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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"It's okay, God will forgive me tomorrow"

It was a rare moment of vulnerability under less than ideal circumstances. My friend's behavior and ongoing consumption were troubling and not a little awkward to observe. I had not intended to run into him that night. Now I felt I couldn't leave, could I? Not at least until he gets home safely. He then said something that was refreshingly raw and honest if not surprising because, hey, I'm his pastor and I'd be preaching again in a couple days: 
"It's okay, God will forgive me tomorrow."
He's right by the way. 

Those who trust in Jesus are relentlessly and continually forgiven by the Father who has accepted them. You may remember when Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive and offending brother: "Seven times?," he asks. To which Jesus replies, "I do not say to you seven times but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:21-22). Peter is asking: Is there a limit to forgiveness?  Jesus' uses a concrete number in response (I believe to indicate the concrete substance of divine forgiveness) but his overall point is that forgiveness in the Kingdom of God is limitless. 

Two Paths
There are other deterrents to self-destructive choices - what it does to the individual, the fuller life that the individual misses out on, the effect those choices have upon those we love. Much can and should be written on all of these - my purpose for writing is God's forgiveness. Even one destructive choice sets us down a path in which we are prone miss out on God's forgiveness. The objection: "But I thought forgiveness was relentless and continual (see above!)." True, but even just a few self-destructive choices may block the way for forgiveness. It may appear like I'm contradicting myself, but let me explain. 

The book of Proverbs envisions life as the choice between two paths - the path of wisdom and the path of folly (often under different names). Once you set foot on one of those paths, especially the path of folly, you tend to choose what you previously chose - only to a greater degree. 

So Proverbs 4:14-19. You'll notice how quickly any foolish choice escalates. One moment Wisdom is pleading with us: "Don't even think about setting a casual foot or an adventurous, one-night indescretion down the path of wickedness" (vv.14-15). Just like that (cue snap of fingers): A person's very food and drink are the destructive choices they make (v.17). Their rest is no longer sleep but they can only rest by bringing company down to their misery (v.16).

In other words, Proverbs says: Don't even mess with the idea that "it's just one night" or "it's okay to get crazy every once in a while." More quickly than you know: Such behavior becomes your lifeline.

Then the next step quickly follows: "A hardened heart" (Hebrews 3:13) or a "seared conscience" (1 Timothy 4:2). Proverbs 4:19 calls it "deep darkness." This compound Hebrew word is a rare one that Solomon seems to use rather intentionally - it is the same compound word used in Exodus 10:22 of the 9th plague ("pitch darkness in all the land").  That 9th plague - the last one preceding death itself. Solomon is describing a conscience that is no longer able to see through the darkness to tell right from wrong. According to the Wisdom of God, what starts as a casual flirtation, a rare but wild weekend, indulging in something that stokes your curiosity, turning to comfort food to numb some other pain turns more quickly than you would dare believe into a nearly deadened will. One choice, two choices, three choices, and suddenly you find yourself enslaved to keep on choosing what you previously chose.  

"It's okay, God will forgive me tomorrow." Is grace available for the person who has made and continues to make choices to walk down that self-destructive path? Yes. However, by going down that path, I leave myself utterly in the hands of a merciful God. Why risk it?! The deepest and most practical problem with hardened heart, the seared conscience, the blinded spirit is that it can no longer tell it is in need of forgiveness. Justifying, rationalizing, procrastinating - such posturing can rarely again recognize the need for grace. 

Because of the Holy Spirit's quickening what was dead, God has made me alive together with Christ! (Ephesians 2:5). I pray that this gracious resucitation of my dead conscience applies only to my past. Avoid that path, Ryan! Avoid that path, dear reader!