Sin. It’s a sort-of silly word, like watching movies with too many boobs or some amorphous thing men do when they run off with secretaries. But in religious circles we love to throw it around casually while transmitting waves of forgiveness. Because that friend is a jerk and our parents didn’t love us enough and we should always and forever forgive amen because it’s a bright new day and people are people and we’re all human and I’m yawning right now at the sentiment.
Deep down we still feel pretty darn good about ourselves. It’s not the end of the world and nothing that bad happened. It’s more of a nice thing to do in order to rearrange our middle-class life, like gravy we pour over our crassness. We walk a touch lighter afterwards and head off whistling towards Starbucks like we donated money to the animal shelter and feel good about ourselves. We are righteous people. We put ourselves last and forgave that jerk who wronged us. Go us.
But there is a thin veil between what we see and what lies beneath. I see it in church, people hanging their heads in shame. Shifting in their seats. I feel it radiate through their failed attempt at a nuclear family and all those smiles and children with smocked dresses. Something is burning, and it is not to be extinguished with flat empty words. It is raging at a pace they cannot control.
Maybe it’s you, who felt strangely sexual after looking at a child. Or you, who drove two hours to have kinky sex with a woman named Alice in a hotel when your wife and child are sleeping soundly at home. The sick high you get in the dark corners. That money you blew on gambling that was so close you could taste it. Or it’s you, who swore you’d get it all under control and not hurt him any more and you just don’t want to be like this but it’s just one drink and one hit and one more day and you swear to yourself tomorrow you’ll get your shit together.
For you, forgiveness simply doesn’t work. Because you did something so dark and disgusting you want to rip your tongue out and tear your arm off and gauge your own eyes out of their sockets. You are nothing if not vermin and if your family only knew what you were thinking they would spit on you with disgust. And you watch television in a numb haze as your children go swimming and eat their vegetables. You will never be in the beautiful place of the living. You will never deserve the forgiveness of a Lord with expectations. You are already dead.
It is you to whom I’m speaking. You who my heart has burned for all morning to the extent I had to force myself to not write over my lunch hour and scribble a note to you on a napkin. Because it’s not a random you that I’m talking to. It’s a you who is running. Clawing and scraping so hard to get to the top of that mountain to outrun the pain. And until you can harm yourself enough and sear your own back with lashes and pay back very unpaid debt, you won’t ever get there. I see you. I know you. I feel the heat burn. But honey, hear me. You’ll never, ever get there.
There is only one way out. This is not a choose-your-own adventure. There are not multiple ways to skin this cat.
There is only this one: Name it. Call that bastard by name.
I hurt her. I snorted that. I slept with him. I thought such things I never thought possible. Because when you name it, you can deal with it. Start pulling it up to the surface so it can’t hide in dark places. And when I mean pull, I mean you grip it by the scruff of the neck and don’t stop until you pull it out of you and lay it on the table. The Lord’s table. The table someone told you as a child had power. So you put that sin there, that nasty beast that made you want to hide. That you’ve allowed to accompany the empty spaces in your heart all these years. You throw it down there, screaming and biting and wanting back in. But you control your own life, and it’s time to clean this house.
Then you tell the Lord to take it.
Take it, Lord. It’s disgusting and it’s ruined your marriage and the relationship with your kids and you are so, so tired. And then you collapse, because this is all ridiculous and what are you doing praying at a time like this and God has other things to worry about besides your stupid insignificant life and you finally named this horrible thing and now you’re a sniffling idiot on the floor with a need to lose twenty pounds and a headache.
And then you stop sobbing and just sort-of sit for a while. And out of nowhere you feel it. Like a soft peace settle upon your heart like a feather. Some kind of sensation like love or joy or warmth or God but bigger and warmer and you never had emotions like this before that rose up like a summer wind. And it’s clear to you that it’s gone. That beast that tore at your soul and lied to you that he would never leave is simply gone. Just like that God filled that deep and empty void with love. And now tears come quick and your breath is haste, because He who says he will remove the stain will in fact make all things white as snow. And you cover your face not in shame but in reverence. It is gone. IT HAS BEEN TAKEN. The thing that ruined you and destroyed you and tried to kill you has vanished.
Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for forgiving me for all the wrongs I’ve done. Thank you for blowing the spirit in my soul when I’ve done nothing to deserve it. And for taking this burden from me and letting me finally live.
This, my friends, is forgiveness. It starts inside, where the dark places are. He’ll take it. He’ll heal it. God will hurl whatever nasty beast you have too far to hurt you anymore. Throw whatever it is down on the table and ask for God’s forgiveness. This is when miracles are made. In the lonely hours, when no one is watching.