If only we had a delete button for all of our past sins and mistakes. Just hit a computer button and they are all gone. How wonderful would that be? Empty. Deleted. Erased. Wouldn’t that be great? But we all know that it’s not that easy in the world of pain and suffering. It is painstaking work in the human heart. We wound each other and even if those wounds eventually heal, there will be a scar that stays in the memory bank. We can recall that pain at any time we choose.
I am convinced that the only way a human being can give forgiveness is to have first received forgiveness. If you have never sinned, never messed up, never been caught, broken the rules, stepped across the line, hurt somebody with your actions or attitude – if you’ve never had any of those experiences and received forgiveness for the pain you’ve caused, then it will likely be impossible for you to forgive somebody else. There are limits to the human capacity to forgive, to heal that which has been ripped apart, broken and severely damaged. That is not something we can pull off intellectually. It is those who have been forgiven much who can in turn forgive.
King David knew about forgiveness. In the 51st Psalm he is begging God not to cast him aside. The greatest king that Israel ever knew had an affair with Bathsheba, but that was not the worst of it. They conceived a son out of wedlock and David had her husband brought in from battle so that he might think the child was his. It reads like a soap opera and it gets worse.
When Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, refuses to be with her, David sends him back to the front lines with the guarantee that he will be killed. This is the great king of Israel. This is the person everyone cherished and admired. When the angel Gabriel later came to Mary, he connected Jesus to David.
‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.’ (Luke 1:32)
Jesus and David should not even be mentioned together in the same sentence!
In his remorse, David writes the 51st Psalm:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)
Can you imagine even asking for that? And can you imagine God granting such a request? But God did. God restored David. Not only did God blot out his foul transgressions but David and Bathsheba were married and became the parents of King Solomon. How can that possibly be? How can you overlook such tragedy? Apparently, when God forgives somebody, God does not mess around! It is forgiven. It is deleted. It is over. It is gone.
That does not mean that God accepts or minimizes the consequences of the sin. It is not to endorse sin or to dismiss it in any way. Forgiveness of such magnitude does not provide a license to sin again. On the contrary, forgiveness redeems the one who is lost. It changes them. It is a second chance. It provides a new future.
Long after David, Jeremiah was called to warn Judah of their unfaithfulness to God. They had broken the covenant. They had forsaken the ways of the Lord. They had chased after other gods. They had become arrogant and independent. In their sinfulness, they fell. The Babylonian Empire overtook them and exiled their leaders and many of their citizens to Babylon. The temple was destroyed and their king was dethroned. All was lost.
The people of Israel had such a long history with God:
- the covenant with Abraham and Sarah – waiting for the birth of Issac, Jacob and Esau
- Joseph and the period of slavery
- Moses and the exodus, the journey through the wilderness
- Joshua and the battles of conquest
- the period of the Judges
- the kings; Saul, David and Solomon
All that history behind them and now they have lost it. There are a lot of people who feel like that today. The land God promised in the covenant with Abraham is gone, as is the temple and the king. There is nothing left. There is no hope. This is no small mistake. This is a huge failure and they cannot hide it. They are exposed. What do you do when it is that bad?
It’s not like they didn’t know better. Jeremiah had been warning them for a long time. He talked to them this way;
(Thus says the Lord) ‘If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’ (Jeremiah 3:1)
Or, he talks this way;
Your wealth and your treasures I will give as plunder, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory. I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.’ says the Lord. (Jeremiah 15:13‐14)
Those were just some of the warning shots fired over the bow long before the destruction came. But, after it came in the midst of the crisis, the Word of the Lord changed. There came words of hope.
‘For surely I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. I will let you find me, says the Lord and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations, and all the places where I have driven you,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back into the place from which I sent you into exile.’ (Jeremiah 29:11‐14)
And then there’s this incredible passage,
‘The days are surely coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another … for they shall all know me…for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.’ (Jeremiah 31:31‐34)
[pl_blockquote] There is that delete button! At the very point we should be crushed, we are restored. At the very moment we should be cast out, we are welcomed home. At the place we are most wounded we are healed. God does not remove the consequences. God gives us a second chance.[/pl_blockquote]
It’s not hard to love somebody when they are successful. It’s not difficult to love somebody when they do everything right. But divine love, divine love will not let us go. It is a tenacious love that cannot stay in the tomb, even after crucifixion. It is a love that penetrates our brokenness, our wounded-ness, and our pain. It is a love that restores us when we have no right to be restored.
Is such a love available for the world today? Is there such a love that deletes the most painful of all sin? Is there a love so illogical, almost irrational, that is not gauged by human standards? Is there such a love that is beyond us, and yet touches us in the place where we are most broken, most alienated, most lost? Is there still a love that reaches into our Babylons and brings us home; a love that comes even to a king who has failed God, his own people, and himself? Is there such a love that comes into your darkest place and brings the light and hope for a future again? Indeed there is. And when you receive that kind of love, you are compelled to give it. It makes you more gracious.
God was not willing to let go of David, in spite of how lost he had become. God was not willing to let go of Israel, in spite of how unfaithful they had become. God is not willing to let go of any of us or anyone else in this world today who is lost or broken in sin and shame. We belong to the God of the second chance.