It is a difficult thing to ask for forgiveness. When we know we have wronged someone, we are much more likely to simply remain silent and ignore the issue, hoping it will simply go away. Or when we do eventually have the conversation, we will many times qualify our apology with “but’s” and “if only’s”.
- I was going to do what I promised, but…
- I would have been there if only…
- I started to tell the truth, but…
It’s these kinds of qualifications that nullify our apologies. These simple words reveal that we have not yet truly owned our sin against another, and instead we are still trying to justify our actions or even push the blame onto someone else. Why do we do this? I’d suggest three reasons why asking for forgiveness is so difficult for us:
1. Asking for forgiveness is difficult because it removes our power.
Part of the reason asking for forgiveness is so hard is because if inherently humbling to ask for forgiveness. When you truly ask for forgiveness, you are throwing yourself on the mercy of another. You are saying to them that you are in need of something only they can grant, and it’s entirely up to them whether to do it or not. In short, asking forgiveness removes the power of relationship from us and gives it to someone else. And that vulnerability is, for many of us, very frightening.
2. Asking for forgiveness is difficult because we don’t know what response will come.
So there you are. Metaphorically on your knees, asking for forgiveness. And what happens next? You don’t know if he will be favorable and gracious, or whether she will be bitter and angry. They might assure you of their ongoing love, or they might tell you to keep your apology. Yes, you have done wrong, but it’s still a courageous thing to put yourself out there to ask for pardon, and that’s compounded because the other person’s response is out of your control.
3. Asking for forgiveness is difficult because you have to confront your true self.
There are many things all of us would like to think we are above. Petty thoughts, vengeful actions, punitive attitudes – this is the stuff that kids do, right? And yet not one of us is exempt from the evil within the human heart. When you truly own what you have done through asking for forgiveness, you have to confront the uncomfortable truth about yourself. Namely, that you – no matter how old, how mature, how measured or how spiritual you might like to think of yourself – are not above “this.”
Where, then, do we find the courage to humble ourselves like this? Where do we find the conviction to do something that is personally costly? We find it when we consider what happens when we ask God for His forgiveness.
When we come to God, asking Him to forgive us where we have wronged Him, we can be assured of His response. We don’t have to wonder if we have outsinned His grace or overstayed our welcome in His family. We have been secured in Christ, and based on the undergirding of that security, we can know with glorious confidence how the Lord will respond when we come to Him humbly.
The psalmist wrote about this reality in Psalm 103. The entire psalm reads as a tribute to our God who forgives unceasingly and generously. In particular, the psalmist wrote of the great extent of God’s forgiveness in verses 11 and 12:
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his faithful love
toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed
our transgressions from us.”
When you come to prayer, you can coming knowing how God will respond. So come often to the throne of grace knowing that His mercy and forgiveness will never run dry. That’s fuel for our asking from others. For if God has truly forgiven us, then what have we really to fear from anyone else?