Just when I thought everything was OK, someone comes along and says those unexpected words: “I forgive you.” Immediately, something turns in my stomach. The dread of exposure washes over me. Someone else has seen my dirty secret. Someone else has recognized that hidden path that I have been following. I didn’t even know I was doing it. And someone else just called me a sinner—right to my face.
Now she didn’t say it in so many words. She smiled and hugged me as the words launched from her lips. Sincerely, I sensed that her love was genuine and real. And what a gift she spoke! Forgiveness, a complete reconciliation in the eyes of God. Forgiveness, a word of mercy when I least deserved it. Forgiveness, the life-giving declaration from outside of myself. So, why do I need to escape from those sweet words?
I loved the idea of the Gospel—Jesus Christ paying the price of death just at the right time. When was that perfect time? While we were sinners, while we were caught at the bottom, while we were dead and destroyed with nothing left to offer to God. That was the right time for our Savior to act. And I’m happy to cheer from the sidelines. What an amazing God who shows unconditional love! What an incredible Lord who delivers His poor people!
But the Gospel, a supposedly sweet reunion right into the arms of our Savior, dredges up an ancient enemy that I happily have made my peace with. For years, I’ve worked hard to settle into a life that feels no shame. I’ve carefully taught myself how to blame others and escape from the impossible standard. I’ve faithfully run away from the judgment of death countless times. I’ve blissfully ignored the wickedness that I practice and encourage. But when she focused my way to speak God’s forgiveness, that angry enemy awoke to scream profoundly profane things at me. The Gospel which is the power of God for salvation, conjured up my own personal evil god in the battle for my trust.
I loved the idea of the Gospel, until Jesus Christ paid the price for this time, for me. Usually, I live as if I’m not that bad. I operate as if I can choose the better path. I do things for others with the expectation that my deeds are OK with God. But no, the Gospel breaks in to my well-ordered world and says it’s already killed my wicked god inside. But I have chosen myself to listen to. I have trusted in my own heart to lead me. I believed I’m free to follow the god that reigns inside. The Almighty God flashes His unchanging word of Law to show me the blatant truth of who I am. Almighty God launches His attack: “You shall have no other gods before me”. And I am terrified: enemy, evil, storing up wrath for myself. But still my little demon-god inside is fighting for her life. She’s so angry at the Gospel, because it leaves my personal god dead and destroyed, exposed with nothing to offer. She looks for every way out. She gasps for breath between each and every sweet word. She will not give up until her dreadful heart stops beating.
And this is the perfect time. I am a horribly disgusting, ashamed, dead and destroyed sinner, and this is exactly the right time for my Savior to act.
Someone comes along and says those unexpected words. “I forgive you.” On account of Christ alone, truly everything is OK.