Forgiveness, At Year's End

One of the realities about the end of the calendar year is that I can't help taking stock of the year that is passing away. Some folks will post Facebook summaries of their photos and life events from 2015. Some will write about the highlights of the year in their annual Christmas letter that they send by snail mail or deliver by hand. Others will ring out the old year with a shrug of the shoulders and a vague wish that the New Year will be better than the one they’re in. But with the shift from 2015 to 2016—for me, this is completed psychologically somewhere around the end of January!—comes an unavoidable looking back to the past before taking those all-important steps of jumping off into the unknowns of the future. 

If you pinch yourself and discover that you are real flesh and blood, 2015 was a year that—no matter how high the high points were—you found yourself or others you know angry and misunderstood. There were hurt feelings. There are all sorts of exhortations to forgive that come from our popular culture. Forgiveness is necessary in order for our relationships with one another to continue. Forgiveness is necessary for a relationship to be closed in a healthy way. Much of the advice we get from folks who smooth out the wrinkles in the fabric of our shared community is wise and helpful. But St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, adds another, more profound rationale to forgive: “Bear with one another, and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Col 3:13).” As we have prayed so many times, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” To stand naked and afraid before a just and holy God…and knowing that in Christ, our sins are covered, we are loved, and we are given to grow in the freedom of the gospel…means that it can no longer be business as usual in our personal dealings. 

Theologian Paul Tillich once said this about forgiveness: “Forgiving presupposes remembering. And it creates a forgetting not in the natural way we forget yesterday’s weather, but in the way of the great ‘in spite of’ that says: ‘I forget ALTHOUGH I remember.’ Without this kind of forgetting no human relationship can endure.” God’s forgiveness is unlike our own, for only God “removes our transgressions from us” “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12). Only God forgets. Only God has put our sins to death, with Jesus, on Calvary’s cross. As we look back and remember 2015 at year’s end, let’s rely on God’s grace to help us forget ALTHOUGH we remember.