Can I “forgive myself"?
Is it Biblical to
The science of God’s creation does not change but our understanding of
it's truth changes.
For example, while I was in high school, many years ago, it was generally taken for a fact that “the atom is the smallest indivisible particle of an element”. But today, we know the truth that an atom can be divided even smaller into electrons, protons and neutrons.
Like the science of God’s creation, the truths of God’s word remain unchanged. However, from time to time, we are faced with perversions of God’s truth, which can lead us to believe as though they are biblical truths, principles or teachings that are neither factual nor biblical at all. Sometimes we take promises God made to the collective and apply it to our individual needs and when this does not work, we write off God for failing to keep promises that he did not make. At other times, we invent beliefs that sound biblical and we market it as gospel truth.
We are all familiar with such beliefs as “Heaven help those who help themselves” or “cleanliness is next to godliness”. Though, none of these are biblical or even factual, there are many who think that they are, and people often make life decisions based on these beliefs.
A new addition to this array of humanistic teachings is the invitation to “forgive yourself”. You probably have heard it from Oprah and may be even from a Bible study leader, counselor or pastor. Does the Bible really teach that I can forgive myself? Can you forgive yourself?
In Mark 12:1-12, the Pharisees were angry at Jesus. They were angry that Jesus said to the cripple “Son, your sins are forgiven”, thereby making himself equal with God. Rightly so, the Pharisees knew the truth that ultimately, every sin is a sin against God since God is the law giver. Hence only God can forgive sins. Hence, it was not out of place that Jesus did and continues to forgive sins because He is God. Though the Bible acknowledges that we can sin against each other and invites us to forgive one another, the concept of self forgiveness seems strange to scripture.
A closer look at the invitation for me to “forgive myself ” lays a suggestion to suppress a sense of Godly sorrow that I feel as a result of my misdeed and to move on as if nothing happened. The spiritual danger in this “forgive yourself” and move on teaching is that it takes away our focus from Jesus, the one who is able to forgive and heal our wounds, and focuses it on ourselves. For one to self-forgive, the person has to become the law giver and the judge altogether. The ultimate result is a heart that is seared, that feels neither guilt nor sorrow and does not repent. Is this God’s will for our lives?
The Bible speaks about this: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (2 Corinthian 7:10 – 11)
Reflecting on the wrong we did and not being happy about it, helps us to come before God with sincerity. It helps us to see the responsibility that is ours and the responsibility of others. It prepares our hearts to seek true forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness as Bishop Desmond Tutu rightly professed is justice. Rather than seek to self forgive which is spiritually worthless and even destructive, each of us should seek to receive the forgiveness that God has freely given through Jesus Christ.
In 1 John 1: 8-9, the word of God says "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
When we receive God’s forgiveness, no matter the nature and magnitude of the wrong, justice has been done. Forgiveness from God frees us from guilt and hardness of heart, yielding our hearts to offer grace to others in keeping with the mercy that we too have received.
This is the true forgiveness that we should seek.