Pains tend to run much more deeply into us than our pleasures. A true pain never really seems to leave you. It can always come back, fresh and revivified, even when the details fade from your memory. Suddenly, you’re right back there again. Even the greatest pleasures only ever come back as ‘memories of pleasure’. Why did God make us like that?
It took me a long time to understand how God loves me. When I was young I had the implicit belief that God loved me because of who I am. But when I grew older I did so many awful things to others, and to myself, and had enough awful things done to me, that I couldn’t believe this anymore.
I could only see two options: that God loved me inspite of who I am; or that he didn’t love me.
For years I would waver between the two possibilities. Often I believed that God didn’t love me – I believed that he did love other people, and that he was good, holy, and just. That he deserved to be worshipped and glorified – I actively sought to bring other people into his kingdom, but secretly I thought I would be left outside. It was a faith without hope.
Other times I believed he did love me, but only in spite of me. I was too screwed up for anything else. But at the same time secretly I wondered whether this was genuine love. Surely you don’t really love someone, if you love them in spite of who they are? A parent who consistently told their child that they loved them like that would be nothing short of abusive. Still, I thought this way quite a lot – I believed that God’s love was real, but it wasn’t real love of me as me. It sort of slipped past me and went to an idealised target, a ‘me’ which God could see but that I couldn’t.
I don’t think that’s love, it’s just romanticism.
I learned love the hard way. I learned it by being forgiven. To be forgiven is to be cut so deeply that you think it’s gone right through your heart. Until you’re confronted with forgiveness, you’ve never had to face up to the reality of what you’ve done, of who you are as the do-er. It’s only in the light of that love, only as you look at yourself in the eyes of someone else who really knows you beyond any possibility of pretence, who knows you as their own personal Betrayer, Wounder, Sinner – it’s only in the eyes of a particular someone who is forgiving you that you can really be told who you are.
It’s only in the incredible love that your Forgiver bears for you, it’s only through the impossible sacrifice that forgiveness requires, that you can accept their witness against you as your own deepest truth.
You can’t know anything more painful than that you are genuinely and deeply forgiven.
And that’s the only kind of pain that can reach deeply enough to touch and heal all the others.
Forgiveness transforms the pains and wounds of sin. Now someone else has freely chosen to bear that pain with me and for me. In forgiving, he has said to me, “I accept your wound, not because it was right, but because I love you.”
The wounds I gave which wounded me have been carried off.
The wounds which were given me have been bound up by his bottomless ‘Yes’ to me, and ‘No’ to sin.
And now, every scar I bear, no matter how deep they run, has become an occasion in which I know his love again. I cannot feel the pain like I did. It’s not the same pain.
And now I can also accept that those pains and scars are really me, and that he really loves me as me, in those pains and scars which were and are still mine, but now are his. He really knows me, he really sees me, he really loves me, AS ME,
because his love makes me, me.
There is nothing left over.
I only wish I could live this out better.
My soul, praise the LORD,
and all that is within me, praise His holy name.
My soul, praise the LORD,
and do not forget all His benefits.
He forgives all your sin;
He heals all your diseases.
He redeems your life from the Pit;
He crowns you with faithful love and compassion.
He satisfies you with goodness;
your youth is renewed like the eagle.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His faithful love
toward those who fear Him.
Psalm 103 (HCSB)