Both Sides of the Coin

~~My son has been through a rough time lately. For the first time in his young life he has experienced grievous betrayal. The “Et tu Brute?” kind of betrayal that can only come from a trusted friend. We’ve been through the mill of emotions – my family and I. I have not weathered it well. I know all the right things to say, but actually being an example of what I know is another thing altogether. I know all that God expects from him - from us - in the situation, but modeling that is a tall order. We want justice, but there is no penalty to impose. We want full confession, but none is forthcoming. We want repentance, but there is no brokenness. We want to forgive, but we feel cheated of a reason to do so.

In working through the emotions, the expectations, and the experience of it all I have learned some things about being on both sides of this coin, because, you see, I am all too aware of having been the betrayer as often as I have been the betrayed. (See: Gum on the Bottom of God’s Shoe) 

Here’s what I know about being the betrayer. Apologies don’t work. Apologies are easy, and usually meaningless. An apology is not brokenness and repentance, it is not ownership of the deed, it is an excuse for the purpose of appeasement. True brokenness and repentance finds us nearly groveling, from the vantage point of a worm.  We must own what we have done to the other person, to the relationship, to our own soul, and to God’s law of love. Real repentance pours from the desperate awareness that despite our best attempts, we are likely to repeat the sin because we are just that heinous. And brokenness realizes that there is no good reason for the other person to offer what we so desperately need: forgiveness, restoration, release. We don’t often allow ourselves the painful experience of true brokenness, but that doesn’t prevent us from attempting appeasement while hoping for forgiveness.

Here’s what I know about being the one betrayed. Nothing but brokenness and true repentance can bring about true forgiveness (from a human standpoint). Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit we are without the capacity to let someone off the hook unless they grovel like said worm. Heaven help us.

My son and his betrayer discussed the situation, but my son did not find brokenness and repentance in the partial confession that was offered. He found, instead, excuses and blame and an attempt at appeasement. It was unsatisfying and unfair, and still he offered at least the lip service of forgiveness. But I’m not sure that made its way to his heart. There is still no balm for his wound. There is no treatment for the injury. There is no restitution for the debt. There is no punishment…no balancing of the scales. He wants it to hurt as much to receive forgiveness as it does to give it. This is the way we are. There’s just one problem.  Jesus.

In seeking our own satisfaction, and by clinging to our rights to see justice done, we fail too often to realize that there was a punishment for our betrayer’s sin, but it was not levied against them. It was placed on and endured by Christ. We want the person who hurt us to be the one to suffer (and let’s be honest…we want to see it!), but Christ already did that for them. The difficult thing about Christian forgiveness is staying in the awareness that really, sin is against God first, and Jesus has already accomplished restoration. Offering another person forgiveness simply acknowledges that the requirements of justice have been met, our betrayer is already forgiven, and we forfeit the right to demand further payment for their sin. Jesus paid it all. And we must be satisfied with that.

There is a saying that we find grace to be unfair until we are the ones who need it. In learning to offer forgiveness we must first remember that our own betrayal has been forgiven. On either side of the coin that is forgiveness – offering it or receiving it – is simply God inviting us to experience Him more fully. We are granted the opportunity to realize who we are in His sight: a worm, but a worm who is well and truly loved and forgiven. Alternately we are offered the privilege of being a vessel for pouring out on another undeserving worm the forgiveness we ourselves have received, while rejoicing in the understanding of how ridiculously unfair it is that we have been forgiven…and they should be forgiven. We are ushered to the throne hand in hand, at once the betrayer and the betrayed, forgiven and forgiving, humbled but lifted up. This is what it is to live a life of forgiveness. Grateful that we don’t have to pay for our sin. Giving up the right to make someone else pay for theirs. Brothers. Sisters. Together in one Salvation. Simultaneously on both sides of the same coin.