When I am most affected by being forgiven, it is often by my wife’s forgiveness of me, or by my parents’ forgiveness in the past, or even the simple way that my 3-year-old forbears this impatient father without a thought. In fact, I am consistently more moved by all of these than I am by how I’ve been forgiven by God through Jesus.
This doesn’t make sense, of course. After all, whatever my family has forgiven me for, God has forgiven me for too. And he knows the enormity of these sins far more accurately than they do. He has also forgiven me for the sins my family has no idea about—that even I have little idea about sometimes.
Usually, my wife and son and parents are as forgiving as they ought to be, but even then, they are not as forgiving as God, because despite the wrongs I’ve done them, they have less to forgive me for.
I shouldn't regularly be more moved by my family’s acceptance of me than by God’s, but I take hope because Jesus understands that I am this way. He accepts me and even uses my inability to feel the word of God to help me know him better.
He says in John 5,
You sent to John [the Baptist], and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.… The testimony that I have is greater than that of John … The Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. (vv. 33-37)
Jesus knows that ideally everyone would accept him as the Son of God because of the witness of God himself through Jesus’ works.
Jesus also knows it’s not going to happen for everyone. It’s ideal, but not realistic.
Does he blow off his audience because they don’t see God the Father in him?
No. He uses their weakness—their propensity to be motivated more by the word of man than the work of God.
He does not say, “The testimony that I receive is not from man, so don’t listen to John. Just listen to what God has to say about me.” Rather, he says, “The testimony I receive is not from man, but listen to John anyway, because he’s telling the truth, and apparently you’re more willing to listen to him than God himself.”
Jesus would have preferred that they see the testimony of his father, but he knew they couldn’t, so he used his second best option, John. Not because John’s testimony was an end in itself or even adequate in and of itself, but because, by listening to him, they could find access to the testimony of the Father—the testimony that really matters.
Here, Jesus is talking specifically about being accepted as the Son of God. But I struggle in almost every situation with the fault that he points out in this passage. It’s difficult to accept God’s direct word; I almost always find it easier to accept and feel the importance of what people say rather than what God says.
Fortunately for me, God is willing to use people to help me hear him, instead of just forsaking me because I won't listen.
There is testimony from the Father that he has sent his Son to die for me and I am forgiven of all the evil I could commit.
Somehow, in my arrogance and idiocy, that truth can feel dry and old to me.
When I am incapable of feeling the forgiveness of God, he does not say, “Forget you, then.” No, he gives me his second best option, the forgiveness of my wife and my parents and my 3-year-old. Just like Jesus used John the Baptist as a witness to the Father’s witness, he uses my family’s acceptance of me as testimony to the Father’s acceptance of me.
It’s not ideal that I don’t feel God’s forgiveness directly, but he doesn’t let me go because I’m bad at feeling. He gives me people to see him through:
- No matter what you do, Molly forgives you and still wants to live everyday with you.
- No matter what you’ve done against them, your mom and dad have forgotten it and are ready to listen to you and help with your next struggle—even if you get yourself into it.
- And no matter what your faults, your little boy Orison ignores them virtually instantaneously and is eager to be with you no matter how ridiculously or recently you wronged him.
God does not leave me alone in silence when I can’t hear him. He sends me witnesses. My family’s forgiveness of me is not the main point, just like John the Baptist wasn’t the main point. But they show me the one who is the main point. When I feel the remarkably immense love of my family—if I’m paying attention—I can finally hear God, and he’s saying, “I’m like that.”