Recently I came across the term “self-forgiveness.” In counseling circles it has to do with loving ourselves, forgiving ourselves for not being perfect, and not judging ourselves. The premise is that we cannot forgive others and love others unless we truly forgive and love ourselves. It is the result of accepting our mistakes and failures. To be able to say “I behaved thoughtlessly, unkindly, foolishly etc. and I forgive myself for not being perfect” could be the biggest – and most healing – act of all. For when you can forgive the imperfection in yourself, it’s a lot easier to forgive them in others.
I must admit that I am troubled by this counsel. It reminds me of the 1973, “I’m OK, You’re OK” book by Thomas Harris of Transactional Analysis fame. Self-forgiveness is an attempt at self-salvation. It teaches that our own guilt, sense of shame, conscience, can be eradicated by our self-acceptance and self-affirmation. If that were true then we have no accountability. We can be our own judge and jury as to our own acquittal.
What do we do with Jesus’ teaching that we are to strive to be perfect (Matthew 5:48)? What do we do with the forgiveness of sins that Jesus brought to us? What do we do with the concept of redemption – that Jesus died on the Cross, at great cost, to purchase our freedom from condemnation? If we can forgive ourselves what need do we have of a Savior?
The Christian Gospel is that in Christ we find forgiveness for our sins. “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7,8) “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) When we have received that forgiveness in Christ, through repentance and faith, we do not need to forgive ourselves – we have been forgiven. It is a matter of receiving that which God has done for us by his grace in the redemption of Jesus on the Cross. To say that we need to forgive ourselves is tantamount to denying the work of Christ on the Cross and becoming our own Savior. It is to trivialize the cost of redemption.
We do not need to forgive ourselves in order to love others. We ask for forgiveness for our own sins, as we forgive the sins of others in the words of the Lord’s Prayer. We recognize that as we have been forgiven, we extend that forgiveness to others.
The counsel to forgive yourself as the deepest act of forgiveness is an attempt to do an end-run around God. It is the desire to heal oneself without seeking the healing of the Cross. If we wish to be forgiven we must seek it where it is truly to be found, not in ourselves, but in the Good News of Jesus. “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5) “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little….Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:47,48)
What do you think? What is your experience of forgiveness?