By Rachel Kornfield Becker, MSW, LSW
I find myself reacting today to a familiar Evangelical concept: “The idea that we can tolerate sin in our lives while we enjoy fellowship with God is a direct contradiction (1)” (p. 77). I grieve about this awful mischaracterization of the Biblical God that drives a wedge of distance between us and him.
Consider this picture instead: The God I know joyfully enters our worst dens of iniquity and eats with us there. He is not ashamed or embarrassed by us. He does not reject us if we do not live up to standard or wait for us to get it right in order to have fellowship with us. The life of Jesus overflowed with him having fellowship with prostitutes, Samaritans and Pharisees (the group he himself called “white-washed graves”): those morally undeserving, those societally rejected and those put on pedestals they could never live up to.
The Jesus I know walks right into our darkest secrets, laughs gently at the convoluted mess we’ve made of things and proceeds to undo it with us. He welcomes us into fellowship. He understands our humanity, our limitations, what we are and are not capable of. When I seek to see myself through God’s eyes I do not find myself seeing a more sinful me but instead a more beautiful me – the person He sees me as, who He draws me into becoming. I see myself through the transformative eyes of love.
And I need that desperately, because I know I have hurt people I love dearly. I heard an Invisibilia (2) podcast recently and was struck by this idea: we are not the same self all the time. I can be loving, generous, self-giving, joyful, laughter-filled, light-hearted, free. I can also be accusatory, condemning, and rip relationships apart with my words and actions. It is not that one of these is me and one is not me – its all me. I am a sinner in need of grace.
As I work with clients, I discover them also to be in need of grace. Our clients, like ourselves, are not only victims but perpetrators, not only the weak but those who have misused their strength, not only the sad and aggrieved but the aggressors. We humans are not one or the other – we are both. And we are wounded by the harm we have done as much as by the things that have been done to us. We suffer from moral injury. As a result, the slow journey into being able to accept and receive forgiveness can be inspiring and life-giving.
In my experience, our desire to deny wrong-doing in our lives is not because we do not know its there. Our denial comes out of an inability to admit to our sin and not fall apart. Because we have not imbibed deeply enough of love, grace, humor, seeing our actions and inactions within the limited scope of effect they truly have, our sins seem too big and too scary to admit. It feels like facing them would destroy us.
Psychotherapy, if done rightly, opens space for it to be safe enough for us to increasingly look at reality as it is – including the harm we have done and the harm done to us. It opens space for us to be known and know ourselves to be loved, to find forgiveness and to forgive. It opens space to consider a different way of living and being in the world. And it does so through the medium of unconditional acceptance, love and grace. Receiving that for one hour a week from a psychotherapist changes us. How much more transformative to imbibe it from God on a regular basis. To hear him tell us that we are wanted, that we are cherished, that we are precious, that he understands all that has gone wrong in and around us and can make it right.
(1) Forgiveness by Gary Inrig, DHP
(2) NPR’s Invisibilia podcast “True Self”