Thursday, April 5, 2012

Forgiving God - A Sermon

Click Here, for an audio file of this Sermon

Today we conclude our sermon series on Cross off Forgiveness. So far we’ve talked about forgiving ourselves, our family members, fellow church members, our co-workers and neighbors, but today we examine forgiving God. Now I actually physically shutter when I hear that phrase “I forgive God”, it must be the inner theologian within me who screams God doesn’t need forgiveness! Now of course we know that really God doesn’t need to be let go of any sin that He’s committed against us. God is perfect, He is Holy, holy, holy, and without sin. There is, theologically speaking, no need to talk about our need to forgive God, rather it us who needs forgiveness as we have rebelled against Him. Yet, many of us may need to go through a process with God that resembles forgiveness, again, not because God has sinned or needs to be pardoned, but because, whether we recognize it or not, we treat Him as though He has wronged us. A better way to describe what it means to forgive God is to say we need to reach reconciliation with God. Remembering the excellent sermon given on forgiving family members, we know that the goal of forgiveness is reconciliation, of returning to a full orbed relationship and as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20 “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The word forgiveness, in its most root and fundamental form means to “let go.” When we think this way, we realize there is indeed often so much we need to forgive, to let go in order to be reconciled with God. Usually these barriers have to do with an evil or a suffering beyond our control. If someone writes something unpleasant on a comment card I don’t usually blame God, but sometimes catastrophic, uncontrollable events like natural disasters, or disease, or children born with defects or not all. When we’re left with no explanation we tend to blame God. I knew of someone in a previous church who was working in her backyard when suddenly a tree branch above her snapped and fell onto her back breaking it. She was in intense pain. Now she was an elder in the church, one who knew God well, and yet she became angry and despondent at why God would allow such a freak accident to cripple her. We respond sometimes to God with resentment for what’s happened in our life, with anger, not able to grasp why a good God would allow such things, and why this is happening to us of all people in particular. We have to forgive, or more theologically correct, we have to let go of our RAGE, our Resentment, our Anger, our inability to Grasp all of God and our Egos. These are barriers to our relationship, our reconciliation with God.
There is an overlap in these barriers we examine today. The first two relate more to our emotion and the last two relate more to our theology. We begin with emotion, as we should begin when we find ourselves in situations of suffering. I don’t know if you’ve tried, but when approaching someone in a deep state of suffering, theological assertions are not the best approach. Rather, we enter into the moment, as Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus, and we weep with those who weep. We don’t hide our emotions and feelings but rather we wrestle them and with God. In order to be reconciled to God we have to let go of resentment and wrestle with God. There’s an episode of The Simpsons, that some of you may have seen, where the character Lisa is trying to tell her mother Marge how she feels. Marge’s response, though hyperbolically exaggerated is sometimes the response we have towards our feelings about God.
She says to Lisa: “Well, it doesn't matter how you feel inside, you know. It's what shows up on the surface that counts. That's what my mother taught me. Take all your bad feelings and push them down. All the way down, past your knees, until you're almost walking on them. And then you'll fit in, and you'll be invited to parties and boys will like you, and happiness will follow.” God, doesn’t want us to push our feelings down until we’re almost walking on them. God wants you to come to him with all your heartaches, even if you think he caused them, even if you blame Him. In all good relationships, we must go to the one that’s hurt us and tell them. If we don’t get honest with God when he’s hurt us, that chasm between him and us will only grow. That resentment takes root and we find ourselves all the further off track without Him. In order to break this barrier between God and ourselves, and find true open relationship with Him, we need to forgive, “let go” of our resentment and wrestle with God. If we look in the bible, especially in the psalms, we see that it’s “ok” to wrestle with how we feel toward God. Psalm 22:1-8 says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest…All who see me mock me…” David is wrestling with the fact that he feels abandoned by God. Bringing how we feel to God, rather than letting it fester as resentment, will allow for a closer relationship with Him. Bring it to Him, He can take it. Genesis 32:24-28 presents a more literal version of wrestling with God: “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.
Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." In the wrestling match, initiated by God, Jacob loses his physical strength and prevails only through prayer, asking for blessing. God breaks his hip, and he is left clinging to God to realize the blessing. When we bring our deep seated feelings to him, and wrestle with Him, we find a way to forgive, to “let go” so that we can rely more on Him and be reconciled.

Another emotional barrier to reconciliation with God is anger. In order to be reconciled to God we have to let go of anger and forgive God. I actually use the word forgive here, because when we feel anger, we have two options forgiveness or vengeance. One time when I was holding our daughter Sophia in the mall, she was about a year old, she rested her head on my shoulder and I thought awwww how cute. Then suddenly I was in intense pain, I was angry as I realized that Sophia was biting my shoulder as hard as she could! I admit, in not the best parenting moment, I questioned whether I should bite her back! I ended up getting over my insane idea pretty quickly and rather than biting her back, getting even, I let it go, I forgave her, as much as a baby needs to be forgiven.
Last Sunday Michael mentioned how about 6 years ago the Amish community demonstrated forgiveness when a man named Charles Roberts killed young Amish girls and then himself. What we didn’t hear last Sunday was why Roberts did what he did. Some of the survivors testify that Roberts, before firing, said to the Amish children “I’m angry at God and I need to punish some Christian girls to get even with Him.” Unknown to most of us, one of Robert’s children, a daughter, had died at birth, an event he believed God could have stopped, yet didn’t. Anger is an immediate emotion that we feel like can only be quenched when we exact vengeance. There is, however, another way to quell the heat of anger. We can respond in forgiveness. Forgiveness is refusing to take vengeance, to lash out. Rather than trying to “get even” with God as Roberts did, we have the option to forgive God. Indeed scientific studies have shown that forgiveness, regardless of the state of the offending party, leads to healthier relationships, less stress and anxiety, and a variety of other beneficial health effects. God, objectively and theologically, doesn’t need to be forgiven, but for our own health and relationships we need to forgive, let go of holding God accountable. When we forgive, when we let go of our anger, we lift a heavy burden off our shoulders, we remove an obstacle and barrier in our lives, and become free in our relationships with each other and with God.

The next two barriers, again, are more theological in nature as they have to do with coming to a true understanding of who God is and who we are. The third barrier to reconciliation with God is the false belief that we can understand everything about God and His plans for creation and us. If you ever meet a preacher who says they know every answer about God then run. God is bigger than our boxes. In order to be reconciled to God we have to forgive, to let go of grasping all of God and “get it” that God is Good. We think that if we just knew WHY we’d be ok, but really if we just know He is good we’ll be ok. When we struggle with anger and resentment, we do so because we want to know why? Why is this happening to me, we want to know all the details. One of the things that I did, when we found at the first ultrasound that out that our daughter Sophia had a major heart defect and might not make it to birth, was to try to understand as completely as possible what was going on. The doctors said upfront that there was no reason, environmental or genetic, that this should have happened to our daughter, but it still helped me to make diagrams and charts of the various defects in her heart. Knowing the details, the reasons both proximal and distant, seems to be built into us. We want to know why and when we don’t get an answer we tend to lay the blame at God. We can forgive, “let go” when we stop trying to grasp all of God, knowing everything He knows and His eternal plan, and rather grasp this one aspect of His character. When we get it, that God is good, when we really get that, then even though we wrestle and that’s ok, we can, like Jacob, move from wrestling to clinging on to God. Just in case you don’t believe me, Psalm 145:9 says “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” and Exodus 34:6 says "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” I told this story in the 40 days of forgiveness devotionals for this week, and once at our Wednesday morning prayer time in the Oasis, so I apologize if you’ve heard it, but a professor from seminary told me about the difficulties he had with raising a son with a genetic disorder. His son, while appearing to be a grown man in his twenties, had the mind and coordination of a small child. One day they went on a bike ride together. Because his son wasn’t able to keep his balance alone, they rode a tandem bike (a two-person bike)
so that his son could ride in the front and feel independence while the father maintained the balance in the back of the bike. One day as they came around a bend they went through a sandy patch. The bike swayed heavily from side to side but the father managed to keep the balance. When he was able to stop the bike, his son looked back at him, not fully understanding what had happened, seething with anger, and said “Don’t ever do that to me again!” When we realize that there is so much that we don’t know, (like this man’s son), so much that is beyond our comprehension, when we stop trying to grasp all of God and really get it that God is good, and our true loving Father then we can forgive, “let go” and find ourselves in a closer and more trusting relationship with Him.

The final barrier is similar to the last and this barrier to reconciliation with God is our selves. We have to “let go” of ego and accept our existence. We have to come to an acceptance that we are creation and God is Creator.
We exist, because God created us and there is an immeasurable gap between ourselves and God though we often like to put ourselves on equal terms. We need to let go of the feeling like God owes us some sort of explanation. If you want to read in the bible about suffering, read in the Old Testament the book of Job. That guy has it rough for sure. The way the book ends, after all the wrestling and struggling that Job has with the various evils that befall him, is that God comes to Job and He says “Dress for action like man”, it literally reads “gird your loins” because I am going to question you. The whole book, Job has been questioning God, Why? Why is this happening, I’m righteous. Now at the end of the book, God questions Job and in a series of questions that illustrate the vast difference between our Creator and ourselves as creation, Job is silenced. He is silenced because He recognizes who God is and he lets go any ego he might have had in thinking he could question God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism starts with the question: What is the chief end of man? The answer given, is that the chief end of man, or the chief purpose of our existence, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. When we let go of ourselves, our egos, and accept our existence and purpose to bring God glory, even if it involves suffering and not understanding everything, that we are the creation and He is the Creator, then we can forgive, “let go” of another barrier to being reconciled with God.
Finally, in this mystery of suffering we turn to the one who wrestled rather than resenting, one who knew and trusted in God’s goodness and plan, and the one who let go of ego, despite immense suffering, the one who conquered our rage: Jesus Christ. Jesus on the cross cried, quoting Psalm 22 that we looked at earlier, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” He asks why? Jesus says the night before “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42) speaking of His crucifixion. Jesus wrestles and prays with the suffering he has to endure, he was “in aguish…and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) Jesus was one who let go of resentment and anger as he wrestled with his suffering. He certainly let go of any ego, humbling himself as a servant in obedience to the point of death on a cross. While in the moment it seems as though all is lost as Jesus cries “My God, My God WHY have you forsaken me?” Yet we know this is a moment, as our lives are but a moment. If we continue to read the psalm that Jesus quotes we read that the same one who said WHY also later says: “Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help.” We know that God did hear Jesus, even though He proceeded to go through unimaginable suffering. This suffering became the path to which Jesus was glorified, his name above all names, as he was resurrected and eventually ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. In doing all this He provided a path, a way, for reconciliation for us with God. We need only forgive, let go of our resentment, anger, grasping, and ego, our rage as enemies of God, in order to receive full and eternal life with God the Father. We recognize today, Palm Sunday, that as Jesus entered the city and the people cried out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13), that they weren’t proved wrong on Good Friday as Jesus died on a cross. His suffering led to the glory of God and our full reconciliation with Him through Jesus Christ our king. Friends, I “implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Let go and forgive God.

No comments:

Post a Comment