I used to worry about committing the unforgivable sin. For those of you who don’t know, there’s a passage in the Bible that says God will forgive everything except the unforgivable sin — but it doesn’t tell us what that “sin” is (SPOILER: There isn’t “one” — but that’s for another post). The apparent ambiguity has lead to wild speculation. Heck, as a young teenager I thought some illicit hand-holding during church or dropping an F-bomb when I stubbed my toe might lead me down the path to the unforgivable sin!
This fear stuck with me throughout high school and into college. Upon committing a willful transgression against a known law of God, I’d feel deeply convicted. I’d pray & ask for forgiveness. Sometimes, I’d commit the same sin again — then I’d repent. This cycle repeated itself. I began to worry that I simply presumed upon God’s grace and eventually, I’d pray to ask for forgiveness and Jesus would look at me, shake his head disapprovingly and say “Seriously? Again? No more forgiveness for you.” The belief underlying this fear was the idea that somehow, someway – I was unforgivable.
Unforgivable is a heavy word. I suspect we can all relate to feeling unforgivable.
Why do we feel unforgivable? Most of us are conscious of our own sins and faults. We know every evil thought, every unethical action, every imperfect attitude, every broken relationship. And if our own conscience is not enough, we’re often reminded by others that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, wealthy enough, etc., so much so that we believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with ourselves and that we are unworthy of forgiveness.
The idea of being unforgivable comes naturally. It’s the way things go around here. We’re used to being judged. We’re used judging others. We judge ourselves.
Our inability to forgive ourselves is rooted in shame. You may not believe in God or be a Christian. My guess is that like many people, you’ve struggled with forgiving yourself or with your shame. We all do from time to time — some more so than others. Sometimes it’s too much of a burden to bear so we project our lack of forgiveness or shame on to others in different ways. Maybe you need to forgive yourself, someone else, or even receive God’s forgiveness today.
The Christian faith proclaims that God’s forgiveness is always available for anyone who asks. You are forgiven! Accepted! Loved! It’s a message for many (including Christians) that seems too good to be true. Believing ourselves to be unforgivable is just much easier to accept.
How would you know if you struggle with the inability to forgive yourself or shame? Ask yourself some questions: Are you are often negative and seem to attract negativity into your life? Are you always searching for something but never satisfied? What kinds of things do you say to yourself with your internal monologue? Do find yourself deeply critical or harshly judgmental of others? Can you easily forgive others their “sins” great and small or do you hold grudges and keep score?