Forgiveness can be hard. It can be hard to forgive those who have wronged us. It can be even harder when the person doing the wronging was us ourselves. Not forgiving ourselves can be a rather bold act of disobedience to God. Here are a few reasons why I think we tend not to forgive ourselves, and why they are just not right.
In simple terms, if God believes that it is worth it to Him to forgive you, and you don't believe it is worth it to forgive you, then one of you must be wrong. And if you, like I do, believe that God is never wrong, then the simple answer is that He is right and you should forgive yourself.
Naturally most of us Christians agree with this in essence, but few, if any, of us, live out of this by default when we need to forgive ourselves. Instead, we think something like, "Well Jesus it's fine for You to forgive me, but I just can't do that." And why can't we? It's as if we presume "I can't forgive me because I know my evil potential better than you God." Reading it here, it may sound like a ridiculous thought, and it is, but quite often we think these things and feel they are justified. In truth, the only thing that is justified is what God says is justified. And He justified you through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus on the cross. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us. Which means we no longer own the rights to our sin. Jesus did, but He killed them on that cross. To refuse grace, and to refuse to forgive ourselves when God asks us to, is to refuse the gift and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
God is wise. He is never tricked or suckered into forgiving the undeserving. He full well knew we were undeserving, nothing we do has ever surprised Him. He wasn't tricked or suckered, He chose to forgive the undeserving. But guess what? God doesn't ask us to forgive our undeserving selves. He asks us to forgive our deserving selves. Now that we are saved and we have given the rights of Lordship over to Him, we have no right to withhold anything from Him. He deserves free reign to pass forgiveness through you to anyone He pleases, even to yourself. To refuse to forgive youself is to question God's judgment. To refuse to forgive yourself is to say that you believe God is undeserving of what He wants.
It's not about what you deserve, it's about what God deserves.
2. If we forgive ourselves we'll have to change, and we don't want to.
Another reason I think we are reluctant to forgive ourselves is the same reason we are often reluctant to apologize for certain things: we want to do them again. Or in a more mild way, we just don't see the problem with what we did. Perhaps you said something rude to your sister or a co-worker. Maybe it was sorta mean but come on, they should have a tougher skin right? Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever the case the thickness of their skin is between them and God, but your brash attitude and careless words are between you and God. Interesting that phraseology, "between" you and God. That means it could be getting in the way. Perhaps you asked your sister or co-worker for forgiveness but you don't want to forgive yourself because that would legitimize the wrong you did as a wrong.
The truth is that something is wrong whether you think it is wrong or not. And if you are willing to accept another's forgiveness because you offended them, but not your own because you really don't think it was a big deal, then you really only lied to the other person when you asked them for forgiveness. You weren't sorry at all, and you fully intend to allow yourself to do this action again. The only reason you apologized was to look good in front of that person. That was motivated by pride.
The fact is, if you accept forgiveness, you have to accept that what you did was wrong first. And you have to be willing to change afterward. There is a responsibility that comes with forgiveness, and often times we just don't want to own up to that responsibility.
3. We want to be looked at as noble for wallowing in guilt.
The last reason, for not forgiving ourselves, that I want to mention, is another form of pride. Consciously or unconsciously we often believe that we are nobler for beating ourselves up than we are for forgiving ourselves.
We sit there wallowing in what my Dad calls, "Worm Pride". Worm Pride is a false humility. Pride is looking at yourself as anything you are not. Humility is looking at yourself as God sees you, nothing more, and nothing less. So while many people may sound humble by putting themselves down, they really aren't. They are still attracting negative attention to themselves because of the wrong they do. Whether you are trying to play up your wrong doings as a positive badge or trying to say you are lower than the lowest because of your sins, either way, you are drawing attention to two things: you and sin. Genuine forgiveness of yourself, on the other hand, puts the attention on God. On recognizing our mistakes, and recognizing that God in His grace has forgiven us anyway, and has a better direction for us through His willingness to empower us to live differently. It strips the focus away from what we did and puts our eyes on what Jesus Christ did to set us free.
Forgiving ourselves can be hard. But what makes it hard is our refusal to get in tune with Jesus, and to accept what He is saying, what He is saying about us, the situation, those in it, and about what he has provided us in His sacrifice.
The fact is we had no right to forgiveness when Jesus hung on the cross for us. But now that He has, and we have accepted His salvation and Lordship in our lives, we have no right to deny Him actively forgiving us. And we have no right to not forgive what God has forgiven.
As God said to Peter after lowering the scroll covered in animals in the book of Acts, "Don't call what I call clean unclean." If God calls you clean, you have no right to say otherwise. And if God calls you to forgive, not matter who it is, you have no right to say otherwise.
Thought for Discussion.
How has God shown you to forgive yourself?
In Christ Jesus,