For quite some time now- almost a year, in fact- I have been struggling with forgiveness.
I haven't been struggling with believing that the people who said, "I forgive you" really forgave me, though that certainly was a battle at the beginning.
And I haven't been struggling with forgiving myself, though even now I'm not sure exactly where I stand on that. My thoughts of forgiveness have been more externally focused (naturally, as I am a rather extroverted person). They've been on God, and they've been on the morality of it. They've been burning with my unspoken reaction of...
"But I don't deserve to be forgiven."
I don't deserve mercy because what I did was bad, and bad things don't deserve good rewards. They deserve punishment. And the thing that's so hard to fight about that train of thinking is that it's true. We all know it's true. The Bible declares it's true. Evil deserves punishment. Disobedience deserves correction. Guilty actions deserve a sentence. Our inner sense of justice (even if you believe that morality differs among different people and people groups) begs us to do something; we rightly believe that sin should be dealt with and righteousness, kindness, and bravery should be rewarded.
And I have fought and fought God over His forgiveness because I know that I didn't deserve it.
I still don't.
But the problem comes in this.
The problem is that God has shown Himself in Jesus, and Jesus forgave a bunch of people who didn't deserve it.
As I was driving to my job this morning, I told God, "I need you to forgive me. I need to know that you forgive me, even though I don't deserve it." And God told me to think about Jesus. He told me to think of all the people Jesus forgave- the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Peter for his denials, and, most notably, His crucifiers. Jesus forgave the men that killed Him as they were killing Him.
Then God said to me, "And do you think you're the exception?" It was as if He said, "Oh yeah, right, out of all the people in existence, you, David, are the one exception to my grace. I'll forgive everybody else for all the horrible things they've done, but you're the one exception (all of this said in a sarcastic voice that God knows I respond well to."
The reality is that none of us have ever deserved God's forgiveness. We do not earn His forgiveness, and none of us is the exception. And the thing that makes God's forgiveness so amazing and appalling and sometimes literally unbelievable is that we haven't earned it. God's mercy is free and He charges us nothing when He agrees to take our sin and throw it as far away as He can (and God has a pretty darn strong arm).
If Jesus can forgive His closest friends betraying Him and His crucifiers for killing Him and Paul for slaughtering His followers, He can forgive me and He can forgive you. We are not exceptions.