As 2018 gave way to 2019, I found myself in a village (pictured below) haunted by sins both past and present.
On a drizzly New Year’s Day, a village of over 300 people silently filed into a large field of white sandstone. The people were covered from head to toe in rags and ashes.
Once everyone was seated, three village leaders came to the front and presented some invited pastors with a confession and an offering… a coin for every soul in the village. Their confession included a litany of wrongs, ranging from sorcery and murder to drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
From where I sat, the proceedings felt serious and solemn. They sincerely felt that their present sufferings and difficult lives were a direct result of black magic and bad behavior. They wanted forgiveness. They wanted a cure for the curse in which they found themselves. And so they sought for it in the best way they knew how—community confession, an offering, and prayer. The invited pastors each took turns praying for the crowd.
After the prayer, all the pastors and some other special guests (a policeman and a physician) all gave the community advice on how to make their lives better. They called people to go to church, to follow laws, and to stop following some ancestral traditions. It seemed that being better was the solution to being bad.
Did it work? Was the curse lifted? Are the people forgiven? I asked these questions to some of the leaders and pastors in the days following the meeting. All were unsure. Forgiveness for them was a foggy subject. Evidently, this is the third time this particular village has tried this tactic to obtain absolution. “What could they do differently?” I ask. Again, fog. One man suggests they just need to stop behaving so badly. He says the whole confession is just a drama without the commitment to real change. Another thinks that perhaps the curse is stronger than the remedy—their sins are grievous after all. Still another thinks the problem is bigger than that one village. Perhaps the whole mountain range needs to get together and humble themselves like this village did. Then maybe peace will come.
Dear reader, what about you? Have you felt the guilt of your past? Have you been humbled by the weight of your sins? Have you seen the effects of a curse in your life? If not, may I encourage you to pick up the Bible and meet the God you’ll find there—perfect and just in all that he does. Anyone who has truly met the Lord has felt the uncleanness of his or her soul. Adam and Eve hid from his presence (Genesis 3:8). The Israelites feared to come near to him on Sinai (Exodus 20:18-19). Isaiah cried, “Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:5). And Peter sitting in a boat with the God-man, Jesus Christ, pled with him to depart from him after seeing just a fraction of his glory (Luke 5:8).
Perhaps you are humbled by your past or even overwhelmed by your transgressions. If so, please do not settle for foggy forgiveness. Our penance and platitudes are no match for guilt and no remedy for sin. There is bright and clear good news for you, for me, and for any tribe, tongue, or nation (Romans 3:22). The good news is this: Jesus, the Son of God, came into this world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He came to forgive those who hunger and thirst for a life free from sin (Matthew 5:6). He forgives based on what he has done and not on any merit or work of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
As I see more and more of my own sinfulness, I discover more and more about the great forgiveness of God in His Word. I need it desperately. My pastor and friend, Tom Angstead, has often reminded me of the famous quote: “I am just a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.” If you don’t know where to find sweet, satisfying, life-giving forgiveness, I am telling you now. And someday soon, Lord-willing, I will know enough of the language here to pass on the good news to those living in these mountains as well.
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