Illustration copyright of Chris Higham (http://builtonrock.org.uk/gospel_through_art.html)
John 8: 9-11
In this blog series based on my book and video series "Live Like You're Loved," we arrive at one of the toughest steps to enact: forgiveness. In my Wednesday blog, I indicated that to Live Like You're Forgiven, we must emulate God's forgiveness of us, realizing that forgiveness is about the nature of the forgiver, not the one needing forgiveness.
There are two things we need to do: Learn to forgive ourselves, then learn how to forgive others. Our guiding thought today is from Christian author George MacDonald:
Forgiveness is love toward the unlovely.
I adore this phrase. God loves toward the unlovely in us. This doesn't mean God approves of the unlovely or approves of our sin. But God continuously loves toward the inherently unlovely parts of us.
Read how this plays out in the famous Bible story of Jesus and the adulteress who was at risk of execution, after Jesus has told the crowd that the one who is without sin could cast the first stone at her:
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I am struck by Chris Higham's illustration of this passage, showing Jesus walking away. He has forgiven the woman. The others have dropped their stones and departed. There is only one person left to throw a stone: the woman herself!
Isn't this what can happen even when we are forgiven by God? We ask for and receive forgiveness, but we can still carry around our guilt - in effect, we stone ourselves for what we have done. Our first step is to learn to love toward the unloveliness in ourselves, so we can join Jesus in forgiving ourselves.
Subsequently, we need to apply this technique of loving toward the unlovely in forgiving others. Having wrestled with our own unloveliness, we must come to recognize that everyone has unloveliness within them. We become empathetic because we are keenly aware what it means to act out of our unloveliness. Hence, we are driven to forgive, not because the other person has even acknowledged their unlovely act, but because we are not worthy to throw a stone.
This brings us to the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is one-sided: We can forgive the offending person, even if it is not a situation where we can tell them. Reconciliation is where the offending person joins the process, acknowledging their guilt and working to restore what was broken.
Many times, we can only achieve forgiveness within ourselves. Reconciliation may not be possible (or even recommended, such as in a pattern of abuse). It's also on us to work toward reconciliation when we are the offending person. To do that, I would suggest that we first have to acknowledge internally what we did, seeing how our unloveliness has played out, loving toward our own unloveliness to forgive ourselves, and then standing on that foundation in order to do the hard work of reconciliation.
One beautiful aspect of forgiveness is that it frees us from our baggage further and can enable us to be sent. There is a scriptural basis for this idea. I'll share it in next Wednesday's devotional blog on Living Like You're Sent.
I hope and pray that this devotional series is illustrating how your life can be transformed when you live like you're loved, forgiven, sent and eternal. Please learn about the book and video series, and share the link with individuals and groups that need to hear this message. The central place to learn more about the content and where to find it is https://www.ceciltaylorministries.com/live-like-you-re-loved .