The blessedness of forgiveness
"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." - Psalm 32:1
There is hardly anything more blessed in the spiritual journey of faith of the Christian than experience of forgiveness.
There is hardly anything more blessed in the spiritual journey of the Christian than the experience of forgiveness! For it is like "the quality of mercy", as Shakespeare put it, "is twice blessed"! It is blessed both in the divine-human relationship - which Professor Jansen emphasises is 'The Supreme Relationship' - and that between fellow members of the body of Christ, the Church.
Now, the grand theme of Psalm 32, the opening verse of which appears above, is the experience of forgiveness by King David.
Then our reading speaks of the joy and blessedness or happiness (as rendered in modern translations - the forgiveness of God). King David, 'A man after God's own heart', had sinned greatly. For not only had he committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most faithful warriors, Uriah the Hittite, but, he also abused his power as king by orchestrating a scenario which resulted in the death of his faithful warrior. Confronted by the prophet Nathan, the king repented for his sins. He prayed to God for forgiveness and he experienced what the Scots theologian R. McIntosh graphically described as 'forgiveness and reconciliation'. Concisely, having been estranged from God because of his sinfulness, King David confessed his sin and experienced a restoration of his relationship to God. Likewise, each and every one of us, if we confess our sins to God, having repented, then we, too, will experience the blessedness of forgiveness! Hallelujah!
But experiencing the forgiveness of God through Christ, who shed His blood at Calvary that we may be forgiven, is not enough. Rather, having experienced the forgiveness of God, the Christian is called upon to extend this forgiveness to others. This means that we should be forgiving towards others, and this is especially the responsibility of the Christians. You see, those who have not experienced the blessedness of the forgiveness of God in Christ may often be unforgiving, but not so the Christian. Those who have experienced divine forgiveness must practise forgiveness when it comes to relationships with others. (See Matthew 18:21-35).
The late Pope John Paul II, for instance, forgave the man who had attempted to kill him. Recently, that wonderful woman of Joyce Meyer who proclaims the Gospel daily to thousands of people from all walks of life, by means of her telecasts and books, told of her own life story. In a gripping testimony, she vividly related how her own father sexually abused her during childhood. Everyone in that congregation was touched by her testimony, and a few of the women wept as this woman of deep faith told of her experiences and how, by the grace of God, she was able to forgive her father. More profoundly, she related how by faith in Christ, she survived these experiences of abuse and indeed, got over them, and was able to get married and raise a family, while exercising a ministry which today is providing help to countless thousands in every corner of the globe.
I think you can understand now why forgiveness is indeed twice blessed. On the one hand, the experience of the forgiveness of God brings about liberation from sin and guilt and the restoration of peace - shalom with God. It is a peace which passeth all understanding - it is a source of great blessing to anyone who experiences it. On the other hand, the experience of forgiving others, of demonstrating the love of Christ of which we are recipients (as the late Bishop Michael Eldon relished to put it) brings to us a deep sense of satisfaction. This is the joy of knowing that we have helped a fellow human being.
This is based on the liberation that comes when we forgive others. You see, when we are unforgiving, we harm ourselves as well as the other person. Like Joyce Meyer, we must be forgiving, reflecting our experience of the forgiveness of God.
This Psalm is one of the seven penitential Psalms often used by Christians in their devotional exercises during Lent. And no wonder, for it proclaims the blessedness of experiencing the forgiveness of God and challenges us to be forgiving to others. For at the heart of the Christian faith is the profound truth that we really cannot experience the blessing of the forgiveness of God without seeking to share same by forgiving others. Let us, then, throughout this Lenten season, seek to be forgiving. Let us not be petty and unforgiving. Let us not let trivial things such as unintended hurts and petty dealings on the part of others keep us from the blessedness of communion with our God. Yes, the experience of forgiveness is twice blessed. It is a source of great blessedness when we confess our sins to God and are forgiven and reconciled to Him, and it is a source of blessing when we forgive others, liberating ourselves and them from bitter feelings, insults and psychological injuries!
Who gave Your Son that we may be forgiven,
Forgive us that so little of this love, of which we are indebted recipients, has reached others through us. Through Christ we pray.
(Based on the Prayers of Forgiveness of the Covenant Service of the Methodist Church.)
The Reverend Dr J. Emmette Weir
Freeport, Grand Bahama, The Bahamas