James Cochran serves as Director of Counseling Ministries at The Church of the Resurrection, helping to connect the Resurrection family and community with counseling resources and group programming.
My dog Lizzy is mostly a joy. Mostly. She’s a lab mixed with perhaps 30 other breeds. The deepest desire of her heart is to cuddle with me and my wife. For Lizzy, the right to cuddle is one she anxiously defends. When strange visitors take our attention, she politely but firmly reminds all gathered that she is due some cuddling.
Up until my daughter was born just over one year ago, this habit of Lizzy’s was mostly endearing. But now, on occasion, Lizzy gets a little too jealous about the distribution of our family’s cuddling resources. She’ll often bark when my daughter Evelyn encroaches on her cuddle territory, and, when she’s in a particularly foul mood, she’ll issue a harmless but anxiety-provoking growl. These behaviors often trigger “defensive dad” mode, which usually involves some harsh words for Lizzy.
Invariably, after I’ve had time to cool down, I feel bad for lashing out at her. However, and invariably, Lizzy has already moved on. She’s ready to cuddle.
In this series we’re meant to look past our furry friends to the One who created them (and us). The obvious lesson here is God’s forgiving nature. Look one step further, and it’s about how we’re often less inclined to forgive ourselves than God is to forgive us.
But as I consider this dynamic with Lizzy, one that’s become a daily occurrence, something else is coming forward. It’s chiefly about the differences in the way God (and, I expect, Lizzy) experiences time.
If we were so inclined, we could understand our lives as a cycle of failure and redemption. We somehow fall short, then we seek forgiveness. This makes sense when we interact with other people. If I say something unkind to my friend, and then go to him seeking forgiveness, he proceeds to forgive me. A, then B, then C.
But when I go to Lizzy, seeking forgiveness, I find that I am already forgiven. You see, in general Lizzy does not experience her life in the same cycle of failure and redemption. When I fall short with Lizzy, forgiveness is there by default. Perhaps this has something to do with the kind of in-the-moment consciousness Lizzy uses to engage with the world around her. In this moment, and all moments, I am forgiven.
Could it be that the same is true of God? When we fall short and subsequently seek forgiveness, I think it has more to do with what’s going on in our hearts than what’s going on with God. God, I think, has already forgiven us. Because God is always forgiving us. Or maybe God is never NOT forgiving us. Perhaps a better way to think of forgiveness is “reconciliation.” God is constantly and relentlessly working to reconcile us to God’s self.
As hard as I am working to describe this, the true nature of God’s forgiveness probably transcends our capacity to understand, which is probably why it’s so hard for us to embrace it for ourselves. What would it be like if we could participate in this constant, relentless reconciliation? Offering ourselves grace by default, and forgiving ourselves not because we want to be free of the debt of sin but as a means to reconcile ourselves to the Creator?
I’m not sure. But I think if we could work towards an understanding of forgiveness that looked more like a way of being, rather than a process of doing, the world would probably be a little more cuddly.
Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.