Ashes and Forgiveness

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”~C. S. Lewis

We met Andy in the least likely of places. My wife and I hiked carefully down the saturated earthen slope to view The Basin where water cascades into a granite bowl and whirlpools around its walls. American naturalist Henry David Thoreau stood on the same spot on his first trip to the White Mountains in September of 1839, and later wrote in his Journal: “This pothole is perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.” Samuel Eastman in his White Mountain Guide called this spot, “One of the beautiful haunts of Nature, a luxurious and delicious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess.” High praise indeed for a boiling pot of frigid liquid. Standing on the rim of this natural marvel was a young woman with long dark hair and even longer quilted down coat. She turned to look at us through round black spectacles, greeted us, then asked without blinking if we would use her phone to shoot a video while she spread ashes over The Basin. Andy explained that her mother had died the year before and that she was traveling literally across the globe to sprinkle her mother’s remains in meaningful places. I accepted her phone and awesome responsibility, asked how to manipulate the video controls, and proceeded to miss the shot as she sprinkled her mother over the swirling water. I was crushed, having failed to capture this once-in-a-lifetime moment. I confessed as such to Andy and waited for tears to fall in response, but she simply smiled and said, “Don’t worry. Let’s try again.” More of her mother remained in a ziplock plastic bag, and fortunately I got it right the second time.

Grace is not escape; it is engagement at the highest level of risk, and forgiveness is the remedy for everything. This is why the chief of sinners was also the most prolific evangelist and church planter the world has ever known. Fortunately for me and you, we are forgiven, not only for past failures, but for all future blunders we’ve yet to commit, what Piper calls “Future Grace.” The only possible way to avoid hypocrisy and self-loathing is to step ever deeper inside the labyrinth of forgiveness. We were never intended to wander looking sadly behind, lost in a world of anonymous bridges. Forgiveness begins with believing in Jesus Christ; it flourishes as we forgive ourselves. But which sins are forgiven? “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake” (1 John 2:12/ NASB). Our English Bibles do not grant the fullest sense of the Greek word translated as simply “forgiven.” The Greek tense is a perfect participle, referring to something that has occurred in the past and is continuing into the present. This means that all of the past and present sins of Christians have been erased, never to be recalled. We are pardoned not because we actively confess our sins each day, but because God declared us “whole” the moment we truly believed. 

After Andy walked away with her mother in her pocket, I watched a leaf surrender today to the cold and pirouette into the whirlpool. I oddly felt sorry for the Sugar Maples, dropping what they worked so hard to nurture and retain, but I watched as other leaves followed suit. Forgiveness means the final curtain never has to fall; this moment is not the final word for those who live by Grace.

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