Eric Youngblood: Straightening Out Our Warping Guilt

Monday, May 1, 2017 - by Eric Youngblood
“What do you have to do to receive the forgiveness of sins?”, inquired an eager Miss Johnson to her squirming gaggle of gigglers in the Sunday school class.

One attentive boy shot up his hand, eager to demonstrate his learning.

“Yes, Nigel--- What does one have to do to receive the forgiveness of sins?”

Nigel proudly blurted, “Sin!”

Pre-Requisite for Debt-Dissolving Magic of Forgiveness
Miss Jones intended, of course, to teach about the mechanics of forgiveness reception.
Nigel was talking about pre-requisites. 

Just as you must take algebra if you ever hope to excel in AP Calculus, so must you sin in order to excel in receiving the debt-dissolving magic of Jesus’ preoccupation called “the forgiveness of sins.”

But what if “sin” disappears? 

What if we make cozy alliances that permit us to re-name disastrous things in the eyes of heaven as mere polite peccadillos down below? 

What if we, concerned to preserve fragile psyches, lose the vocabulary to label, the skill to identify, and the heart to turn from things which God has called human poison? 

A little fib here, a small omission there. A slight breaking of marital vows. A dab of harmless gossip. Just a touch of looking down on the one competes with me. A harmless dose of extra padding of my own pockets, and little contempt toward those whose pockets are riddled with holes. 

If these things, and their unmentioned cousins, are just what everyone does, they are simply to be expected and excused, but not forgiven. 

Mistakes Were Made
“Mistakes were made.” A favorite passive-voiced gloss. No perpetrator to be found. No mistake maker any where in view.

Such is a common contemporary disguise to kinda-sorta-touch at the idea that an anomalous and hurtful thing has happened....but surely not an actual act of wrong-doing that generates a residue of guilt.
 
Certainly not an action or attitude that created a debt which needed expunging. 

And definitely not an injurious action for which an actor was culpable. 

Just a little excusing is required.
 
CS Lewis chimes in this conversation in a most helpful way:

“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) 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.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. 

If there is no sin, then a religion that spends so much of its air time on resourcing forgiveness becomes largely unintelligible.

The appearance of Him who “will save his people from their sins” is a scheduling error not a Divine Rescue.  

No Mere Glandular Issues
If gluttony and addiction are mere glandular issues that can’t be helped; if obeying all our sexual desires in whichever fashion we find them most articulately pronounced in us is just part of our animal instinct; if preferencing our tribe, no matter what disadvantage and shame it poses for those with different skin pigmentation or accent, is merely natural, then what do we make of the world’s best selling and most indomitable Book that calls a woman most blessed if God decides not to keep a detailed ledger of her transgressions? 

What is she to do if she has no transgressions?

King David (warrior, poet, adulterer, Head of State, murderer, troubled father, ladies’ man, oh, and “man after God’s own heart”) insists that the happiest dudes and dudettes are those that nap in the eno hammock of God’s slate-shattering refusal to hold even the slightest infraction against them. (cf. Psalm 32, Romans 4)

The Chemical Reaction of Forgiveness
There is a chemical reaction like an Alka-Seltzer in a glass of Brita-filtered H2O in the life of the person who believes that God has said, “though you whiffed on the opportunities to  disadvantage yourself for the advantage of your neighbor, I am going to throw the charges against you in the fireplace.” 

The powerful stain-removing, debt-dissipating, infraction-erasing mercy of God can make your insides fizz with joy as the callouses are removed and the calcified places within us soften.
 
Onion-Smothered Krystals
But what is available to us when we suggest there is not actually anything to forgive? 

Where is “blessedness” to be found then? 

In pretending that we are ok? 

Puh-lease. 

We know we haven’t measured up, haven’t come through, and haven’t been the version of us that we were made to be. 

No matter how much Instagram curating we do, we still have a mirror to face. And there’s no easy hiding from that dang mirror and the divine gaze that it often replicates.

Just like you can’t hide it if when you’ve demolished a diced-onion-smothered Krystal gut-bomb. For as soon as you go to Cross-Fit, the onion-y fragrance adheres to each bead of sweat and pollutes every nearby kettle-bell swinger’s nasal passage.

Neither can we hide our guilt that never goes away without Christ’s forgiveness, no matter how much we pretend. 

“Sins We See Best in Others...”
Of course, the onion-stink of our heart’s guilt may come out in different ways. 

It might be as an intolerable severity towards others who cannot measure up. After all, “the sins we see best in others, we learned first in ourselves.”  

Or we might turn that severity on our own selves, criticizing, despising, and loathing the loser within. 

Or we could find ourselves compulsively laboring as an advocate for some cause or another because, down deep, we need somehow to prove our worth, to payback what we got, or to pay-off what we did or didn’t do. 

Perhaps, we sub-consciously presume, enough impassioned advocacy will scrub away the stains that sully us and compensate for our constantly accruing guilt-liabilities.

Whichever way our most stubbornly situation guilts are disguised or concealed, the result is the same. We are cemented into a situation we can’t remedy on our own.

Frederick Buechner has corroborated: “It’s about as hard to absolve yourself of your own guilt as it is to sit in your own lap.”

Forgiveness received is flourishing like....
Forgiveness for the sin-admitter though, is like the instantaneous flourishing that celiacs discover when they begin to omit gluten from their lives. 

All their days they have eaten as if they could harmlessly ingest homemade, stone-ground wheat bread, and could, without consequence, savor a frothy micro-brew, never realizing, all the while that a militant, miniscule protein in the grain was causing inner irritation, an inflammation of their insides.
 
The tasty treat that seemed to be hurting no one...(after all that’s a favorite justification slogan we employ, “it’s not hurting anyone!”) is actually deteriorating the lining of their intestines, poisoning their digestive tracks and corroding their hope of flourishing. 

Forgiveness is akin to getting authoritative word from the doctor that you should omit gluten from your life. So you throw it out like God trashes your own sins, and suddenly, your gut-health and over all physical situation is instantly improved. You feel like a person again. 

Forgiveness received, reveled in, and counted on is a life-long gluten intolerance sufferer who just found out, gave up the doughnuts, and suddenly found her body pulsing with a new energy and her eyes infused with a energetic light. 

No wonder that the sin-bearing, free-forgiveness offering Christ gave a similarly compelling short-hand description of his first appearing, namely, “I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.”
 
For the Sins We Fear To Name
It’s been said that the “guilty live in dreadful uncertainty.” 

It’s also been said, “that Christ came to the world to save sinners.” 

Both are true.

That’s why I’m sure glad to believe that despite what I know of myself and of all the “sins we fear to name”, there is One to whom we can continue to go, “who knows all but will never turn his face away.”

-----

Eric Youngblood is the senior pastor at Rock Creek Fellowship (PCA) on Lookout Mountain. Please feel free to contact him at eric@rockcreekfellowship.org or follow him on Twitter @GEricYoungblood.



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