Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for March 20, 2013

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. (Psalm 130)

I know people who have never been forgiven by those they have wronged. Even after great sorrow and repentance on the part of the offender, the one who suffered the offense withholds forgiveness. The people might be married to each other, co-congregants at church, or in some other relationship of proximity. And forgiveness never comes.

For some who have been sinned against, the pain might be too deep to forgive, at least in the short run; it could take time for that to happen. For others it becomes a form of power, keeping the sinner at bay and inside an eternal prison of unforgiveness.

For the sinner, the shame of the offense is compounded by the ongoing imprisonment of unabsolved guilt.

The psalmist speaks of God’s forgiveness in relation to the iniquities of the nation of ancient Israel. He rejoices that God doesn’t “mark,” or keep a record of the nation’s sins. After all, if he did, then it would be impossible for Israel to stand under the weight of its transgressions.

It is a comfort to apply such generosity to ourselves as persons. The people against whom we have sinned may not forgive us—we have no control over that. They might keep the record indefinitely, waving it in the air on occasion to make sure we don’t forget.

And the sinner doesn’t forget. Maybe never. I doubt that God actually forgets, either. He remembered Israel’s sins long enough for the people to be hauled off into exile. But in the end, he kept no record. When God forgives, the pardon is real, as real as the guilt that was the prerequisite for forgiveness. Once pardoned, always free.

That’s the amazing thing about admitting and confessing our sins. Once those sins are recognized and identified as something real and true, forgiveness becomes a possibility. How tragic it is when a person decides that everything is just okay and nothing requires pardon. That’s a weight under which no one can stand.

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