The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness (Psalm 103:8).
As soon as I hung up the phone, I felt uneasy about our conversation. Brian asked me to include some of his furniture in my household shipment when I transferred back to California. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. We were both U. S. citizens working overseas for the government. He and his wife had several pieces of furniture they wanted shipped to their daughter who also lived in California. Because his contract did not permit him to ship very much weight when they eventually returned to the States, he asked if I would include his items in my shipment. Their daughter would pick up the furniture when I arrived at my new home.
Brian and I spent a lot of time together fishing on the lake and smacking balls around racquetball courts. We talked for hours about politics, sports and computers. We attended the same church. I couldn’t imagine he would ask me to do something illegal. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling something was not quite right.
The following Sunday I stopped him in the hallway at church and told him I needed to check with the shipping office to see if it was okay to combine his furniture with mine.
I looked at him, not sure if I heard correctly. When I recovered, I said, “You mean you knew it was wrong?
In the corner of my eye I spotted my wife motioning to me from the sanctuary. The worship service had begun. Brian and I walked into the church, but my heart stuck in my throat. Over the next several days I replayed our conversation, alternating between anger and disappointment. I couldn’t understand why my friend was willing to put me in such jeopardy. I could have lost my career. Been fined. Even gone to prison.
Thursday, I called him.
“Brian, I think you owe me an apology.”
“For what?” I echoed, more hurt than incredulous. “You could have gotten me in lots of hot water . . . and you knew it was wrong.”
Even as I spoke, I valued his friendship and did not want his sin to come between us. Besides, had I not also in the past done stupid – yes, rebellious – things for which I was ashamed? I would not hold myself aloof as if I was somehow holier than he. I wanted to forgive him. All Brian had to do was admit he was wrong and ask my forgiveness.
Instead, he justified his sin. “The government,” he argued, “owes it to me.”
That I could have gone to prison for fraud, that he could have ruined my reputation, meant nothing to him.
We lost contact after my wife and I moved back to the States. To this day, decades later, I sorrow for our loss. And yet, as I think about Brian and me, I also see a similar story unfold – not between two men, but between Mankind and God.
Surely, we have all offended God far more than my friend ever offended me. But how many of us would rather justify our sins than admit to Him we are wrong? How many of us would rather blame society, our parents, our environment, our genes – than simply say, “I am guilty”?
I have to wonder if God is more saddened than angered by our stiff necks. I wonder if He is more grieved than offended by our defiance. I wonder if He is more disappointed than provoked by our unwillingness to say, “I’m sorry.”
What is so hard about saying it? Why is it so hard to tell Him, "Lord, I am sorry. Forgive me. Cleanse me with the blood of Jesus and help me live my life now for You"?