I recently purchased a new book of essays by C.S. Lewis called The Weight of Glory and Other Essays. Perusing the table of contents, I was immediately drawn to the second to the last essay titled On Forgiveness. If you have read much of my blog, you will know that this is a subject I am quite interested in.
Although I have thought a lot about forgiveness in my life, and God has taught me a great deal about the subject as well, I was not disappointed by C.S. Lewis’ unique take on the subject. In this short essay (which I highly recommend), Lewis says:
I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposite.
I can relate to Lewis’ struggle to ask God for forgiveness instead of asking to be excused. It is much easier to fall back on some excuse – often “I couldn’t help it” – rather than to admit that our behavior needs forgiveness.
Our culture has taken a whole host of behaviors that God calls sins and created excuses for them. Excessive drinking isn’t a sin because a person is an alcoholic and can’t help it; they are excused because they were born as an alcoholic. Excessive eating isn’t a sin because a person has a metabolism problem or was treated poorly as a child; they are excused because they can’t help their overeating behavior. Losing our temper with our children or difficult people isn’t a sin because those we lose our temper with acted badly and they deserved it; our behavior is excused because it is merely a reaction to the bad behavior of another.
The one “benefit” of having an excuse is that we get to continue the behavior we think we can’t (or just don’t want to) change. But is this really a benefit? Most often, God says a particular behavior is sin because it is either not healthy for us or is detrimental to those around us (including those we love). His Word is an instruction manual for joyful, peaceful, contented living, not a blueprint for prison-cell life.
We create excuses, but at what cost? By refusing to accept the sinfulness of our behavior, we rob ourselves of the privilege of being forgiven by a loving God. God doesn’t want our excuses and He doesn’t want to excuse us. Rather, He wants our repentance, and He wants to forgive us and renew us. But asking for forgiveness takes humility and a willingness to admit we were wrong. And so excuses, born of pride, get in the way.
I want to be forgiven, not excused. How about you?