The Bible’s Viewpoint
How Complete Is God’s Forgiveness?
“I feel that God will never forgive my sins. He will never want me because of what I did.”—Gloria.
GLORIA had no problem telling others that Jehovah could forgive their sins.* But when she reflected on her own mistakes, Gloria felt condemned. Jehovah’s forgiveness seemed unattainable.
Recognition of a wrong act or course of life can agitate the conscience. “I was worn out from crying all day long,” wrote David after he sinned. “My strength was completely drained.” (Psalm 32:3, 4, Today’s English Version; compare Psalm 51:3.) Happily, Jehovah delights in pardoning error. He is “ready to forgive.”—Psalm 86:5; Ezekiel 33:11.
However, Jehovah sees the heart. His forgiveness is not based on mere sentiment. (Exodus 34:7; 1 Samuel 16:7) The sinner must openly acknowledge his wrong, show genuine regret, and reject his bad course as something repugnant and hateful. (Psalm 32:5; Romans 12:9; 2 Corinthians 7:11) Only then can a wrongdoer be forgiven and experience “seasons of refreshing” from Jehovah.—Acts 3:19.
But even after repenting, some still feel condemned. Must they carry the burden of guilt forever? What consolation can be found in the Bible for those who have repented of their sins and left them behind but who still feel plagued at heart?—Psalm 94:19.
Lifting the Weight
Distressed over his mistakes, David prayed to Jehovah: “See my affliction and my trouble, and pardon all my sins.” (Psalm 25:18) Here David requested that Jehovah do more than forgive. He asked that Jehovah “pardon” his sins, that he lift or bear them, carry them off. Sin has severe consequences, and undoubtedly for David this included the burden of an afflicted conscience.
Each year the Israelites were visually reminded that Jehovah could carry away the sins of the nation. On Atonement Day the high priest laid his hands upon the head of a goat, confessed the sins of the people over it, and then sent the goat far off into the wilderness. Anyone present could visualize the removal of the nation’s sins.—Leviticus 16:20-22.
Individuals who have repented of their sins can therefore take comfort. The proceedings of Atonement Day prefigured a far greater provision for carrying away sin—the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Isaiah prophetically wrote of Jesus: “He himself carried the very sin of many people.” (Isaiah 53:12) Hence, past sins need not weigh down the conscience. But will Jehovah call these sins to mind at a later time?
Canceling the Debt
In his model prayer, Jesus said: “Forgive us our debts.” (Matthew 6:12) The Greek word here translated “forgive” is a form of a verb that means “let go.” Thus, forgiveness of sin is likened to letting go of, or canceling, a debt.—Compare Matthew 18:23-35.
Peter enlarged on this when he said: “Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out.” (Acts 3:19) “Blotted out” means to destroy, or to obliterate. It suggests the erasing of a written record, wiping the slate clean.—Compare Colossians 2:13, 14.
Therefore, those who have repented need not fear that God will demand payment for a debt that he has canceled. He states: “Your sins I shall not remember.” (Isaiah 43:25; Romans 4:7, 8) What does this mean for the repentant sinner?
Removing the Stain
Through the prophet Isaiah, Jehovah said: “Though the sins of you people should prove to be as scarlet, they will be made white just like snow; though they should be red like crimson cloth, they will become even like wool.”—Isaiah 1:18.
Efforts to remove a deep stain from a garment are often futile. At best the stain is dulled but nonetheless noticeable. How comforting that Jehovah can take sins that are as glaring as scarlet or crimson and make them as white as snow.—Compare Psalm 51:7.
Thus, a repentant sinner need not feel that he bears a mark for the rest of his life. Jehovah does not merely dull the errors, causing the repentant one to live in perpetual shame.—Compare Acts 22:16.
Support From Others
Although Jehovah lifts the weight, cancels the debt, and removes the stain of sin, a repentant one may yet at times feel overwhelmed with remorse. Paul wrote about a repentant wrongdoer in the congregation at Corinth who was forgiven by God but who could have been “swallowed up by his being overly sad [“becoming so sad as to give up completely,” TEV].”—2 Corinthians 2:7.
How could this person be helped? Paul continues: “I exhort you to confirm your love for him.” (2 Corinthians 2:8) The word Paul used for “confirm” is a legal term meaning “to validate.” Yes, repentant ones who have the forgiveness of Jehovah also need the validation, or stamp of approval, from fellow Christians.
Understandably, this may take time. The repentant one must live down the reproach of his sin and build up a convincing record of righteousness. He must patiently endure the feelings of any who have been personally affected by his past wrongs. Meanwhile, he may be confident of Jehovah’s complete forgiveness, as was David: “As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us [Jehovah] has put our transgressions.”—Psalm 103:12.
Name has been changed.
[Picture Credit Line on page 18]
Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt: Scala/Art Resource, N.Y.