There is a lot in the Bible about forgiveness for sins; some of it about Jesus dying as a blood-offering to pay God for our sins; redemption. So many people find that incomprehensible that it is a real treat to find Psalm 32 which addresses the issues of sin and guilt in such a constructive way.
I feel guilty most days about something or other. It seems that, however much I try to do the right thing by my children and, before they died, by my parents, I miss good chances, and I regret saying or doing stuff that hurts or alienates. Not just family members either; but mostly. When I was in charge of the work of other people, the very fact of being in charge seemed to carry with it the inevitability of doing wrong, of hurting, of making poor decisions.
In war situations, this must be a thousand times worse, when people make decisions that result in other people dying: in hospitals too.
Guilt can be a valuable learning tool. We can use the uncomfortable awareness of our error to improve what we do next time; spotting other people making mistakes is no-where near as good. But guilt can be just another chain around our necks, sapping energy, reducing confidence, damaging relationships.
This surely is sin: that which puts barriers between our talents and the good we could do for those whom we meet.
Enter forgiveness. Forgiveness expressed to others who are contrite, is a gift; it costs nothing but the loss of our anger. Forgiveness of ourselves is a technique for allowing us to get on with life, having learned its lessons. It allows us to live in the present rather than in the past. Nothing beats it but it is only possible to catch this train when we realise the consequences of our actions, and that requires some insight.
The Gospel writers have Jesus telling people that their sins are forgiven, resulting in cures for manifold ills. I guess if you can’t forgive yourself, having someone else conferring forgiveness helps. So, let’s do more of it. It is one thing to know about all the technique, it is a further step to do it and keep doing it. Practice makes perfect. It is the difference between disciple, who knows, and apostle, who goes out and does.
And Jesus on the cross? Placating an angry God by a blood-offering? Ideas like this abound in many early religions and don’t help me. Forgiving the next person who annoys me? Now that would do me good! Jesus on the cross remains before my eyes as a selfless example of dedication to goodness despite the cost; something to try to live up to.