"I have done bad things. I have done bad things that have hurt people I love," said the very kind-looking, soft-spoken man sitting on the curb in front of me.
The sea of men around him passed time as best they could, waiting -- most in the shade but some in the sun -- for the doors of the shelter to open for them.
I had knelt down to talk to three, three whom I had never met.
It's funny now because I know when people are new. I have been around for almost a year, so when I have not met someone or seen someone, it's a good chance they're new, and so it was with these three men.
One of them needed a listening ear...
First he asked me, "Are you like a volunteer?"
"Not exactly," I explained. "This is what I do. I spend time down here on the streets, getting to know people, trying to help when I can..."
"Oh," he said, seeming to get it, sort of.
And so he started telling me how he beats himself up continually for his past. On some level, I understood, because it's so easy for me to do the same thing, to let the mistakes of my past sit on me like a heavy weight. It's so easy to think,
If only I could go back and change that thing.
Or, on the other hand, to try to dissociate who I am now from that person who make certain mistakes in the past. But that person from the past was me, just like I am me now, and that person from the past is him, just like he was sitting before me on Thursday.
I quoted my pastor, Philip Jones, to him:
Give up the hope of ever having a better past.
And he replied, "It's just so hard when the people I have wronged won't forgive me, and I still see the pain in their eyes from what I did." He looked away from me, and I could see the intensity of the weight he carried around in his face and on his body.
My heart turned heavy. How are we to receive God's forgiveness for our "worst" sins -- not in our head but in our heart -- when those whom we have wronged still cannot forgive us, when they are the constant reminder of our sin and of the pain we caused?
He was tapping into something that I had not considered before ... and I wondered if it was possible for this man to be free from the chains of his past even if those he love never offer him forgiveness.
I believe it is. It must be. But only God is capable of this type of healing. I know it is not easy. I know it is not quick, but it has to be possible. Because our sins are really against God, and he chose to forgive us through his Son Jesus. How we receive this forgiveness into our inner being is something I still work through, but it must be possible. It doesn't mean the past goes away, just that it no longer holds us.
Remember David? He slept with another man's wife; he committed murder by having the husband killed; he lied about it all; and he expressed no remorse -- that is, not until he was called out by the prophet Samuel (2 Samuel 12). And then, what did David pray, but this:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgression, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.*
You see, God created us. God made the world to run a certain way. The reason our sin hurts others is because it's not how God intended any of us to run. But really, we offend God when we sin because it's his world and his design we are pushing against.
And even though our sin hurts (us and others), the truth is that for our sake [God] made him (Jesus) sin who knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God**.
The truth is though your sins are like scarlet, I (the Lord) will make the white as snow.
The truth is God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The truth is everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, and that He is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
He is a good God. The cost of his love was his only Son. Will you trust him?
**In order from top, the verses quoted are as follows:
2 Corinthians 5:21
Acts 2:21 and
2 Peter 3:9