Why Can’t I Forgive Myself?

Pastor Daron CrossLife Blog

“I can’t believe you did that … You’re such a loser … You can’t be trusted … You’re a terrible person … I’ll never forgive you. Ever.” 

Have you said these words to yourself? Yesterday I described 6 symptoms of not being able to forgive yourself. This is the “what.” Today, consider the “why.”

Why can’t I forgive myself? If I can’t forgive myself, is there a problem with God’s forgiveness? Is it faulty in some way? Broken like my shaver (so if I’m a bit scruffy my excuse is that it’s not my fault because my shaver isn’t working)? Is forgiveness interrupted like losing your WiFi connection so it’s unreliable and happens to be hiccuping when it comes to this particular sin? 

God’s forgiveness

God’s forgiveness is perfect, just like God. It always works. It is always accessible and free. It never fails.

  • What if you’ve sinned more than you should? Romans 5:20“Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” 
  • What if some of your sins are just too terrible? Psalm 103:3—The Lord “forgives all your sins.” 
  • What if that’s all true but only for people who deserve to be forgiven? Matthew 9:13—Jesus promised, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 
  • What if you can’t believe Jesus will forgive you unless you clean your life up a bit more? Romans 5:8—“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Get it? God’s forgiveness is God’s own loving forgiveness; he created it by the sacrificial death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and he keeps an endless inventory of his forgiveness. He gives it as a free gift. It’s always perfect. It always works because of his mercy.

So if I can’t forgive myself, and there isn’t something wrong with God’s forgiveness, then what’s the problem? 

God’s farmyard

God urges anyone who can’t forgive themselves, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you” (Psalm 32:9). 

So God has this farmyard and there’s all sorts of animals. God cares for his animals, shows them where to go for pasture, supplies a barn. God lovingly, patiently gives all his animals nicknames and gently guides them into their stalls or cages for their own rest and protection. 

But there is one beast on the farm that always gives God a hard time. The mule stubbornly stays out in the field and won’t respond to that kind of direction. So God gets in his pickup truck and goes out in the field, puts the bit and bridle in the mule’s mouth and hitches it to the truck. The mule digs in his heels, but God drags him stiff-legged and kicking up dirt all the way into the barn. 

The mule prefers his own way. And the pain and embarrassment of being dragged by a pickup truck just makes the mule even more stubborn.

When I can’t forgive myself here is the problem: I’ve designed my own way of dealing with guilt and shame. Or to put it another way, when I can’t forgive myself, the problem isn’t that there is no forgiveness. The problem is that I don’t want God’s forgiveness, I want my own version of forgiveness. 

But I’m seeking a kind of forgiveness that doesn’t exist, that God never created, and will never release me of guilt and shame. Usually my way of dealing with guilt and shame is making up for it in some way, or creating unrealistic expectations of myself like this—I can be forgiven if I become a better person. But I can never do enough.

Mules will never come to farmers and say, “Wow, why am I being so stubborn, I’m sorry.” But people behaving like mules, with souls bought by the blood of Jesus, forgiven even for trying to play God, can say, “I’m sorry, God.” And God will say, “You are forgiven.”

PRAYER: Dear God, when I can’t forgive myself, your forgiveness is not the problem. I’m being stubborn in my own way, like a mule. Thank you for your love that never stops forgiving me. Send your Spirit to convince me today that I am completely forgiven. Amen.

FURTHER MEDITATION: In Psalm 32 David describes mule-like behavior in the words, “cover up” (v. 5) … “deceit” (v. 2) … “kept silent” (v. 3). He was lying to himself, lying to others, and hiding from the truth that he had sinned. He wouldn’t admit that he was wrong, that he had failed, that he had made a terrible mistake and disobeyed God. He was caught up in himself. 

I found this meme about forgiveness: “Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean not being angry with yourself. It means not hating yourself.” Guess what? When a person can’t forgive themselves, it might feel as terrible as hate, but hatred of self truly is not the problem. Loving self more than God is the problem. When a person can’t forgive themselves, they have assumed the role of God and when that happens, we always fail. It never works. 

But forgiveness never fails. It is yours. You don’t need to manufacture it. You just need to need it.