If we are with a child and the child makes a mistake — perhaps a big mistake — how would we deal with it? Do we scold or punish the child? Do we later keep bringing up the mistake — even for years on end? If our answer is no, then, good. When a child makes a mistake, he needs to see that it is wrong, correct it to the best of his ability and move on.
In Genesis 1, we have the reassuring statement that God made man in his image and likeness. This picture of man is pure, perfect, blameless because God created him that way. One approach to forgiveness is to see the wrongdoer in his original, perfect state. This does not mean ignoring the wrong that was done, but it does mean separating the child from the act. It does mean that the child can acknowledge the wrong and redeem himself by acting better.
The child and the parent can understand that as God’s beloved, perfect child, there is no part of him that could make a mistake, whether inadvertent or willful, big or small. Both the parent and the child can pray together to see that there can be no residual effect from a mistake because God is the only creator and his creation is only and entirely good.
If a mistake is made, we don’t want to enlarge the mistake, we want to correct it and diminish its apparent power. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy writes that “Divine Love corrects and governs man.” Divine love, that is God, will show each of us how to correct a mistake and how to govern ourselves in a way that blesses others and ourselves. When we see ourselves as being governed by God, we will feel that renewal that comes from forgiveness, then we will be free from sinfulness.
Luke (15:11) tells Jesus’ parable of what we call “The Prodigal Son.” This is perhaps the ultimate story of forgiveness: The son had wasted his father’s inheritance and demeaned himself in a foreign land. Now he was coming home asking for redemption and forgiveness. When the Prodigal Son returned home, the father greeted him warmly, accepted his new attitude of humility and re-clothed him in his rightful place.
And the faithful son was, of course, never left out. A child who doesn’t make a mistake must be reminded that he is loved too. When attention is being paid to the son who made mistakes, the at-home son is not left out, ignored or forgotten. Each son is loved continuously by his father.
If the scenario is true of a child making a mistake, isn’t it also true of us? If we make a mistake, even a big one, can’t we also find forgiveness and redemption? If this is the case, we need to find our forgiveness and redemption within ourselves.
Perhaps we need a fuller understanding of our innocence. Perhaps we need to see ourselves as God’s beloved, precious child. An individual idea held in his love. Maybe we need to free ourselves from recriminations and fault-finding, constantly replaying what went on in the past. Maybe we need to humbly turn to our father and ask for forgiveness. Maybe we need to feel his arms around us. To know that he loves us and always will. That we always dwell in his house.
We are always at one with our father and therefore never tempted to wander or to make mistakes big or small. We don’t have to stay in the mentality that has us eating dried-out corn husks; we can be in our father’s house, eating his bread, fed by his loving hand.
So, let’s be certain that we don’t yell at a mistake or even enflame it, whether we made it or someone else did. Let’s be sure we diminish it to its native nothingness. Then it will be put in its place. Then it can be replaced in our thinking with rejoicing. This is true forgiveness.
Celia Nygard is a member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist in State College.