Note to Self: I Forgive You

Not to self . . .

I read recently of a man who “threw in the towel,” so to speak. He gave up the good fight and surrendered to — no, accepted — as he might put it, his inner gayness . . . the “real me.” He fought the fight for decades, perhaps not as well as he would have wanted to when in the midst of battle, too little pushing through and too much giving in, but clearly with the hope of overcoming. I don’t doubt that, as I know you can search and cry out, even as you hide and act out. He had raised his family, served his church, built his career and, — perhaps being generous here — had been married for more than 25 years.

His new philosophy? My turn.

Pro-gay advocates point to experiences like his as revelation, as a celebration of a man who has embraced — finally — his freedom, and as proof that “no one” ever really walks out of homosexuality. They will point to the “evidence.” He spent his life in church, had been thoroughly counseled, confessed and repented repeatedly, but had finally, through self-awareness, come to the realization that God made him “that way,” and that fear-mongering believers had repressed him, hated him, rejected him, neglected him, even, in some odd way, perverted him. In our ever-changing please-yourself-at-all-costs society, the enlightened — though admittedly depressed — man makes his choice. As a Christian, he can even find a gay-affirming denomination that will provide him with a fits-all theology to soothe the pain of his past and project him into a glorious re-defined future of self-realized bliss in a community of acceptance and constant support. Never mind that such a community will never exist this side of heaven

I heard recently from another man who, so tired of hiding his porn-addiction, but so fearful of revealing it, has retreated into the shadows of self-satisfaction. The fear that his Christian brothers might discover his addiction has driven him to choose it over them. The real people in his life are slowly being replaced by air-brushed images. The love he cannot seem to find in the imperfect world is now provided by the perfect people of pleasure that he will never meet or ever know except in his eye-glazed fantasy life.

I’ve tried to think through the reality that too many Christians today are walking away from a life centered on Christ and into a lifestyle centered on satisfaction. They are seasick from being tossed about by the waves and caught in the swells between the declining churches that stand strong on truth and the growing impact of a culture that chooses its truths as if were cruising the breakfast cereal aisle, a little crunch, a bit of fiber and a bunch of sugar and preservatives. The sweet life forever. Do they walk away from the Christ-centered life because, while it worked for them in most respects, they believe it did not in regards to their sexual self-understanding? Was the easy yoke just not easy enough? The rewards pretty good, but the obedience unbearable?

It’s one thing to look at what we might consider the burdens of life and say, “my turn.” It’s not always justified, but people do that all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with sexual identity. It’s entirely another thing to look into the ever-present face of God and say, “my turn,” and then walk away in search of a more suitable Savior. That has everything to do with identity . . . spiritual, relational, sexual . . . anyway you define it. Deep inside, in the truthfulness of our hearts, believers know that we cannot survive with a split identity. In other words, you can not be “gay-identified” and “Christ-identified.” One rules and the other riles against the one that rules. It’s the two-master concept.

So, why do some Christians wage the war to the glorious end, comforted with the knowledge that the battle scars will fade in eternity, no matter how wearying and consuming they may be in this life? And why do some Christians, upon discovering what they have been deceived into believing is their true identity, point fingers back at the church and unload upon it the condemnation, shame and judgment they perceived — in many cases with full justification — that they received and internalized, even as they walked among the flock with a hidden heaviness in their hearts?

I think it is the leanness of love and the falseness of forgiveness that reflects the frailty of the church to confront the chaos of culture. We’ve done a miserable job of promoting the pillars of Christ’s approach to sin. We’ve been so focused on defining sin and labeling people that we have been woefully poor at putting into practice the remedy. We would rather be a church of perfection and punishment than a church defined by love and forgiveness. We have not demonstrated that we truly believe that people can be made new, so it is not so surprising that they look for the newness somewhere else. I’m still amazed that so many in the church are so anxious to know what the Bible says about the sin of homosexuality but have little interest in what Christ had to say about redemption. If we were talking in a physical realm, would you go to a doctor who told you you had an identifiable condition but who refused to write a prescription? Why then are we surprised that those among us hear from us that they have a debilitating affliction, but we offer nothing to them because we haven’t really learned what to say or do?

We say want to be like Christ. Truth is, some of the people who end up — willingly or not — confronting their sexual conditions within the church are more likely to throw themselves into the well than to walk away with living water. Others are so damaged by the reactions to their “sin above all sins,” that they are inclined to pick up the stones before the church does and pound themselves with guilt and shame.

When I became sin-identified — known by all as that guy who did “that” and lied about it — I found myself establishing a checklist of forgiveness. God, my wife, my kids, my pastor, my elders, my Christian brothers and sisters. God’s forgiveness was assured, as He is true to His word. My wife’s forgiveness was given, as she is true also to His word. Checking off the first two helped start my healing, but what of the roadblocks that remain? The other hopes on the list?

Sometimes we need to revise our lists — add and subtract — with one eye on the hope of Godly grace and the other on the reality of human shortsightedness. Christ made forgiveness look easy, because he was without sin . . . and I believe not to forgive is sinful. Regardless, it is not so easy for most people. While we should not grant them a pass on it, we should pass on beyond them and move forward in patience . . . to finish the list.

The name we tend to leave off the list, to our great detriment, is our own. To the struggler who has witnessed every single account of his own repeated failings, the mantra is often “I cannot forgive myself.”

Yes, you can. And, if you are ever going to heal, you must.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” — Matthew 18:21-22.

Sometimes I think this verse in the Bible where Christ provides some clarity to the question about how many times we should forgive was put there for me to understand the stamina needed to forgive myself. Yes, I know it applies to our brothers and sisters, but how many times did I look in the mirror and say “I can’t?” He says, “you shall.”

We have to remind ourselves that forgiveness is possible only because Christ paid an incredible price for it. When we look into our own eyes and into our hearts and in a silence in which only He and we dwell and we say “I forgive you,” we know that He already has. The words cannot be hollow. They cannot be said as mere salve on a wound that we intend to pick open again. Forgiveness is meant to be healing.

We can still hope to complete our checklists. It is of great value to us that others forgive mus. It would be of great value to them as well, as is everything we do that is Christ-like. It may be that they are holding it back until they think we deserve it, in which case we may never get it. Forgive them.

Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves even if others do not, or we risk joining them as stumbling blocks on the road to recovery. Can I say with certainty that the men above and others would still be “fighting the good fight” if they had been able to forgive themselves for their past succumbing? No, even with my own experience it is hard to step into another’s shoes or feel another’s torment or weigh his weakness. But I do know that self-forgiveness is a formidable weapon against Satan, who prefers self-hatred, a concept with which I am familiar and one which I should not have fallen for.

Note to self: I forgive you.

(Want to know more about Christians and sexual brokenness? All of my books are available in various formats, including direct download to your computer or other device, at Amazon.com. Also, please visit my blog, Signs of a Struggle.)

Comments

  1. says

    Thom,

    “I’m still amazed that so many in the church are so anxious to know what the Bible says about the sin of ___________ but have little interest in what Christ had to say about redemption. ”

    I have found that that blank I left open has several possible answers besides just homosexuality. In the same vein, there is a generally accepted list of “respectable” sins that everyone assumes are under redemption.

    I pray that my church is so blown away by our redemption, our salvation, that we truly believe in he power of the gospel in each others lives.

    • says

      Mike . . . that’s a great prayer, and it demonstrates the hope I continue to feel for churches and church leaders. Though I do write primarily about sexual sin, I see around me people who are being consumed by sins we might rate as large or small, but which can equally eat away at the core and debilitate potential servants. I wish more people would follow the advice: “Let the redeemed say so.” What impact.

    • says

      Mike,
      You hit it on the head. That might be the most powerful line in the post.

      Great words,Thom. I appreciate your forthright approach in dealing with these things. I am always challenged and encouraged when I read your posts.

  2. Dave Miller says

    Interesting that people can sometimes believe that God can forgive, but cannot forgive themselves.

    Again, excellent work.