At every level of relationship there is the inevitability of disappointment. Everyone gets let down in life’s more transactional relationships such as employer/employee, business/customer, but the same is true of personal connections. Even the very best of friends hurt each other from time to time, and it can be tempting to erect defences and keep a friend at a distance when this occurs. The problem with reacting this way is that it turns our social group into an ever decreasing circle – each time someone steps on our toes, we push them out of the core group, making our circle of ‘true’ friends smaller and smaller.
Defensiveness of this sort is a recipe for loneliness, especially when we consider the nature of a close friendship. Close friends see each other often, share each other’s lives, and talk about personal matters we wouldn’t open up about to others. The safe haven of an enduring, trusting relationship means that, by definition, guards are down and hearts are open, making it all the more likely that when an upset happens, it cuts pretty deep.
The closest relationship I have is with my wife, Chanel. We’re the best of friends and rely on each other in many areas, and so let-downs occur frequently, at least on an insignificant level. I might forget to take the trash out; she might be careless with an object I like, and so on. It used to be that we’d have to discuss our clashes of needs in some depth in order to understand each other and move on, but the passing years have taught us to reach for forgiveness as the first resort. I know that I will let my wife down, and I know that she will forgive me; and she knows the same about herself and I.
Obviously, I am not talking about serious matters of betrayal or abuse, which undermine the very foundations of a relationship – I’m talking about the continual need for mercy even in equal, respectful, and loving relationships.
Wearing Mercy Like a Cloak
I used to think of forgiveness as something between human beings and God, which of course it is, but as a young man, I did little to explore that beyond the definitions offered by the church of my upbringing. Receiving the forgiveness of God was certainly a transaction, for a specific purpose (to obtain absolution for a sin). After committing an act I perceived as a sin, I would beg God for forgiveness until I ‘felt’ forgiven. This probably harmed me considerably, but it was nobody’s fault. The Christians around me didn’t know that the super-abundant grace and mercy of God had already been extended, that forgiveness was universal and complete, and that right now we stand justified before a loving God.
Sin-consciousness has the appearance of humility but is, in my view, a dangerous pit into which the human soul can tumble, taking devastating wounds. These days I choose Christ-consciousness, and live in love, joy, and peace as a result.
I no longer see forgiveness as a transaction or series of transactions. Jesus’ announcements of the forgiveness of sin were exactly that – not a call to a transaction, but a statement of a fait-accompli. Take the paralysed fellow lowered through a roof by his friends, in order that he would be healed. Luke 5:19-20
When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’
In this instance, Jesus responded to the faith of the paralysed man’s friends, rather than to that of the man himself. With the eyes of my spirit, I see him rejoicing at their trust and confidence and announcing the most wonderful news – ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’. The man was not even seeking the forgiveness of sins, but reconciliation with God is an even greater prize than the restoration of health, and Jesus spoke into it with a full heart (before healing his body as well).
There was a comparable incident in Luke 7:44-50, when Jesus confronted his host (Simon) over his judgement of both Jesus and a woman who wept with gratitude at his feet.
Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.
The passage doesn’t imply that this woman was seeking forgiveness. Rather, she appears to already understand that forgiveness is entirely hers, and Jesus sees her love and gratitude as evidence of the forgiveness already wrapped around her like a cloak:
“Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.
Forgiveness comes first, and our response of love flows from perceiving and receiving it. Those who understand this enjoy an inner atmosphere of grace and gratitude – we love much, just as the woman weeping at Jesus’ feet loved much. Our love towards Jesus is evidence of the reality of mercy in our lives.
Mercy is Oxygen
We can live this way – knowing mercy and forgiveness at all times, breathing in its oxygen with every breath. We do not need to beg for forgiveness that has already been extended; instead we can embrace a life of gratitude for what has already been provided. This overflows into our personal relationships – forgiveness of others at our fingertips, every interaction oiled by mercy and acceptance. Instead of demanding we be treated in certain ways, and holding others to account when they fail to do so, we can have fewer demands, tread the Earth more lightly, soothe the pain of judgement and rejection, and approach the world with open arms.
Lord, soften us to know your mercy in every moment. Let it become like oxygen to us, enlivening and energising our inner beings. Thank you for your eternal provision, and the divine reality of the human race’s ultimate and universal reconciliation with God. In the fullness of time we will witness the unity of all things, but let us also walk in peace, unity, and mercy today.