Every Sunday for the past seventeen weeks, I have been presenting scriptures from the Gospels, and then offering commentaries by me and many other people. Today, there is something on my mind, and I am going to go first, and then do what everybody else does--search for scriptures to prove I am right.
In a previous sermon we discussed the story of the paralytic man-- of how Jesus forgave the man's sins, and, how, thus, he was healed. That sermon focused on sin, karma, and dealing with adversity. But there was one paragraph that prompts its own big message and I want to expand on it today. Here is the paragraph in question:
"Is forgiving somebody else's sins the same as forgiving your own? Was Jesus, by taking responsibility for original sin, assuming power over all the sins that can overtake and pollute the mind of man? Was Jesus really just reaching into the guy's head and getting him to forgive himself?"
If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes," then we have food for thought.
An extension of the idea of forgiving yourself concerns Jesus' unique power of forgiveness. With the authority of the Christ, Jesus was able to forgive sins because, as the Christ, He had already taken responsibility for all Human sin going back to Adam. In this sense Jesus, once again, was forgiving the paralytic man's sins, by forgiving Himself. Therefore, if we are able to key into even a shimmer of the Christ Consciousness, we too should be able to look back into the distant past and forgive ourselves for all the judgmental thinking that went into creating the potential for our own uncharitable mind states. Somewhere something happened to us that birthed a breeding ground, a place in our minds where the seeds of sin were allowed to grow and yield fruits of future unforgiveness; this event provided a perch for later offenses to build up and exert negative power over our thinking and our actions. The idea is to root out that primal scene and divest it of its influence. Easier said than done.
So how exactly do we forgive sins committed against us? How do we bear the burden that other people put on us through unsympathetic actions and words? Is there a strategy? A technique? Maybe I can suggest one:
There are two problems with emotional pains, pain of offense and other varieties of mental cruelty:
1. how to get rid of the pain that you can get rid of, and
2. how to endure the pain that you can't get rid of.
It is not a sure bet that we can completely escape all the tortures that other people are capable of projecting on us--some people are able to give the pain that keeps on giving. But I have been exploring a state of mind in myself that looks like it is going to give me the control I need to keep from suffering so much from such offenses.
I first discovered this technique shortly after I came to Alaska. It happened this way:
For the elementary school Christmas concert, I had written words and music to a play. It was a very cute little piece, with lots of fun and humor. However, my Asperger's insensitivity to language led me to put in some lines that were considered offensive or inappropriate for elementary school children. The principal had a meeting with me and, in a very open-hearted way, assured me that everybody loved my play, but there were two or three lines that had to be changed or cut. I walked out of his office fuming, pissed off at that these dumb country yokels who were messing with MY PLAY. The temper of my petty ego was inflamed up the wazzoo, and was screaming angry abuse out my ears. As I walked down the hall, I started fussing in my mind and threatening to quit my dumb job, and leave Alaska, and never teach kids again, blah, blah, blah. Then it came to me, right there in that empty hall, with the orange walls and the little low-gleaming water fountains, that I was actually considering giving up a whole new life for the sake of a few lines in a gosh darned play! Whassup wit dat?
I felt a huge weight slip off me. I thought about all the abusive language I had indulged in within my family unit--all the weird, angry, violent actions I had performed, all the extravagant ego-centric posturing. I was not ashamed, I was astonished. Here, for YEARS I had clung to this anti-social behavior because I thought it was an essential part of me; I thought that, by giving up my quick-temper tantrums and my hot emotional outbursts, I was preserving my spontaneity, and, by extension, my creativity. I somehow thought that this "artistic temperament" was something precious-- that needed to be preserved. The funniest part is that I actually thought this behavior was giving me SPACE--space to move in, to feel deeply in, to create expansively in.
I realized at that moment, there in the hall, that all this "spontaneity" was just ego run amuck; that it was not only NOT affirming my true self, and giving me space, it was denying and vitiating my true self, confining me (suffocating me) in a prison of self-delusion. As an aspie this brand of evil self-delusion was especially insidious, in no small part, because it was so invisible to me. Aspies really need to put things into little sequentially marked boxes, so it was the most natural thing in the world for me to do this to myself. How was I supposed to know? To finally realize that, my whole life long, I had been putting MY BEST SELF in a little box was both devastating and illuminating.
Needless to say, we implemented the changes, (which sucked by the way), and the play was a big hit. But I had had big hits before. The real step forward for me was realizing that certain triggers that had always set off nuclear reactions in me, were not emanations of my essential character, but merely old, negative, neurotic habits--habits that, once recognized for what they were, could be controlled.
Since then, at certain graceful times, I have been able to reach into myself and curb some of my inner emotional reactions and desires. I have been able to see the power over me that I have given other people, and I pull back; I pull my mind back from the thoughts that torture me, and I can create a feeling of calm in myself. It is not exactly a retreat, because I feel an expanding of my heart's subtle energies when I do this. I think this must be something like BEING IN CHRIST. My vision of the situation is just as clear as it ever was, but I can take in the bigger picture, in which my petty complaints hardly register a calorie of significance. Satan and the world install switches in us that trip alarms and initiate retaliatory behaviors; but Jesus’ spiritual protection provides us with an off-switch—we just have to know it is there, and reach inside ourselves and flip it. It’s kind of like the View control on your computer—you can change the magnification to zoom out -10, or -20, and suddenly you can see the big picture—and as soon as we can see the big picture the importance we attach to our petty concerns seems petty stupid.
Now about forgiveness:
Something happened to me recently that hurt me deeply. It is one of those gifts of pain that is going to keep on giving, too. My mind was wild with anger, recriminations, negative responses, etc. As Jeannette and I were discussing this, she reminded me that forgiving someone else was best accomplished by forgiving yourself for being judgmental.
Being thus reminded, I viewed the event again in my mind, and saw, extending out of me, all these thin little tendrils, pulsing with bad feeling, reaching towards the offender. Clearly, these poison stingers were emanations of my lower self reaching out to the offender, trying to hurt back. (We always want to hurt back when we have been hurt—and we always end up hurting ourselves some more. Dumb.) So, I gathered up all those gnashing teeth and pulled them back; I reached outside myself with my will and grabbed those little suckers by the collar and dragged them back inside me: and, LO, the pain was gone! The poison was not destroyed, it was replaced by, or rather, transformed into a white-glowing light that healed me, blessed me, inspired and exalted me. Thus by pulling negatively charged life force into the center of the self, the heart, the light of Love turns that negativity inside out, like, say, an anti-matter converter.
I'm sure that, with practice, one could learn to work the opposite way--to amplify the power of those evil tendrils to reach the object of their passion, exert a destructive influence, and do real damage; I'm sure that's what witchcraft is. But, for me, the act of sending bad vibes to someone feels totally depleting, while holding them in is so empowering; I don't know why anybody would choose the negative over the positive.
Now, as I mentioned before, there are two problems with pains of offense:
1. how to get rid of what you can get rid of, and
2. how to endure the pain you can't get rid of.
The implication here is that there are some pains you can never get rid of. I'm not sure this is an ultimate truth--it seems that a perfect Christ could accomplish all things, least of all to defuse the temper of petty ego; but let's face it, we are not Jesus--not yet. "We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God." We have all sinned, and we will keep on sinning, because the mindfulness it takes to completely control our earthly hurts is a saintly power which I, for one, cannot claim to possess, but can only work toward. I can feel progress, but every time another negative thought parades across the stage in my inner theater, it takes me a while to notice it. I am so habituated to suffering from these random thoughts that I sometimes take several minutes to notice that I am, once again, creating my own personal Hell-on-Earth. We can ask Jesus to protect us from these thoughts, especially if they are, say, demonically inspired; but it is not appropriate to ask Jesus to protect us from ourselves--that is our job, our personal cross; the bearing of this cross is the self-improvement exercise that God has assigned to us in this particular earthly incarnation. Not to bear the cross of yourself would be to rob yourself of your reason for being on this material plane. But to bear the cross, and glorify it in the states of higher mind, gives you an opportunity to raise yourself up into ever higher approaches to the Christ Consciousness. Hoo Yah.
There’s another thing about the gift of pain that keeps on giving: this renewable pain can be caused by being in continual contact with the person or situation that hurts you, or it can be a one-time hurt that so changes your life that you are permanently robbed of something you thought was necessary or important. You say to yourself, “I am permanently ripped off by this uncharitable act, so how can I forgive someone for creating a condition that renews a feeling of loss or offense EVERY SINGLE DAY?” Well, first off, Jesus says to forgive seven times seven, so it is clear that we are instructed to never run out of forgiveness; furthermore, I say to you, “This attitude expresses a lack of faith: if what you have lost is really as important as you think it is, God will provide a replacement or a substitute in His own good time; if it is not as important as you think it is, like an addiction to artistic temperament, for instance, then you are better off without it.” Either way, you don’t have to hold a grudge against someone for creating a situation that is either impermanent or insignificant, or both. So, the injunction to forgive seven times seven, far from being burdensome, is simply good advice and will spare us the pains that our lower vindictive carnal nature would otherwise inflict on us by perpetuating a useless and destructive mind state.
Now some scripture:
"And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, (15) but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (37) “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;"
"Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. (33) And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ (34) And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (35) So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Here we have four scriptures that (on the surface) appear to be stating a Karmic principle--if you forgive, you will be forgiven. But if we look at the verses in terms of the mechanics of forgiveness we have been discussing, it should be apparent that the forgiveness of the Father is part and parcel of your own self-forgiveness. At first it looks as though there are two acts of forgiveness in play, first yours, then His. But, in the timeless dimension of spirit, we can reduce this process down to ONE act of forgiveness, by realizing that to forgive yourself is both you forgiving the worldly offender, and the Father forgiving you, AT THE SAME TIME. "He who is without sin cast the first stone." If we admit that we have all sinned, how dare we condemn someone else for the same sins of which we would also like to be forgiven?
"Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense."
This is my favorite. First the King James version:
King James Version (KJV)
"13And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;"
Now the English Standard version:
"And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, (14) by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."
". . . by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross." How beautiful to think of that great big sacrifice canceling out all our little debts in one magnificent act. Jesus forgave us, and saved us from ourselves by giving us a place to put our complaints--in the disintegrating power of His love.
Thus, we reiterate the principle that divine love is the key to every worldly dilemma. We are not compelled by love to subject ourselves, unnecessarily, to the abuse of worldly negativity, but when we must, we have, in our hearts, the power to restrain our carnal nature from reacting to other peoples’ negativity.
There appears to be one more time element here: if we could simply hold out attention on the divine light, the question of forgiveness would never come up, because we would exist in a state of perpetual protection from worldly offense. It is because we continue to sin, that we must redeem our personal sanctity from our own weaker carnal nature again and again. Thus, forgiveness enables us to wipe the slate clean again, again, again, until that moment when sin can no longer touch us and forgiveness is no longer necessary.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche comes up with his usual reversal on a theme:
"And if a friend does you evil, then say: I forgive you what you did to me; but that you have done it to yourself--how could I forgive that?" Thus speaks all great love: it overcomes even forgiveness and pity."
Love cancels all debts. Love rights all wrongs. Love makes all moral issues moot. In our vast cosmic connection to each other, every man's action is another man's consequence, and yet we are all one and yet all individual. We share each other's sins and forgive ourselves each other's trespasses--it's the only way. Anything less is a story without and ending. Love is the ending of all stories.
Let us pray: Jesus encourage in us, in our prayers, our meditations, and our conscious social acts to be ever mindful of the highest goal of the Christian path: to love our neighbor as ourself. Let us remember that, in the path of destructive worldly negativity we can don the protective armor of self-love, and through this love all, and forgive all. Amen