Jehovah, a God “Ready to Forgive”
“You, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive.”—PSALM 86:5.
1. What heavy burden did King David carry, and how did he find comfort for his troubled heart?
KING DAVID of ancient Israel knew how heavy the burden of a guilty conscience could be. He wrote: “My own errors have passed over my head; like a heavy load they are too heavy for me. I have grown numb and become crushed to an extreme degree; I have roared due to the groaning of my heart.” (Psalm 38:4, 8) David, however, found comfort for his troubled heart. He knew that while Jehovah hates sin, he does not hate the sinner—if that one is truly repentant and rejects his sinful course. (Psalm 32:5; 103:3) With full faith in Jehovah’s willingness to extend mercy to repentant ones, David said: “You, O Jehovah, are good and ready to forgive.”—Psalm 86:5.
2, 3. (a) When we sin, what burden may we carry as a result, and why is this healthy? (b) What danger is there in getting “swallowed up” by guilt? (c) What assurance does the Bible give us about Jehovah’s willingness to forgive?
2 When we sin, we too may carry the crushing burden of a painful conscience as a result. This feeling of remorse is normal, even healthy. It can move us to take positive steps to correct our mistakes. Some Christians, though, have become overwhelmed by guilt. Their self-condemning heart might insist that God will not fully forgive them, no matter how repentant they are. “It is a terrible feeling when you think that Jehovah may not love you anymore,” said one sister, reflecting on a mistake she had made. Even after she repented and accepted helpful counsel from congregation elders, she continued to feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness. She explains: “Not a day passes by when I don’t ask Jehovah for his forgiveness.” If we become “swallowed up” by guilt, Satan may try to get us to give up, to feel that we are not worthy of serving Jehovah.—2 Corinthians 2:5-7, 11.
3 But that is not at all how Jehovah views matters! His Word assures us that when we manifest genuine heartfelt repentance, Jehovah is willing, yes ready, to forgive. (Proverbs 28:13) So if God’s forgiveness has ever seemed unattainable to you, perhaps what is needed is a better understanding of why and how he forgives.
Why Is Jehovah “Ready to Forgive”?
4. What does Jehovah remember about our nature, and how does this affect the way he treats us?
4 We read: “As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him.” Why is Jehovah disposed to show mercy? The next verse answers: “For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:12-14) Yes, Jehovah does not forget that we are creatures of dust, having frailties, or weaknesses, as a result of imperfection. The expression that he knows “the formation of us” reminds us that the Bible likens Jehovah to a potter and us to the vessels he forms.* (Jeremiah 18:2-6) A potter handles his clay vessels firmly yet delicately, ever mindful of their nature. So, too, Jehovah, the Great Potter, tempers his dealings with us according to the frailty of our sinful nature.—Compare 2 Corinthians 4:7.
5. How does the book of Romans describe sin’s powerful grip on our fallen flesh?
5 Jehovah understands how powerful sin is. The Scriptures describe sin as a potent force that has man in its deadly grip. Just how strong is sin’s grasp? In the book of Romans, the inspired apostle Paul explains this in graphic terms: We are “under sin,” as soldiers are under their commander (Romans 3:9); it has “ruled” over mankind like a king (Romans 5:21); it “resides,” or is “dwelling,” within us (Romans 7:17, 20); its “law” is continually at work in us, in effect trying to control our course. (Romans 7:23, 25) What a difficult battle we have to resist sin’s powerful hold on our fallen flesh!—Romans 7:21, 24.
6. How does Jehovah view those who seek his mercy with a contrite heart?
6 Hence, our merciful God knows that perfect obedience is not possible for us, no matter how much our hearts may want to give it to him. (1 Kings 8:46) He lovingly assures us that when we seek his fatherly mercy with a contrite heart, he will extend forgiveness. The psalmist David said: “The sacrifices to God are a broken spirit; a heart broken and crushed, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Jehovah will never reject, or turn away, a heart that is broken and crushed by the burden of guilt. How beautifully that describes Jehovah’s readiness to forgive!
7. Why can we not presume on God’s mercy?
7 Does this mean, though, that we can presume on God’s mercy, using our sinful nature as an excuse to sin? By no means! Jehovah is not guided by mere sentiment. His mercy has limits. He will by no means forgive those who hard-heartedly practice malicious, willful sin with no repentance. (Hebrews 10:26-31) On the other hand, when he sees a heart that is “broken and crushed,” he is “ready to forgive.” (Proverbs 17:3) Let us consider some of the expressive language used in the Bible to describe the completeness of divine forgiveness.
How Completely Does Jehovah Forgive?
8. What does Jehovah do, in effect, when he pardons our sins, and what effect should this have on us?
8 Repentant King David said: “My sin I finally confessed to you, and my error I did not cover. I said: ‘I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.’ And you yourself pardoned the error of my sins.” (Psalm 32:5) The expression “pardoned” translates a Hebrew word that basically means “lift up,” “bear, carry.” Its use here signifies ‘to take away guilt, iniquity, transgression.’ So Jehovah lifted up David’s sins and carried them away, as it were. (Compare Leviticus 16:20-22.) This no doubt eased the feelings of guilt that David had been carrying. (Compare Psalm 32:3.) We too can have full confidence in the God who pardons the sins of those who seek his forgiveness on the basis of their faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 20:28; compare Isaiah 53:12.) Those whose sins Jehovah thus lifts up and carries away need not continue to carry the burden of guilt feelings for past sins.
9. What is the meaning of Jesus’ words: “Forgive us our debts”?
9 Jesus drew on the relationship of creditors and debtors to illustrate how Jehovah forgives. For example, Jesus urged us to pray: “Forgive us our debts.” (Matthew 6:12) Jesus thus likened “sins” to “debts.” (Luke 11:4) When we sin, we become “debtors” to Jehovah. The Greek verb translated “forgive” can mean “to let go, give up, a debt, by not demanding it.” In a sense, when Jehovah forgives, he cancels the debt that would otherwise be charged against our account. Repentant sinners can thus take comfort. Jehovah will never demand payment for a debt he has canceled!—Psalm 32:1, 2; compare Matthew 18:23-35.
10, 11. (a) What is the image expressed by the phrase ‘get blotted out,’ found at Acts 3:19? (b) How is the completeness of Jehovah’s forgiveness illustrated?
10 At Acts 3:19, the Bible uses another vivid figure of speech to describe God’s forgiveness: “Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out.” The phrase ‘get blotted out’ translates a Greek verb that, when used metaphorically, can mean “to wipe out, obliterate, cancel or destroy.” According to some scholars, the image expressed is that of erasing handwriting. How was this possible? The ink commonly used in ancient times was made of a mixture that included carbon, gum, and water. Soon after working with such ink, a person could take a wet sponge and wipe the writing away.
11 Therein is a beautiful picture of the completeness of Jehovah’s forgiveness. When he forgives our sins, it is as though he takes a sponge and wipes them away. We need not fear that he will hold such sins against us in the future, for the Bible reveals something else about Jehovah’s mercy that is truly remarkable: When he forgives, he forgets!
“Their Sin I Shall Remember No More”
12. When the Bible says that Jehovah forgets our sins, does it mean that he is unable to recall them, and why do you so answer?
12 Through the prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah promised regarding those in the new covenant: “I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34) Does this mean that when Jehovah forgives he is unable to recall sins anymore? That could hardly be the case. The Bible tells us of the sins of many individuals whom Jehovah forgave, including David. (2 Samuel 11:1-17; 12:1-13) Jehovah obviously is still aware of the errors they committed, and so should we be. The record of their sins, as well as that of their repentance and forgiveness by God, has been preserved for our benefit. (Romans 15:4) What, then, does the Bible mean when it says that Jehovah does not “remember” the sins of those whom he forgives?
13. (a) What is included in the meaning of the Hebrew verb rendered “I shall remember”? (b) When Jehovah says, “Their sin I shall remember no more,” of what is he assuring us?
13 The Hebrew verb rendered “I shall remember” implies more than simply to recall the past. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, it includes “the additional implication of taking appropriate action.” So in this sense, to “remember” sin involves taking action against sinners. When the prophet Hosea said concerning wayward Israelites, “He [Jehovah] will remember their error,” the prophet meant that Jehovah would take action against them for their lack of repentance. Thus, the rest of the verse adds: “He will give attention to their sins.” (Hosea 9:9) On the other hand, when Jehovah says, “Their sin I shall remember no more,” he is assuring us that once he forgives a repentant sinner, he will not act against him for those sins at some future time. (Ezekiel 18:21, 22) He thus forgets in the sense that he does not bring our sins up again and again in order to accuse or punish us over and over. Jehovah thereby sets a splendid example for us to imitate in our dealings with others. When disagreements arise, it is best not to dredge up past offenses that you previously agreed to forgive.
What About the Consequences?
14. Why does forgiveness not mean that a repentant sinner is exempted from all consequences of his wrong course?
14 Does Jehovah’s readiness to forgive mean that a repentant sinner is exempted from all consequences of his wrong course? Not at all. We cannot sin with impunity. Paul wrote: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) We may face certain consequences of our action or problems, but after extending forgiveness, Jehovah does not cause adversity to befall us. When troubles arise, a Christian should not feel, ‘Perhaps Jehovah is punishing me for past sins.’ (Compare James 1:13.) On the other hand, Jehovah does not spare us from all the effects of our wrong actions. Divorce, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, loss of trust or respect—all of these may be the sad consequences of sin, and Jehovah will not shield us from them. Recall that even though he forgave David for his sins in connection with Bath-sheba and Uriah, Jehovah did not protect David from the disastrous consequences that followed.—2 Samuel 12:9-14.
15, 16. How did the law recorded at Leviticus 6:1-7 benefit both the victim and the offender?
15 Our sins may have other consequences too. Consider, for example, the account in Leviticus chapter 6. The Mosaic Law here addresses the situation wherein a person commits a serious wrong by seizing a fellow Israelite’s goods through robbery, extortion, or fraud. The sinner then denies that he is guilty, even being so daring as to swear falsely. It is one person’s word against another’s. Later, however, the offender becomes stricken in conscience and confesses his sin. To gain God’s forgiveness, he has to do three more things: restore what he had taken, pay the victim a fine of 20 percent, and offer a ram as a guilt offering. Then, the law says: “The priest must make an atonement for him before Jehovah, and so it must be forgiven him.”—Leviticus 6:1-7; compare Matthew 5:23, 24.
16 This law was a merciful provision from God. It benefited the victim, whose property was returned and who no doubt felt much relief when the offender finally acknowledged his sin. At the same time, the law benefited the one whose conscience at last moved him to admit his guilt and correct his wrong. Indeed, if he had refused to do so, there would be no forgiveness for him from God.
17. When others have been hurt by our sins, what does Jehovah expect us to do?
17 Although we are not under the Mosaic Law, it gives us precious insight into Jehovah’s mind, including his thinking on forgiveness. (Colossians 2:13, 14) When others have been hurt or victimized by our sins, Jehovah is pleased when we do what we can to ‘right the wrong.’ (2 Corinthians 7:11) This involves acknowledging our sin, admitting our guilt, and even apologizing to the victim. Then we can appeal to Jehovah on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice and experience the relief of a clean conscience and the assurance that we have been forgiven by God.—Hebrews 10:21, 22.
18. What discipline may accompany Jehovah’s forgiveness?
18 Like any loving parent, Jehovah may offer forgiveness along with a measure of discipline. (Proverbs 3:11, 12) A repentant Christian may have to relinquish his privilege of serving as an elder, a ministerial servant, or a pioneer. It may be painful to him to lose for a period of time privileges that were precious to him. Such discipline, however, does not mean that he has lost Jehovah’s favor or that Jehovah has withheld forgiveness. In addition, we must remember that discipline from Jehovah is proof of his love for us. Accepting and applying it is in our best interests and can lead to everlasting life.—Hebrews 12:5-11.
19, 20. (a) If you have committed wrongs, why should you not feel that you are beyond the reach of Jehovah’s mercy? (b) What will be discussed in the next article?
19 How refreshing to know that we serve a God who is “ready to forgive”! Jehovah sees more than our sins and mistakes. (Psalm 130:3, 4) He knows what is in our hearts. If you feel that your heart is broken and crushed because of past wrongs, do not conclude that you are beyond the reach of Jehovah’s mercy. Despite what mistakes you may have made, if you have truly repented, taken steps to right the wrong, and earnestly prayed for Jehovah’s forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood, you can have full confidence that the words of 1 John 1:9 apply to you: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
20 The Bible encourages us to imitate Jehovah’s forgiveness in our dealings with one another. To what extent, however, can we be expected to forgive and forget when others sin against us? This will be discussed in the following article.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word rendered “the formation of us” is used concerning the clay vessels formed by a potter.—Isaiah 29:16.
How Would You Answer?
□ Why is Jehovah “ready to forgive”?
□ How does the Bible describe the completeness of Jehovah’s forgiveness?
□ When Jehovah forgives, in what sense does he forget?
□ What does Jehovah expect us to do when others have been hurt by our sins?
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When others have been hurt by our sins, Jehovah expects us to make amends