“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
We have all undoubtedly heard and likely used this famous phrase at some point in our lives. It is, in my personal estimation, an indisputable truth. Failure is a definitive feature of the human experience. As hard as we may try and as much as we might want to deny the truth, all of us make mistakes.
We knowingly and unknowingly break rules and fail to do the right thing. We say and do hurtful and harmful things to others, particularly those whom we believe to be our enemies, but also at times, those who we hold closest to us. We fail to follow the golden rule and do unto others as we would have them do unto us, let alone to love others as Christ has loved us (Matt. 7:12, John 13:34).
Christians are not exempt from this undeniable accusation. As it says in James 3:2, “We all stumble in many ways.” I am well aware of the old warning against those who live in glass houses throwing stones. And it is often said that pastors and their families live in fishbowls. We constantly have eyes on us. The proverbial glass often magnifies our shortcomings, and the platforms on which we stand result in us making our mistakes in very public ways.
This has been the case for me personally on more than one occasion. The stories I could choose from to illustrate this point are legion. One of the first that comes to mind took place in my first year as a pastor. I was tasked with coaching a girls basketball team for our church in the local church league. We were terrible. We only won one game the entire season. But the girls had good attitudes and were more than happy running up and down the court having fun with their friends.
I struggled with all of the losing but considered it an exercise in humility. That all changed when we played the best team in the league. They were in it to win it and out for blood.
As the game went on, girls continued to come to the bench bleeding and refusing to play. I could feel the rage building within me. I decided if one more of my girls came to the bench crying, I was going to go off. It didn’t take long.
As the whistle was blowing and my girl was still on her way to the ground, I took five steps onto the court and began loudly expressing my displeasure with the refs, the coach of the other team and the hateful fans in the stands. My language remained G-rated, but my tone and demeanor were decidedly not.
I was given not one but two technical fouls and invited to vacate the premises and not return for two games. Being a native Hoosier, I was getting in touch with my inner Bob Knight.
Before I left the parking lot, I was on the phone with my senior pastor, warning him of the forthcoming flood of phone calls. In my heart and mind, I was just defending my girls. But what many in the stands perceived was a hot-headed youth pastor losing his temper and attacking officials and coaches.
By God’s grace, there were calm and experienced leaders at my church who were willing to process what had happened with me and assist me in repairing the damage I’d done and restoring my credibility where needed.
To err is human, and all humans, whether people of faith or not, do err from time to time. And forgiveness is divine. It is a gift that God freely offers to us through the sacrifice of Jesus, but it is also a gift God expects us to share with one another.
Colossians 3:13 reads, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Perhaps one of our greatest errors is our failure to offer forgiveness to those who fail us.
The church is not a collection of perfect people. It is a gathering of broken people who have owned their brokenness and who are relying on the grace of God and the power and presence of his holy spirit to restore and reshape them in the image of the only one who was perfect, Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, the brokenness of our humanity will come out from time to time, and we will need to receive or extend forgiveness. May we be honest about our shortcomings and seek forgiveness when we fall short, but may we also allow the divine to shine through us when we’re wrong by graciously offering forgiveness to those who we believe have failed us.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com.