For the last several months I have been largely successful in avoiding the craziness of the Presidential Campaign.
But a couple of weeks ago I finally gave in and started paying attention. Just in time, it turns out, to discover an article on Donald Trump’s uneasiness with asking God for forgiveness.
“I like to be good,” Trump said. “I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad.”
(Important note: You can find the full article here. I hope this will be the first and last reference to Trump or any of the other candidates on this page.)
I don’t know many people who enjoy asking for forgiveness and admitting that they messed up, committed sin, or made a mistake. But what I kept thinking as I finished the article was that I just don’t have that much faith in myself. There are few moments in the day when I am not painfully aware of my need for forgiveness and the necessity of asking God to restore me back into right relationship.
I’ve never been able to experience God’s grace apart from forgiveness. The Gospel’s very premise is that our lives are so broken, our wills are so distorted and our relationship with God so fundamentally damaged by sin and disobedience that it is impossible to be faithful to God apart from the forgiving love and grace of Jesus.
We’re reminded of that even more strongly as Wednesday looms, with the imposition of the ashes that mark the beginning of Lent. As we make the slow march to receive the mark of the Cross, we are made painfully aware of our deep brokenness and desperate need of forgiveness.
The pattern that leads to life we read about in Scripture and can experience in our lives is that we become convicted our sin, ask and receive God’s forgiveness, and pray for the power to turn away from the sin and towards the life God wants for us.
The truth is that we need to seek and receive forgiveness because our lives are heartbreakingly limited without it.
We need forgiveness because without it our identity is defined by our ability to achieve perfection in every part of our lives.
We need forgiveness because without it our self-worth is capped by the limits of our ability to make or achieve success on our own – to get promoted at work, to attract a sufficient number of friends or to feel good about what we see staring back at us in the mirror.
We need forgiveness because without it our only chance at maintaining healthy relationships is to never hurt another person through our sin, the inevitable missteps that happen in any relationships or failing at the dance of growing in step as people inevitably change over time.
We are destined to be disappointed with the lives we live if the only power we have is within us, if the only resources we have to draw upon are our strength, our own capacity to deal with adversity, and our own wisdom and skill.
The true power in forgiveness is that by seeking it we can receive a power is that is outside of ourselves and greater than ourselves.
We have all experienced, again and again, what it is like to realize that you don’t have it all together, that there are problems that you can’t solve, that there are some parts of your life that you can’t heal, that there are some mistakes you can’t undo and that there are some relationships that you are powerless to redeem.
Yet when we understand the Gospel, and come to live in the life-giving and life-healing pattern of confession, repentance and forgiveness, we understand that God has the power to change things that leave us stuck and that God can redeem and restore situations where all seemed lost.
Real change, the kind we all hope for, requires forgiveness. Repentance and turning towards God can only happen after we have first asked for and received forgiveness.
It’s no coincidence, I imagine, that when Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the Church door, the first one was centered on repentance.
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
No one enjoys confessing our sins and seeking forgiveness. Yet the path to true change demands it.
And so on Wednesday, I’ll make my way to the front, and when the preacher says Repent and Believe the Gospel, I’ll do it gladly.