Forgiveness, Lent, Mercy, Reflections

God Doesn’t Forgive Halfway

Readings for Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

“Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.”

These words are so beautiful because they teach us that our God does not forgive half-way. He doesn’t take our crimson red sin and scale it back it to a slightly lighter shade of pink. He bleaches it out completely — White as snow, white as wool. We’re scrubbed totally clean — set right with the Lord and with one another. Psalm 103 tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us.”

We tend not to forgive one another like this. We like to leave at least a little bit of dirt. A splash of pink. Some remnant of caked-on mud… as if to remind ourselves of the pain that person has caused us. Instead of wiping the plate clean like God does, we enjoy keeping mental bookmarks of the many ways our friends and family have messed up, and when they mess up again, we say horrible and angry things like: “You always do this! You’re never going to change! It’s always going to be like this with you.”

We can even start doing this to ourselves, right? Sometimes, even after we drag ourselves off to Confession, admit our sins, say we’re sorry, and then hear those incredible words: “I absolve you” — Even after all of that…We can still fall into the trap of kicking ourselves for the mess we made! We can still rack ourselves for not being ‘better,’ for tripping up over and over in the same way. We even get frustrated that we need to rely on God’s forgiveness so desperately… as if our goal is to NOT need His mercy. “Why can’t I be holy? Why can’t I stop doing such-and-such… I’m better than this!”

It’s an old story, and the title is Pride.

Pride leads us to believe all sorts of lies about ourselves, our neighbor, and God. One of the biggest lies it teaches us is that we aren’t good enough… that we need to furiously convince God that He should forgive us, that He should still love us.

Like any really good lie, there is at least a sliver of truth to our underlying assumptions — Yes, we are still incomplete. Yes, we are not yet fully converted. We still sin on a daily basis. But the name of the game isn’t clawing our way to a plateau of personal holiness so that we can rest easy. That’s legalism at its worst.

Legalism operates under the assumption that we can achieve a level of holiness that basically holds God’s mercy hostage — “Aha! Now God has to love me because I’m holy, because I’ve followed all the rules.”

This is what Jesus is warning against in our gospel this morning. The Pharisees sat on the seat of Moses and their authority was indeed valid — but they were consumed with their own pride. They thought they had God under their thumb and wielded Him against others.

Pride ultimately prevents us from seeing the truth. And the truth is this: God doesn’t forgive halfway. And if God has so perfectly forgiven each one of us through His Son, Jesus Christ, then what right do we have to cling to one another’s dirt? If he has turned our crimson red to snow-white, then why do we insist on keeping things a muddy shade of pink?

God wants us to rest in the knowledge that His grace is enough. He wants us to remember that in principle, He has already forgiven all there is to ever forgive. Our God is a God who totally expunges our record, and holds nothing against us. We need only to stand before Him, humbly admitting that we need Him.

About Anthony Ferguson

Anthony Ferguson is a seminarian discerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. He is currently in Third Theology at Theological College in Washington DC.
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