Sometimes we have the wrong impression of God’s forgiveness. Sometimes we get the idea that God’s forgiveness is easy, that God simply waves His hand and all our guilt simply vanishes.
The truth is that God’s forgiveness is no easy matter! The difficulty of forgiveness was addressed one day when Jesus asked, “Which is easier: To say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?”
Jesus compares the difficulty of forgiveness to the difficulty of curing a person of paralysis—something medical scientists have been striving to accomplish for decades.
In that particular incident, Jesus simply spoke words of healing to the paralyzed man, and he got up, picked up his mat and walked home. But to forgive the man’s sins (and our sins) Jesus had to die on a cross. It was far, far, far from easy to bring about forgiveness!
In their book In His Image, Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey point out, “The pictorial Chinese language combines the two concepts of love and pain in eloquent symbolism. In the character that expresses the highest kind of love, symbols for love and for pain are brushed on top of each other to form a word like ‘pain-love.’ Thus a mother ‘pain-loves’ her child. She pours out her whole being on the child’s behalf.” What Jesus did for us on the cross was pain-love. He endured astounding physical agony out of sacrificial love for us. It was far, far, far from easy, but it was the cost of our forgiveness!
Ralph Barron sums up what Jesus did on the cross in one powerful sentence: “In His passion to set right a disjointed universe, God broke open His own heart in love. (The Strangest Way, p. 31).” Upon the cross Jesus endured the pain-love of His heart being broken open for us. It was far, far, far from easy, but it was the cost of our forgiveness.
Following a horrible forest fire that swept through Yellowstone Park many years ago, an urban legend made its way across the internet claiming to have been reported in National Geographic: “Forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno’s damage. One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of a tree. Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother’s wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze had arrived and the heat had scorched her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.” This quote from Psalm 91:4 accompanied the story: “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” Yet Snopes.com reports, “We’ve been getting a lot of emails about this. It’s an inspirational story—which is why we regret that we have to debunk it. The incident was never reported in National Geographic. Nor did it happen at Yellowstone, according to the park’s ornithologist, who adds that it doesn’t ring true of bird behavior anywhere.” Birds won’t act in that way, nor will any other animal. But Jesus did. On the cross, He covered us and bore the entire consequence of our sins. It was far, far, far from easy, but it was the cost of our forgiveness!