Forgiveness is Messy

March 28, 2016

If the Old Testament Book of Leviticus were made into a movie, I’m pretty sure it would be at least PG-13. There are gory descriptions of animal sacrifices; there is blood and guts. The visuals are quite disturbing. Leviticus 1:5-9 (VOICE) “You shall slaughter the young bull in My presence…Aaron’s sons, the priests, will offer the blood and splatter it around the altar… You shall then skin the burnt offering and cut the animal up into pieces. 7 …the priest will place fire on the altar and arrange the pieces of wood. 8 …priests, will place the head, the fat, and individual pieces of the sacrifice on the altar as the wood burns. Wash the animal’s organs and legs with water so that unclean elements are not included in the offering.” As a surgeon, I use cautery (an electric scalpel, if you will), to stop bleeding in the operating room. So trust me, I know what flesh and blood and guts look like. I know what burning flesh and blood and guts smell like. And it’s not appetizing, ok? 

Why would God make it so messy and disgusting to receive forgiveness? I thought God was all pure and clean in his fancy white robe and golden crown. Now it’s Easter, and here we are celebrating yet another excruciating-to-watch death, all in the name of claiming forgiveness: the denial, the yelling and screaming by the crowds; the flogging and carrying the heavy cross; the crown of thorns, the nails in the hands and feet, the spear in the side. The blood. It was messy business to get Jesus crucified. People got angry and got their feelings hurt. Peter felt like an idiot for denying Jesus, not once, but three times! Judas felt so depressed for betraying Jesus that he committed suicide. This doesn’t look like peace and love to me.

But yet it is. Forgiveness can only come when we get dirty in the details of the reason we need forgiveness. First, we have to name it. Let it bubble to the surface so we can see it, feel it, taste it. The ugliness, the bite, the bitterness of sin. At times, we have to forgive ourselves. For not following through on our own promises. At times, we have to forgive someone else. A friend. A colleague. A spouse. For the words that were said that cut so deep; for the underhanded deals and failures of loyalty.

And at times, we must ask to be forgiven. For the times we let someone or something come before a primary relationship; for the times we ignored the deepest needs of friend or family for the arrogant wishes of self; for the times when we Just. Simply. Failed.

To forgive means to dig deep into my heart and give a pass where one is not deserved. To be forgiven means to experience the freedom, the joy, and the peace that comes as the recipient of the undeserved pass. It’s messy to ask for forgiveness. Yet it is one of our deepest human needs: to forgive and to be forgiven. We have to expose our deepest wounds, as the guilt of the deed that begs forgiveness, often cuts us as deep, or deeper, than those we have offended. We shed emotional blood and dissect and examine all the bits and pieces of the trespass; we can’t be forgiven unless we are first willing to be exposed. All of it. The motives. The deeds. The sorrow. And then…when forgiveness is granted…and it seeps into the cuts that were created by the wrongdoing…we feel the soothing of forgiveness as a salve in the offensive wound.

There is no healing of surgical disease without the blood and the mess and the putrid odor of burning the responsible condition. So when forgiveness is needed, there must first be a mess. An honest mess. To expose and express our regret, our failure. To see the blood seeping from the cut. Splatter the blood on the altar. Get it out and offer it up. And then the healing. Oh, the healing. That seals the wound and regenerates the skin over it. A tough scar, making us stronger in that spot than we were before. Because we chose to get messy. And engage in, and experience, sweet forgiveness.

Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    John F. Jung

    Excellent reflection on forgiveness! This is the essence of the Christian experience.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *