"Forgive Me,"

A Message by Stuart Maxwell Hawkins

J. C. Penny, founder of the network of stores in his name could never understand why his mother, a kind, devout woman who was always doing for others, should be constantly asking God to have mercy upon her. She was unique in a world crying out for justice.

I used to ask for justice myself. I thought people and things were against me and some of them probably were. It didn't seem fair that my enemies were prevailing against me and prospering, while I sacrificed. I felt cheated and defrauded. Then I met Jesus and he turned me around to look at myself. Now I do not ask for justice. If justice came it would have to come to me as well as to my enemies and I would be dead in my sins. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves because the Bible says, "All have sinned," and that would have to include me.

God said, "The wages of sin is death," and God cannot lie, so now I ask for mercy, not justice, and I know where to go to obtain forgiveness.

I once knew a man who called his wife of 50 years to his bedside when he knew he was dying. "I have something to tell you," he sdaid, and proceeded to confess certain instances of secret infidelity which had occurred during their marriage.

"I don't want to hear it," she told him, but he persisted, unburdening his soul.

After his death, this man's wife carried the burden with her for the rest of her life.

"I wish he hadn't told me," she confided to a close relative. "I wish I hadn't heard it."

Who was right?

This man did not want to take his sins to the grave. Was it greater sin to burden another with the memory of them, letting the facts live on. Did his death bed confession free him from the penalty of his sin. Did the sin perpetuate itself to coming generations by its revelation?

The Bible says, "Confess your sins, one to another." Did the wife have a responsibility to allow her husband to confess and then forgive him before his death--not reject his confession for the sake of her own feelings?

It is questionable whether a man who cheats on his wife loves her in the first place, but what alternatives did he have as he neared death's door? Perfect love might make a supreme sacrifice; going to Hell and taking the consequences of his sin in order to spare his wife's feelings and protect her from hurt. That is one answer.

According to my understanding of scripture, Jesus is still alive and present in spiritual form, and has promised not to turn away from anyone who would come to him. I believe this man could have called out to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy and I believe he would have been heard. I don't know that he didn't do that. A man who loves God and believes in Jesus Christ will not go to Hell when he dies just because an ordained minister is not present to administer last rites and to hear his confession. It is easier to call to someone we know, however, and if we haven't known Christ as our personal Savior during our lifetime, it might not come easy.

A modern day advice to the loveliorn columnist advises readers to keep their secrets to themselves, inferring that what you don't know won't hurt you, but even psychologists know about the dangers of suppressed guilt. People do all sorts of things to assuage guilt by rationalization or justification, but when a soul stands before God at the end of his life, as Christians believe, there will be no plea of extenuating circumstances, innocence by reason of insanity or justifiable sin. We will be judged guilty because we are guilty. Denial of guilt will be the weakest defense of all ["Just deny it," President William Clinton told his lover, Monica Lewinsky, on a taped telephone call that was later released to the public by his White House secretary].

There is only one answer for guilt. Admit it and turn it over to Jesus Christ. Dump it right in his lap. He paid the penalty for our sins and there is no need for us to pay again. That is why he came--to free us from our sins--and whosoever Christ frees is free indeed.

If it will make us feel any better, we can try to make it up to the person we have sinned against. It won't get us into Heaven, but that was already taken care of when we confessed our sins and asked Jesus to come into our hearts and take over our life. From then on we are on our way to glory. Atonement to someone we have wronged can and should make us a better person, at the least.

As disciples of Christ we can hear the confessions and free others from their guilt in the name of Jesus. Confession does free [people]. If we have sinned against another Christian and he doesn't know it and we refrain from confessing our sin to him because we think it might hurt him, we may have hurt both of us. We have deprived him of the Christian act of forgiveness, which Jesus said is a must, and have burdened ourselves with guilt that will be a constant millstone to Christian growth. Confess and be free, but let us be sure we do not confess to a non-Christian who may use our sins against us. [even in church you cannot confess to just any believer, for the person may be immature spiritually and not be able to hold a confidence and may tell it to others, and then it becomes public knowledge, which probably isn't a good thing for you or the church, as evil, not good, is spread from your individual case. A pastor may fail in this respect too--and tell it to his wife, and she may tell it to friends, and it thus goes to the entire church! We know of such a case, where an entire family was the talk of the whole church after hearing through the pastor's unwise betrayal of trust that a stepfather had sexually abused one of the little girls in the family.--Ed.].

Confession of sins to another is a difficult thing, to put it mildly. Someone may get hurt and that doesn't seem right, does it? Who wants to be hurt or hurt someone else if it can be avoided? But is all that is to it, trying to live where no one, including yourself, will not get hurt? Is that what Christianity is all about?

The case of the prodigal son is often used as an example of forgive and forget, but we must remember a few things ab out the story. When the son left home, he was on his own. The father did not seek him out, beg him to change his mind, or keep tabs on him. He had his work to do, and the son had made his decision, right or wrong. The parent's responsibility had ceased toward him, except perhaps for intercessory prayer.

When the son, of his own free will, realized he had blown his inheritance, he returned home, repentant. The key word here is repentence. There is no indication that the wise father had ridden herd on his wayward son, preaching or lecturing. The son was now a man and responsible for his own actions. The father had already raised him and taught him, and I'll say one thing for the prodigal son, he didn't try to influence or corrupt his brother to follow him into the pig pen of sin to justify his actions. He repented and came home.

The company we keep is a vital factor in our lives. As an adult, my Dad told me what a problem it had been for him when I was growing up, to try to steer me away from the wrong company, whom he knew could have a negative influence upon me. As an elder, he saw the dangers I did not recognize, and in loving, parental interest did his best to counteract them. When I left home, he could no longer control whom I ran with, but he still worried.

Parents are not scheming villains, plotting their children's downfall. The exceptions make the news, but normal parents love their children and do the best they can for them.

The prodigal son story is, of course, a parable to show that God is willing to forgive anyone, no matter what they have done. But we must ask for forgiveness; we must come back to God.

God sets up little mock-ups here on earth to show us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Things we can understand with our finite minds. The family unit is one of them.

The Holy Spirit is a gentleman and will not force himself uninvited upon anyone, but the gifts of God are available to those who really want them, and that includes forgiveness. However, we must first be aware that we are standing in the need of mercy.

Error always creates a victim. Someone is hurt, somneone suffers, no matter how well sin is hidden. A protected or hidden lie, for example, leaves a victim every time--no exceptions. There is an obvious victim to crimes such as murder, theft or rape. Not so obvious often are the victims of gossip, lies, cheating, secret adultery and many other sins.

A victim who is robbed, cannot regain his pre-victimized status by robbing someone else, however. Nor can someone who suffers from false character assassination project his true image by tearing someone else apart, falsely.

The rewards of sin or crime are only temporary and worldly [did anyone ever tell this to the celebrity-stripper and heiress of hundreds of millions, Anna Nicole Smith before her death, choking on her own vomit after a bad reaction from mixed drugs?--Ed.]. Eventually the sinner who continues in his [or her] way will become his own victim and be a loser.

There is only one way out. Each man must confess his sins to God and receive forgiveness, and then as Jesus admonished, "Go and sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee."

The case of Jesus and the adulteress in the Bible is a classic story of forgiveness, but everyone is not seeking such mercy or confessing their need of it, by any means.

Look what happenes when people lose their sense of conscience or fear of punishment.

A New York teenager calmly kills his parents and shows no remorse.

A soldier is given legal permission to kill and slaughter without penalty.

A leading Christian evangelist of this country tells how full of venom and hate he was when he was growing up. He wanted to kill, kill, kill! The only thing that kept him from it was his fear of what would be done to him if he did. High sounding phrases were no deterrant to his violent desire to murder. Only fear of reprisal by the authorities. Reason or logic would be impotent tools against his violence.

Once again it was Jesus Christ who made the difference. This man is now so in love with his fellow man that he stands out like a beacon.

A businessman can cheat, a spouse can commit adulter, a marriage can be cancelled. There is nothing in the whole long, endless list of sins against man and God that the Lord will not forgive if we but ask him.

It is sometimes very difficult to ask for forgiveness. It may be one of the most difficult things we ever try to do, whether to God or to another person. When Christ comes into our heart it becomes easier. We stop rationalizing our errors and own up to him.

One of the worst statements ever made was a line from a movie that said, "Love is never having to say you're sorry." Until we learn how to say, "I am sorry," we have not begun to understand love.

When we ask God to forgive us, we must remember that the Lord's prayer petitions God to forgive us as we forgive others.

In order to do this, we must forgive yesterdays. Do we hold a grudge againsgt someone for something they did ten years ago and then ask God to forgive us for something we have done? If we remember something against someone that happened decades ago and then ask God to forgive and forget, not to remember our sins, can this happen? If we are still carrying someone's yesterdays and hve not forgotten their shortcomings, will God forget ours? Can we ask it of him, but not ask it of ourselves?

If we don't feel forgiven when forgiveness is available to us, is it because we are still digging out someone's yesterdays; things we should have forgotten? Do we save some of those yesterdays and cling to them as a weapon, just in case we might want to use them against someone?

Do we file away other's faults, neatly and in order, so they are readily available [Corrie Ten Boom has a testimony about doing this very thing, keeping written record of the terrible things a brutal male guard in the women's showers did to the women in the Nazi concentration camp where she and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in World War II for helping Jews--Ed.]. Or do we throw them in the trash [as Corrie, convicted by the Holy Spirit, ultimately did], so that when we remember yesterday, we remember only the love and devotion, and yesterdays become beautiful, and so do todays, because we are forgiving and forgiven.

Please return for Study Questions on this fine message.

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