One of the many things I have yet to fully grasp about my faith is forgiveness.
I totally get being forgiven through the redemptive and redeeming grace of the cross. That, comparatively, is easy to grasp. My mistakes, sins, transgressions, or however you care to codify them? Gone, in the eyes and heart of God. In fact, one of the most oft-quoted verses in the New Testament is “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)
While that’s a great starting point, and a healing that everyone needs to know, what one could argue is what it fails – on the surface – to take into account is the day to day. Yes. God forgives me. God has forgiven me. God will continue to forgive me. To Him, those past actions don’t even exist.
And I can forgive others. I can forgive what others have done to me, and what I have allowed others to do to me.
But there are times when I feel like I’m chasing the distance between the east and the west, trying to see for myself if these sins are indeed forgiven.
God doesn’t own my mirror. God may not see my past, but I do. At times, I still feel my past staring back at me.
How can I forgive myself? How DO I forgive myself?
How do I let go of the guilt?
Like many passages and illustrations in the New Testament, the idea of forgiveness and cleansing has direct correlation within the Old Testament. Although we tend to focus on the New and leave the Old to Biblical Scholars, seminary students, and people looking for names for their children, the Psalms, specifically, speak to forgiveness a great deal. This shouldn’t be that surprising, given that the author was a murdering, adulterous man after God’s own heart.
Psalm 32:5 is one verse that stood out to me in what has fast become one of my favorite chapters to go back and study. The verse reads, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.” (Emphases mine.) Parallel this up against I John 1:9, and you’ll see some striking similarities there, with one or two glaring differences.
The second half of the verse states that God will forgive the guilt of our sin (transgressions), not just the sin itself. The Message translation goes so far as to say, “Suddenly the pressure was gone – my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared.” This, to me, is one of the more beautiful promises in scripture. How many times have I felt this crushing guilt or shame in my heart, weighing me down, at the sins I commit? Again, like I stated earlier: I can wrap my mind around God forgiving me of my sins, but forgiving me of the GUILT of my sins, thereby empowering me to be able to forgive myself, is so amazingly powerful that it almost takes my breath away.
At the end of this verse comes the term “Selah.” Selah was a term used throughout the Psalms to denote when a pause was to occur in the liturgy or song. The fact that it comes here is like the author – or, if you will, the Author – is saying “Think and reflect about this for a moment: you don’t have to carry this guilt.” Many times we as believers simply rush through the “Father forgive me”-s of confession without realizing that through prayer, we are giving away the burden of carrying the shame we often just pick back up again anyway. We don’t take enough time to stop, breathe, accept and feel the freedom we are given.
The word “forgave” in this verse translates to “nasa” in Hebrew, which, appropriately enough, means “to raise” or “to be elevated up.” Nasa also signifies the taking away of sin, and can also mean “to lift up the face, the eyes, the voice or the soul.”
Selah about that for a minute.
In the midst of what guilt you may feel is crushing you and weighing you down, God will lift up your soul, look you in the eyes, and forgive you not only of the sin, but the guilt you burden yourself with.