Chapter 3: Is God willing to forgive me?
As I mentioned earlier, Tommy initially believed that no one, especially God, could ever forgive him or love him. Day by day, however, in Tommy’s journey of faith, he came to trust in God’s loving forgiveness and acceptance. Three months following Tommy’s heart transplant, he returned to his home state. However, five months following his heart transplant, he returned to our VA hospital because his body was rejecting his newly-transplanted heart. It was painful to watch him struggling so deeply, and physically declining with each passing day.
The day before Tommy breathed his last breath on this earth, I spent several hours with him. He was very, very weak. Some of his last words to me were, “Thank you. I am so glad that I came here. I got a new heart; really I got a new healthy heart. If I had not come here, I would have died anyway. However, if I had not met you, I would have died with an ugly, mean-spirited heart that was tightly-packed with horrific memories. I would have died with a heart that was imprisoned by self-hatred and shame. You helped me receive a brand new spiritual heart. Thank you. Now, I can die with a peaceful heart of lovingkindness. I can die knowing that I have a heart for all eternity that will beat with unconditional love and joy. I have a new heart.”
Tommy’s story will continually live on in my own heart. From Tommy, I again learned the priceless gift of providing a safe haven for someone to share their personal story of deep heartache. As a chaplain, I firmly acknowledge that all of us as humans have many stories to tell, that some of these stories gnaw away at our souls and leave us imprisoned by guilt.
We all long to know we are loved, accepted, and forgiven. I am well aware that when another person invites me to journey with them into their story, I am treading on sacred ground. As a chaplain who abides with people in the pit of their pain and suffering, I bring a physical reminder of the presence of Jesus, the Holy One, among us. When listening to people’s heart-wrenching memories, it is not for me to tell them where God was in the midst of their hell. Rather, it is simply for me to be a safe haven as I encourage them to listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice speaking to them about where God has always been for them in that intense and horrible experience.
In Tommy’s outpouring of his profound anguish and guilt, his heart was able to let go of the burdensome weights that kept him filled with shame. For Tommy, God came near to his broken heart, and lifted him up to soar with a heart that beats with eternal love and peace.
Readings from the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures
God lovingly forgives us.
“And now, LORD, according to the greatness of your unchanging love, forgive, I pray, the sin of these people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”
God is merciful and forgiving.
Be merciful to me, O God, because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy wipe away my sins!
Wash away all my evil and make me clean from my sin!
I recognize my faults; I am always conscious of my sins.
I have sinned against you—only against you—
and done what you consider evil.
So you are right in judging me;
you are justified in condemning me.
I have been evil from the day I was born;
from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.
Sincerity and truth are what you require;
fill my mind with your wisdom.
Remove my sin, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
God removes the stain of our sin.
“Wash yourselves clean.
Stop all this evil that I see you doing.
Yes, stop doing evil and learn to do right.
See that justice is done –
help those who are oppressed,
give orphans their rights, and defend widows.”
The LORD says, “Now, let’s settle the matter.
You are stained red with sin,
but I will wash you as clean as snow.
Although your stains are deep red,
you will be as white as wool.”
Readings from the New Testament
We must forgive others as God has forgiven us.
“‘Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One.’”
“If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.”
When we turn from sin, God forgives us.
So John went throughout the whole territory of the Jordan River, preaching, “Turn away from your sins and be baptized, and God will forgive your sins.”
The apostle Paul teaches us not to be hateful.
Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.
God forgives and forgets our wrongdoing.
“Now, this is the covenant that I will make
with the people of Israel in the days to come, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
None of them will have to teach their friends
or tell their neighbors, ‘Know the Lord.’
For they will all know me,
from the least to the greatest.
I will forgive their sins
and will no longer remember their wrongs.”
Thoughts for Reflection
- As you confess your sins to God, open your spirit to God’s forgiveness. What does it feel like for you to receive God’s forgiveness?
- Why might you have trouble accepting God’s forgiveness?
- Believing that you are forgiven by God, praise God for the peace and joy that comes in knowing you are forgiven. What words of praise come to your mind? You may want to write a poem or song of praise to God.
Dear God, what peace I find in knowing that you have forgiven me of all my sins. What joy I have in knowing that you have removed the scars of my sin from me. What freedom I celebrate in the knowledge that the record of my sins is not held against me and is completely forgotten by you. I rejoice in being liberated from the bondage of my shame and guilt.
Thank you for the peace, joy, freedom, and victory you bring to my life through your forgiveness and loving mercy. In your loving name. Amen.
A Blessing for You
May the LORD bless you and take care of you;
May the LORD be kind and gracious to you;
May the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.