Two things are important to me.
- I want to be a “good” man. I want to be moral, trustworthy, and honorable – good.
- I don’t like owing anyone for anything. I pay my debts. If you lend me something, I want to return it. When I forget my wallet and you pay, I want to pay you back. I like wiping the slate clean. Sometimes it feels costly, but it’s worth it.
But life has put me in a place where I see the “bad” part of me. Particularly, this me shows up with those closest to me. I can be mean, angry, or demeaning. I say things I wish I hadn’t. Sometimes I say things that hurt, even though I know they aren’t true. I say stupid things that I can’t even defend to myself later on. I hurt people.
And then, in some strange way, (that you, the reader, understand intuitively), I find myself in their debt. I desperately want to do something that erases the damage I have done. I want to make it go away. Not so much for their sake, but sadly, for my own. The evidence that I am not “good” is lingering out there, for all to see… but especially for me to see.
What can I do to make it go away?
I grew up in a Protestant church, but there is a part of me that is very drawn to the old Jewish system. What is the sacrifice that is appropriate for what I did wrong? An ox? A few birds? A bouquet of flowers? A dinner out? A new sofa? (For very big offenses!) Surely there is some sacrifice I can make that will bridge the gap and erase the debt…
Lord knows that I have tried and continue to try to work myself out of trouble. I will be nicer, kinder, more affirming and encouraging. I will bend over backwards to take out the trash or clean the dishes or somehow be extra generous… I will make it up to you.
But we all know… I know that sacrifices don’t eliminate the debt. They may soften it. They may make it more difficult for the other person to demand its payment. But the debt remains. And the “good” status is forever marred.
So what do I do? What can I do? Ironically, it requires admitting the two things I most prize. I have to admit that I am not “good.” I really was mean or thoughtless or unkind or stupid. I wasn’t good. I was actually “bad,” and often on purpose. I have to admit that I am worse than I want to see myself as being.
And then I have to admit that I owe you debt that I cannot repay. I have damaged you and cannot make amends. The only way for the debt to be erased is for you to forgive it. I need you to pay for it yourself, by letting me off the hook. I need you to make it as if I am no longer held responsible for what I did. The fact is that someone will make a sacrifice in order to make it right – and I need you to make that sacrifice on my behalf. I need you to admit the hurt and the damage… and then to forgive it.
Somehow, I find that easier to ask of God. I think I know that Jesus has died for me. I know that His purpose was to pay the price in order to forgive my debt. I know that I can be restored to being “good” only by His mercy. I know it is asking a lot. And I know that He wants to… and almost is obligated to forgive.
But with people it is different. They aren’t obligated. They aren’t as perfect. Sometimes, if I ask for forgiveness, they aren’t ready to forgive. And then I am still in their debt and still “bad.” And they are in charge of both! That feels really vulnerable. That is exposing. That is really hard!
I have actually taken that risk a few times. I decided that I knew that Jesus had forgiven me… and I want that to be enough for me to go to that vulnerable place where I invite you to forgive me. I want His forgiveness to be grounding enough, validating enough, big enough that I can know I am OK while I wait for yours.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.