A little while ago, J and I were chatting in the car on our way to meet up with some friends. Although I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about – possibly something to do with his medical course – I came away with some thoughts that have stuck with me since then. The basic thought revolved around how many problems in the lives of individuals and families stem out of two things: guilt and unforgiveness. The problem with guilt is that it often leads us to do the very things we feel guilty about, making us feel like more and more of a failure and more and more guilty – and so the cycle continues. Unforgiveness plays directly into that cycle – we feel like we can’t forgive ourselves, so we feel more guilty, and we feel like we can’t forgive those who have wronged and hurt us, potentially aggravating the cycle for them. Somehow, we feel like forgiving means that everything is okay and that the wrong didn’t hurt, or even like we have to pretend that the wrong didn’t happen. And yet, to forgive a wrong – either forgiving ourselves or forgiving others – we first have to recognise that a wrong has taken place. Forgiveness releases us from that cycle and is the only way a new start can take place.
And that is why, although I don’t feel like I have any major wrongs to forgive right now, I think it is good to take time every so often to reflect on whether there are any guilt or forgiveness issues that I need to work on. Forgiving something that may seem like a small wrong today can prevent it turning into a big, all-consuming wrong tomorrow. I also think that God showed just how much He understands how influential guilt and forgiveness are in our lives, as Jesus dying on the cross brought these issues into sharp focus. The message of the cross is one of God’s forgiveness for our wrongs, for our guilt, of Him substituting Himself for us, to take God’s just wrath for our wrongdoing. And that thought challenges me afresh to make sure I don’t maintain unforgiveness towards others, and gives me hope when I struggle to forgive myself.