‘I can never forgive myself for killing my own child!’
The woman who said this was a member of the community in which I was serving as a Methodist minister. It transpired that she had had an abortion some years previously. As gently as possible, I asked her: ‘Would you if you could?’ The silence that followed seemed interminable. Eventually she whispered ‘Yes, I suppose so… BUT I CAN’T!’ ‘Good, in that case I can ask the Lord to help you’. I have never known the Lord to fail to answer this prayer.
It is important to recognize that she had the freedom to choose. If she had said ‘no’ there is nothing further I could have done. Having expressed her willingness to forgive herself, I could then ask the Lord to help her. Having received the Lord’s forgiveness and choosing to forgive herself, she was freed from a burden of guilt that she had been carrying for a number of years.
We can be guilty without knowing it. I did not realise that I was a sinner needing a saviour until after I had become a Christian. We can feel guilty for no good reason. There is such a thing as false guilt.
Part of what God has done for us through His coming in the person of Jesus Christ is to make provision for us to enjoy freedom from guilt and the forgiveness of our sins: ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).
The prophet Isaiah foresaw what Jesus achieved for us through his death on the Cross: ‘He endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. All the while we thought that his suffering was punishment sent by God. But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received’ (Isaiah 53:4-5).
John, one of the disciples of Jesus, expresses it like this: ‘(Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). Through his death on the Cross Jesus paid the price for all our sins. John also tells us that the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sins (1 John 1:7).
The blood of Jesus washes away our guilt. An old chorus expresses it: ‘There is power in the blood’. This is a mystery that I do not understand but nevertheless believe.
In the Catholic tradition it is customary to go to the Confessional in order to confess our sins to a priest and hear him pronounce absolution. For those of us who are not Catholics it can be very helpful to acknowledge the truth of what has happened to a minister or another Christian who will listen to what we have to say and remind us of the truth expressed in the Bible that if we confess our sins, he will keep his promise and do what he has said he will do: he will forgive us and purify us. (1 John 1:9) Our part is to choose to accept God’s forgiveness.
If we have difficulty doing this we may need to consider whether we have forgiven ourselves.