At church this morning, the overall theme of the service was forgiveness. Also, someone from an organization that serves veterans spoke to us, particularly about the problem of veteran homelessness.
Where am I on forgiveness? Well, I do try to get rid of bitterness and malice within myself, with God’s help. The pastor this morning quoted Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (KJV). I do this within the context of prayer. I do not do so perfectly, but I try.
I do not try to revive or initiate relationships with people I am mad at. Some may say that means I have not truly forgiven these people. Well, they’re entitled to their opinion. Maybe I should work on being less touchy. At the same time, sticking with certain relationships is not the answer, I don’t think. Alternatively, I do not believe that cutting people out of my life is the answer, either. But I do not know what a sensible middle ground between these two extremes would be. Some say that I should confront people about their faults. That can be productive, but it can also backfire, so I tend to avoid doing that. At the moment, I just try to work on getting rid of bitterness—-to see all people as people of worth, whether I choose to dive into a relationship with them or not, and not to allow bitterness to consume my day.
The pastor was saying that God’s forgiveness is unconditional. Do I believe that? Well, I can think of plenty of biblical passages that seem to indicate otherwise: that say that God forgives us if we confess our sins and repent, or that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others. I sometimes get the impression that God in Scripture wants us to be more forgiving than he himself is: we’re supposed to forgive others seventy times seven, but God places all these conditions on us receiving forgiveness from him. I think, though, that, somewhere within me, I picture God as someone who does not hold my past against me, who gives me more chances than I can count. Then what about those biblical passages suggesting that God has conditions for us to receive his forgiveness? I see them as educational tools on God’s part. God wants us to take moral inventory, and also to love others notwithstanding their flaws. Is my way of reconciling and applying all this stuff in Scripture perfect? Some may say that I am trying to bring God’s high standard down to my own level. Well, everyone who wants to apply Scripture to his or her own life has to make interpretive moves, to decide for himself or herself what is the best or most productive way to apply Scriptural principles, with their diversity and complexity. I have not found beating myself up to be that edifying to me personally, so I tend to adopt a more charitable interpretation of Scripture. Others can read the same text and arrive at different conclusions, though.
I was thinking of something else this morning. It is easy for me to discourage myself from doing good by saying that I am already bad, and so any good I do would not count before God. If I am unforgiving or imperfect, do I have a right to do good? But the speech from that person from the veterans outreach group helped me to think about this differently. What is important is for me to focus on the needs that should be met: for example, there are veterans who live in their cars or do not know where their next meal will come from. Any money that can go toward that need will be helpful to them, even if that money comes from someone like me with spiritual or personal hang-ups. What is important is that I give, not to earn brownie points before God or to count as a truly good person, but to meet a need. Will I give to the veterans’ outreach, beyond what I gave this morning? Well, I will consider it. Let me say that I will not let my hangups discourage me from giving!
Those are my rambling attempts to work through issues for today!