity. That is how great His love is. That is the message of the gospel. He loved you while you were still lavishing the excess of sin upon yourself (Ro. 5:8). How much more does He love those He has rescued by the blood of His Son, and now filled with His Spirit. You have been released, set free, and now press on in the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The forgiveness of God has been granted to you, now you must continue to walk in and experience the fullness of it, this is part and parcel to the process of maturing, discipleship, by the indwelling the Holy Spirit, as His habitation. Remember, you did not choose Him. He choose you. And now you are His (Jn. 15:16).
Be well. Shalom.