Forgiveness

Suicide, Forgiveness, and God’s Redeeming Power

 

cross

Suicide is a tragedy that has touched many families. For those who have lost loved ones in such a tragic way, there are often wounds that last a lifetime. Suicide is a tragedy that has touched many people from all walks of lives, and it doesn’t discriminate – people of all races, economic classes, educational backgrounds, you name it – almost everyone has loved ones, or has known someone who has taken their own life.

I remember a few years back, a pastor that I knew from a distance took his own life. I was struggling with how this sort of thing can happen, so I was speaking with someone very close to me about it. As we were discussing, this person made the comment, “I’ll bet he’s really wishing he didn’t do that now.” The implication here was that this pastor was in hell.

I’ve often heard, and I believe many of us have heard, because I believe it’s a misconception that many people have, that if you commit suicide, you automatically end up in hell. I tried to explain to my friend that I didn’t believe suicide does automatically send you to hell. They simply said, “Well, I think it does.” When asked for a theological or biblical reason behind their answer, they didn’t have one…it’s just what they’ve always been told, and the belief they’ve always held. I used to believe this also, for the same reasons…it’s just what I’ve always been told. But just because you’ve always been told something, doesn’t necessarily make it so.

As I’ve studied this subject however, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe it to be true that suicide automatically sends someone to hell. First of all, there is the case of Samson who we know killed himself along with many Philistines in Judges 16, yet is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a model of faith. I believe even more though, we need to look to the overwhelming teaching of Scripture which is this: If you are in Christ, and I have no reason to doubt that many who commit suicide are, then you can be assured of your salvation. If you are in Christ, all of your sins past, present, and future are forgiven. (Acts 10:43, Colossians 1:14) I believe this is especially pointed to also in Psalm 103:10-14. Romans 7 and Hebrews 10:14 also certainly give us a picture of the “already-not yet” aspect of salvation.

I think people have arrived at this faulty conclusion because they have this idea that you have to confess every single sin, in order to be forgiven of every single sin. But that just isn’t the case. Can you imagine trying to remember every sin you commit throughout the day? What about the sins you commit without even thinking about it? Following this faulty logic, none of us would or could receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Not only that, our salvation would become dependent on a work, which again the Bible tells us is not the case.

Certainly we are to confess our sins as soon as we are reminded of them, or see that we have sinned, but none of us are so perfect that we will remember each and every one of our sins, and confess them to our Lord. We are all sinners and must confess that to Christ on a regular basis, and repent of the sins we see in our lives. But unfortunately all of our sins won’t be clear to us.

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, the Bible only speaks of one unpardonable, or one unforgivable sin. What is it? Jesus tells us Himself in Mark 3:22-30 & Matthew 12:31-32. The only sin Jesus tells us we cannot be forgiven of is blaspheming, or speaking against the Holy Spirit. I believe what Jesus is speaking of here in these verses is the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s call to salvation, ultimately denying who Christ is and denying Him as Savior. If we deny Christ as Savior, then we cannot be forgiven of that sin, or any sins for that matter. Once we do confess Christ as Savior however, then all of our sins past, present, and future can and will be forgiven as I talked about earlier. (Also see Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13)

So am I saying it’s okay to commit suicide? NO! NEVER!

Our bodies are the temple of God. (1 Corinthians 6:19) There is no situation so bad, so tragic, that it should make us want to harm ourselves knowing that our bodies belong to God. There is no situation so lacking in hope that we shouldn’t put our faith, hope, and trust in Christ to redeem that situation. That being said, all of us are prone to act irrationally at times. I know I myself have done more than one stupid thing in an act of anger or distress. The actions of those who take their own lives just happen to have greater consequences than the things I’ve done. Yet my actions were sinful, just as their acts are. Whatever situation it is that leads folks to take their own lives, I would like to think that I would always act differently, or do things differently than they have…if not for my own sake, but for the sake of my wife and children. As I’ve said, I can’t even imagine what folks who have lost loved ones to suicide go through. But, until we walk in someone else’s shoes, we can’t truly know what we would do, or how we would respond.

I do think though, there is some truth in what the friend I was speaking to said. I do think as folks who take their own life give an account to God, they do mourn for what they did. The Bible tells us that we all must give an account for the things we do. (Hebrews 4:13, Romans 14:12, and especially 2 Corinthians 5:10) So while I do believe we are forgiven for all our sins as believers, and won’t have to suffer hell because of them, we all will give an account, and there will be consequences for all of our actions.

My heartfelt prayers go out anyone who has lost someone they love dearly to suicide. I can’t begin to imagine what they go through. What I do know though, is that we have a God who can and will redeem any situation, and will glorify Himself through it. I’m sure it’s often hard for them to see that, heck it’s hard for me to see how He will do it even from a distance.  Still I know it’s true, and I pray that perhaps somehow, they will be able to cling to this fact in the midst of their pain.

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In light of the cross

I was at work the other day (and not having a particularly good day) when I found myself being rude to a customer. Not overtly rude, mind you. But still rude enough to get the point across that I was not happy with this particular customer. I’m not sure why though, just as the transaction with this customer was completed, I looked at her and wondered what was going on with her day.

I asked myself why this customer might be annoying me so. Why did the customer seem so distracted? Why did I care so much? Was it really going to kill me if this transaction took two minutes – as opposed to a minute and a half?

I actually found myself feeling rather guilty. I found myself thinking this is a person created in the image of God. This is a person Jesus cares about. How would Jesus have treated her?

Yes…all of this happened in span of no more than two minutes.

As I caught myself thinking these thoughts – and realized how rude I was being – and how contrary it was to the way of Christ, I tried to correct myself and be overly-nice to this person. I’m sure she thought I was the Jekyll and Hyde cashier. She eventually went on her merry way, completely unaware of the mental and spiritual dialogue that had taken place in my mind.

I thought about this moment for the next several hours- feeling guilty and beating myself up. I asked myself, “Did Jesus go to the cross so that you could act this way? Jesus didn’t die so you could treat people, created in his image in this way. Is this the way I am supposed to live in light of the cross?” I then began to ponder all of the ways in which I am supposed to live in light of the cross. And then it hit me.

Stop beating yourself up. Jesus did in fact go to the cross, and your sins are covered. You are forgiven. The weight of my sin on this particular day was lifted from my shoulders. I started contemplating the beauty of the cross and the riches we have in Christ. I was humbled and amazed by the many facets of what it means to live my life in light of the cross. I was stunned by the grace of God poured out through Christ.

So what does it mean, “…to live your life in light of the cross?” Why is it so stunning?

First of all, the cross of Jesus is a picture of amazing love. As we ponder the love of God displayed by Jesus, we should be moved to love like Jesus. If in our sinfulness God still loved and loves us, how can we not choose to show love to our fellow sinners? Not out of obligation, but so that we can also show them how Jesus loves. Our lives as Christians should be lives defined by love. Our desire should be to make everyone aware of this amazing love that we’ve been shown. This happens as we put this love on display. Jesus loves us in spite of all of our faults and failures. This being true, we must love others in the same way.

This leads to the next point. Even when we mess up, Jesus still loves us. Even when I was treating this customer poorly, Jesus loved me. Jesus died for my rudeness. My sins are ALL covered by the cross. I’m forgiven. Because of this fact, I don’t need to dwell on this sin. I’m free to move on. Does this mean I don’t think about my sin? I don’t think so. I think we should mourn over sin…because I believe God does. God desires holiness from His people…yet, we have this holiness in Christ. Therefore, even though we acknowledge our sin, we don’t stay there mired and wallowing in guilt. We can go boldly, proclaiming that we are forgiven.

We could continue to analyze this from all angles (the many facets of the cross are far more than what can be put forth in any blog post) but I can sum up this point like this:

Because of the cross, we have the responsibility AND the freedom to love others, in spite of all of their sins and failures. Also, because of the cross, we can know that even when we aren’t doing this perfectly, God still loves us in spite of all of our sins and failures.

For those of us who have experienced and known the unbelievable love and mercy of God, we don’t have to live defeated lives of guilt defined by our failure and sin. We can live lives of perpetual joy knowing that we are always loved and always accepted by God. What can be better than that?

This truth is what defines us as believers. Because we are loved much, we love much. Because we are forgiven much, we forgive much. And even when we don’t, we are no less loved or forgiven.

How freeing is that?

How wonderful is that?

Now, let’s go and enjoy the rest of our day, the rest of our lives even, resting in these marvelous truths and resting in this unbelievable love and mercy of God.

You know, that is a really good point…

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:5-7 ESV

(You know, that is a really good point…)

“And immediately Jesus, “perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?(You know neither is really too hard for me, since I am God and all…) But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins(check this out)–he said to the paralytic–“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this! Mark 2:8-12 ESV

(Duh…you think?)

**Words within the parentheses added by yours truly. Jesus didn’t say these words as far as we know, but he was probably thinking them**

A Prayer

“Good God, what a mighty felicity is this to which we are called! How graciously Thou hast joined our duty and happiness together, and prescribed that for our work, the performance whereof is a great reward! And shall such silly worms be advanced to so great a height? Wilt Thou allow us to raise our eyes to Thee? Wilt Thou admit and accept our affection? Shall we receive the impression of Thy divine excellencies by beholding and admiring them, and partake of Thy infinite blessedness and glory by loving Thee and rejoicing in them? Oh, the happiness of those souls that have broken the fetters of self-love, and disentangled their affection from ever narrow and particular good; whose understandings are enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and their wills enlarged to the extent of Thine; who love Thee above all things, and all mankind for Thy sake!

“I am persuaded, O God, I am persuaded that I can never be happy till my carnal and corrupt affections are mortified, and the pride and vanity  of my spirit are subdued, and till I come seriously to despise the world and think nothing of myself. But, Oh, when shall it be! Oh, when wilt Thou come unto me and satisfy my soul with Thy likeness, making me holy as Thou art holy, even in all manner of conversation! Hast Thou given me a prospect of so great a felicity, and wilt Thou not bring me unto it? Hast Thou excited these desires in my soul, and wilt Thou not also satisfy them? Oh, teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God. Thy Spirit is good; lead me unto the land of uprightness. Quicken me, O Lord, for Thy name’s sake, and perfect that which concerns me. Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth forever; forsake not the work of Thine own hands.”

Henry Scougal (1650-1678)

O’ Lord, make this prayer my own, and please answer it according to Your faithfulness. The words, needs, and desires that were true for this faithful saint are true for me as well. I need You Lord, I need You above all worldly treasures, may I desire You more than the trivial things of life. Free me of my own self love, my own self-centeredness and conceit that only keeps me from loving others as I ought, and more importantly keeps me from loving You as I ought. You have given much more than I could ever speak, and blessed me much more than I could ever deserve. I am a man truly in awe of You, Your love, and Your grace. Transform me Lord…In Your Son Jesus’ name I pray….Amen

There is no escape…

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
(Psalm 139:7-12 ESV)

As I was meditating on Psalm 139, these verses struck me. As a child of God, it ought to be such a joy and a comfort to know that there is no place we can go that is away from the presence of God. I think generally we all know this in principle, or have a general head knowledge that this is true, yet I don’t know that we live as if it is. If we do get it, I don’t know that we actually take joy in it. I think there are times where we wish we could escape the presence of an all knowing God.(yes that sentence is a bit ridiculous, but aren’t we ridiculous sometimes in our walk with God?)

Many times I think we want to “make our bed in Sheol”. Even if it isn’t a conscious decision on our part to do that, that is precisely where we’ve ended up! The great thing though, is that even in that place, God is there. Many times in our walks with God, we’ve tried to flee as far away from God as we could. God would not allow that to happen. Many times we try to hide in the darkness, so that others cannot see our sin. Yet there, God is still present. Not only is He there, He is not hindered, for “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Many times I think it is in these periods of darkness, or our periods of trying to flee from the presence of God that His light shines the brightest, as He draws us back, and even closer to Him.

God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, isn’t a burden. It shouldn’t scare us, it should bring us joy. We should delight in it! How do we not find joy in the fact that God is holding us, God is caring for us, God is loving us?!?!

Stop fleeing from God, stop trying to hide from God, perhaps I should even say, stop trying to make God love you. If you are His, he already does, and He is with you right where you are. Receive Him… Receive His love. Let Him hold you, let Him lay His hand upon you(v.5)…

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

(Psalm 139:13-18 ESV)


I wait for the Lord, my soul waits…

What I am meditating on as Easter approaches…

Job 14:14

“Can the dead live again? If so, this would give me hope through all my years of struggle, and I would eagerly await the release of death.”

Psalm 130

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

Resurrection?

I was recently instructed in a class I’ve been taking through the church I’ve been attending the past few weeks to write a short paper describing what comes to mind when I hear the word “resurrection”, or to ask someone else what comes to their mind when they hear that word. Here is the paper that I turned in…

I have been a Christian for a little over 5 years now. It’s a bit strange, but I have a hard time trying to recall what came to mind when I heard the word “Resurrection” before that. Generally I suppose I would have said it simply means to “rise from the dead, or “to be raised from the dead.”

In preparation of writing this, and at the urging of our instructor I decided to ask an older gentleman that I work with, what came to his mind when he heard the word “resurrection”.

This gentleman is a believer in Jesus, though I believe his theology is rather amiss many times. Still I was very interested to see what he had to say. I was  a bit surprised to get quite a “nugget of wisdom” from him, though I’m not completely sure it was intentional on his part. Either way, I was quite impressed with his answer.

When asked what came to mind when he heard the word “resurrection” the first thing that came out of his mouth was, “Well the Lord of course!” He knows my faith as we have had religious discussions several times, so I figured maybe he was just giving me the “right” answer that I wanted to hear, so I pressed him a little more. I said, “…well yeah, that is true, but what about outside of a Christian context, what would you say comes to mind, if you weren’t thinking about Jesus?” He had to think for a minute, and finally said, “Well, I suppose I would just say it means to rise from the dead, but I really don’t see how you could hear the word “resurrection” and not think about Jesus…”

I love this answer, and surprisingly it seems like Merriam-Webster might agree. I looked up the word in the dictionary, and this is the definition I found:  “1 a capitalized : the rising of Christ from the dead b often capitalized : the rising again to life of all the human dead before the final judgment c : the state of one risen from the dead.”

I decided to look the word up in another of my dictionaries that I have on my Mac-Book and found several similar definitions. Even the sentences to give the context of how to use the word mentioned something about Christ.

So it seems that my old friend on this particular day had his theology just right. You really can’t think of the word “resurrection” without thinking of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned before becoming a Christian I would have given a definition akin to something like, “to rise from the dead, or “to be raised from the dead.” Now I see so much more to the word. The following verses I’m about to quote really are what the word now encompasses to me, and gives me such hope and such wonderful promises, now that I am a believer:

Romans 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

And

Romans 8:11, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

The word doesn’t simply mean to “rise from the dead anymore, but it means a newness of life. We are not just restored to our old selves, but we are something completely new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Soli Deo Gloria