Contrition, Forgiveness, and Retirement from Messiah-ing

If there is a word I have heard thrown back and forth the great room of evangelical church culture as of late, it is the word “reconciliation.” I have heard it said with great emotion and emphasis. I have heard stories told of the great healing taking place between friends and marriages and former church members. I have heard of the grace and the effort required to make reconciliation a reality. I have seen the self-proclaimed people of God (to be heard with significantly less cynicism than one might expect) get genuinely excited about doling out said grace and effort. It is so easy to get caught up in the wave of that spirit, and rightfully so.

Everything sad is, in fact, coming untrue.

We so desperately want to feel the truth of that statement, we’re almost willing to attribute great emotional value and movement to any semblance of reconciliation. And when you think of the great tragedy of the human story since the Fall, it makes sense that we would do that. Anything to feel like this isn’t all there is. Anything to feel like this isn’t the way things will be left. Anything to keep from believing that the death of things is the very last word.

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If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality. [John Stott, Confess Your Sins]

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Jesus tells me to forgive even the unrepentant offender (or the seemingly repentant offender who, in fact, “repents” at his own convenience for his own benefit and his own benefit alone) as though my bank of grace is overflowing. For I, too, have been forgiven the unforgiveable. Plenty of commentaries and scholarly-know-it-alls like to give me all sorts of high end suggestions on how to not harbor vengeful attitudes or angry weaponry in my heart against someone who has hurt me. I should take the high road, should I not? Forgiving them as Christ forgives me.

I got it. I do.
But I’m not Christ. And if we’re just being honest here…

I think the tension sits heavily in not wanting to look like a naive idiot.

Honestly. I don’t want anyone who has hurt me deeply (and repeatedly, for that matter) to walk away thinking that they can pull the wool over my eyes again. I feel the urgent need to disclaim my grace with “But I’m not stupid. I know you’re a liar. I know you don’t mean a word you just said to me.” How to reconcile in my mind that my forgiveness — my grace — is not to be wasted on, let’s just be real, a black hole of manipulative drama and unkindness? How to continue forward in honesty, calling the truth what it is and unapologetically drawing the appropriate lines around not only my heart and my friendship, but my gifts of exhortation and kindness?

I don’t think I’ve done it yet. I don’t think the dust has settled long enough for me to reconcile anything within myself, much less relationally outside. But I think the truth remains steady. Forgivness, yes, is commanded of me. And it requires my complete surrender to the only One with a boundless supply — the only One who can foot a bill as large as the ones I’ve been racking up as of late. But relational reconciliation — human to human — particularly with a person who, I am convinced, cannot be trusted with his own heart, much less mine, is not commanded of me.

There comes a point when the maudlin expression of reconciliation becomes the most used enablement technique for the narcissists allowed to speak over us their own philosophical interpretations of the way the true world works. And hear me, beloved: those are lies. The Truth lives in me. And though He whispers to me to forgive and dole grace it is in accordance with my name — with His name, He at no point asks me to continually give of my [valuable, irreplaceable, precious] heart and mind to the aforementioned black hole. Certainly not in accordance with my becoming an emotional doormat. Yes, I extend grace. I am kind in the face of even the most absurd display of disingenuous contrition. But in my heart it is clear: I owe nothing. My debt is to God alone, and any kindness I give is in response to the belovedness He has bestowed me. The offender’s sin — as well as his belovedness — now lies between him and his God.

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Truly, friends, my Messiah complex knows no bounds. At least it didn’t know bounds. It has reached its walls. It has come to the places that only the perfected heart of the Christ can forgive. The dark, hopeless men that only the Christ can believe and draw into being as good as their names. The small, sad women that only the Christ can pull from their endless internal obscurity into the staggering freedom of being whole.

I suppose this is my hopeful retirement from the business of messiah-ing. Hold me to it, yeah?

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I was not gracious to you out of a continued love and intimate friendship.
I was not gracious to you because you earned it or because I owed it. I did not. And you did not.
I was not gracious to you because I was afraid to be anything else.

I was gracious because it is my name.
And, God help me, it’s the only one I want to have had in my life.

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One thought on “Contrition, Forgiveness, and Retirement from Messiah-ing

  1. Oh my… how I struggle with this very thing. I want to forgive as Christ forgave me… but forgiving is not always forgetting for me. Sure, maybe I can with time, but maybe I can’t. Lately I’ve struggled with the difference. I have a hard time with the concept of just forgiving and not letting the offender know that I’m not giving permission to be hurt again. Sometimes I feel that forgiveness is being weak, but I know the Truth. I know that forgiveness is for the strong in Him. Most of the time I just wish I could turn off this brain of mine for a while, not think so much, and honestly, not care so much either. Somehow I feel you understand completely. 🙂

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