Smile... The Future's On Its Way
by C.J. Horn
Why the Future is Secure: A Perspective on Forgiveness
As I watched our daughter come up the aisle of the church all dressed in white satin and lace, her blonde hair and head veiled, I couldn't help but think of how the eternal city was described as a bride adorned for her husband. As she passed where I stood, she handed me one small dried white rose, the symbol of her purity.
The white rose came from a rose bush we bought as a gift on her sixteenth birthday. Although she had made a commitment to remain morally pure until marriage, she had received much criticism for this decision by the time of her sixteenth birthday. Criticism ranged from comments from young men who questioned her right to withhold "their rights" in the relationship, to stinging inferences that she was only a virgin because she had no invitations to do otherwise.
We bought the rose bush as a symbol of our support for her commitment. The first rose petals from that bush are pressed in our family Bible. Our daughter kept and dried another of the first tiny blooms of that rose bush. She kept it with other keepsakes on a small shelf in her room. Long before any proposal of marriage, my daughter and I talked about her carrying the white rose hidden in her wedding bouquet. One day while we were talking in her room, I picked up the dried rose. She said, "Be careful, Mom, it's very fragile."
Snow - Pure and Fragile
The truth is that anyone who has been forgiven by God has the right to carry a white rose of purity, based on God's ability to forgive and cleanse from every sin. Many years after our daughter's wedding day, I was visiting the east coast. It had been a long, hard winter, and even though it was March, it was snowing. One morning a red cardinal flew through the barren branches outside of my sister's kitchen window. The sun shown on the white landscape, as the red cardinal hopped along through the snow. I thought of Isaiah 1:18: ..."Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Snow is a fragile crystal that melts in the sunlight, but God uses its whiteness to illustrate the purity He gives the forgiven.
In a previous chapter on prayer, it has been discussed that we are to forgive others as God forgives us. Forgiveness is an essential part of the relationship that exist between people. However, the forgiveness we extend to others is based necessarily on our humanity and will always be tainted with memory. God's forgiveness, on the other hand, causes Him to view the sinner without sin. To illustrate this, He gives the example "white as snow."
Snow reflects light in such a way that it can actually blind the human eye. It is used by God to portray salvation. When a person becomes a "new creature" in Christ Jesus at salvation (2 Corinthians 5:17), he becomes a vessel like the snow that reflects the pure light of Christ's life. "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).
The Cost of our Purity
The key to this whiteness is the payment for sin by Jesus Christ. Scripture has many examples of how God purifies us from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalms 103:12). "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Hebrews 8:12).
It is difficult for man to comprehend what Jesus did by dying on the cross. Jesus told his disciples that "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day" (Luke 9:22). Volumes have been written about what Jesus suffered in order to shed His own blood for our sins. Prophetic scriptures gave some insight into the grisly hours before and during His crucifixion. He had been beaten beyond recognition:
"... His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men" (Isaiah 52:14). He alone could satisfy God's justice. And He would be abandoned in order to do so: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? (Psalm 22:1).
The pain of the crucifixion was unbearable:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. (Psalm 22:11-15).
The Blood That Cleanses
The idea of blood being necessary in the forgiveness of sin is repugnent to many. What a man believes about the blood of Christ will be founded upon his belief in the literal occurrence of the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden.
God told Adam and Eve if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would "surely die" (Genesis 2:17). They ate and the penalty was death. The reason shedding blood is necessary to redemption is that the "life of the flesh is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11). If a person is to "surely die," their blood will be shed. This is why it was absolutely necessary for Christ to die in order to be substituted for the penalty that man deserved. It was not just any blood that could satisfy this requirement, "for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). Jesus shed His own blood for the sins of the whole world. "...and without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).
Man thinks of being clean as something that happens to the outside of the body. This was a failing of the Pharisees that Jesus indicted for making "clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess" (Matthew 23:25).
Being clean by Biblical standards is being free from sin. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7).
The Forgiven are to Forgive
When we consider what Christ had to suffer in order to forgive us our sin, it is no wonder He has the right to ask that we forgive others. It is actually His place to mete out any justice for sins committed. Whenever we feel that we just cannot forgive someone for what they have done to us, it is good to contemplate what He undeservedly suffered just to preserve our relationship with the Father.
"For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:3-4).
C.S. Lewis on Forgiveness
C.S. Lewis died in 1963 at the age of 65. His discussion on forgiveness is timeless:
One might start with forgiving one's husband or wife, or parents or children... we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means...well, exactly how do I love myself? self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are.
Now I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life . namely myself.
However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. ...Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery...But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.
In thinking through forgiveness in this way, we can see why God is able to love us in spite of what sin has done in our life. Since He is our Creator, He knows what we should be.
Some Things Are Secure
By adopting an attitude of forgiveness toward others, we can secure any future relationship. When Paul made his great dissertation on love in 1 Corinthians 13, he never once mentioned the word forgiveness. But it is clear that the tone of love is a forgiving spirit. Love is patient, kind, longsuffering, etc. Love "is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil"(1 Corinthians 13:5)
The key to being a loving person is to take the offensive (not offended) part in the relationship. Paul explains this by his comments later in that same chapter. He says, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11). A child is self-centered. He does not have the maturity to maintain a relationship because he is always in a reactionary mode.
The mature believer can say with confidence that he loves whom he chooses and can maintain any relationship, based on love's ability to "hope all things." He is secure because of his definition of love, and because he knows God loves him. This type of security reaches into the future. It is not subject to man's actions, or to the world's ills. God is our example on how we must proceed with forgiveness. He chose to repair the relationship between man and Himself, and He bridged the gap completely. He secured our eternal future with His sacrifice. We can secure our future on earth by adopting His way.
If I cannot find it in my heart to forgive someone, I can always ask God to help me find it in His heart. I can adopt the divine attitude of forgiveness, which looks not at crimes, but at remedies. A forgiven sinner can live again--toward victory in the future. That is my free gift to the brother who has offended me.