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Let's be honest

Is it possible that when we ask God to forgive us we are often in reality asking Him to do something quite different? We are asking Him not to forgive us but to excuse us. There is, however, all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, “Yes you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says, “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If we aren’t really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases between God and us, or between one person and another, there may be a mixture of the two. But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us to this mistake is the fact that at times there can be some extenuating circumstances in the bad choices we make. But we can become so anxious to point these out to God (and ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing, that is, that there aren’t excuses for everything and that much of the time our selfishness, lack of forgiveness, or weak love is the core reason why we choose as we do. And if we forget this we can go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. Furthermore, they may be very bad excuses since we are prone to be too easily satisfied with ourselves. God will forgive anything that is sincerely repented. But this requires honesty not placing the blame somewhere else. (Based in part on C.S. Lewis’ essay “On Forgiveness”.)


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