Human beings make mistakes. “To err is human”, famously writes Alexander Pope. This means we human beings need forgiveness. A lot of forgiveness! Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.[Matthew 18:21-22]
Paul provides similar advice to the Christian community. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”[Colossians 3:12-13] Again, he writes, “…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”[Ephesians 4:32] The message here is clear. When others make mistakes, when they sin against us, we are called to forgive. So as Christians, let us do that.
But we, too, are human, and we, too, make mistakes. St Paul writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”[Romans 7:15] What are we to do about that?
We need to realize that Jesus and St Paul, when they tell people to forgive, they are speaking not only to us, but to the whole Christian community. All are being called to forgive, including others around us. There is a good reason for this: at times we are the ones they are being called to forgive. We need it, because sometimes we really “mess up”. I certainly do.
When we consider ourselves and our shortcomings, it is easy to make a big deal out of our mistakes, to think that we are “no good”. Of course that’s true in a sense: compared to God, we’re not good, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[Romans 3:23] But Jesus loves us anyway. He died for us, and for lots of sinful people. including the people who tortured him horribly on the cross. He even prayed for them, forgiving them as he hung dying.[Luke 23:34] Indeed, Jesus “came into the world to save sinners.”[1 Timothy 1:15] If he loves sinful people that much, surely we can be assured that he loves us, despite our faults.
So what to do? Stop worrying about how “no good” you are. When you fall, don’t wallow. Get up and resolve to do better. Go to Jesus for help, focusing not so much on what you did wrong, but on what you need to do right. Jesus doesn’t despise us for our shortcomings. We shouldn’t either. Get up again, turn to Jesus, and with his help, strive to do better.