Ever feel like you’ve done something so horrible even God can’t forgive you? Think again…
Hospitals are a strange, kind of surreal place for me; not because I’m afraid of germs or death or anything like that. It’s just that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve visited so it’s weird. There was that time Aunt Jean’s appendix burst and once when my cousin had his tonsils out; not exactly dire stuff.
As the son of the most eminent pastor in town and with a call on my own life to the ministry, I know some hospital visitation will be necessary. My father has been mentoring me and it’s expected one day I’ll assume the lead pastor role, but visitations are something I’ve only seen once or twice.
This time is different. I take a deep breath as I make my way up the hall and stop just outside the open door of one of the rooms. Peeking in, I see her face turned toward the wall. She doesn’t know I’m coming.
My heart breaks as I observe the empty stare and I hesitate. I almost don’t recognize her.
Best friends, we grew up together. Our families were close, and everyone assumed that soon after we graduated, with my acceptance of a paid position at the church, that we would get married. It was something I expected too, though I hadn’t told her.
She surprised me when she shared that she’d been accepted to a prestigious university. It was a great opportunity and she wanted to establish her independence, make sure of what she wanted for her future and to get her degree.
Never one to stand in her way, I had kept my misgivings to myself and she’d gone. Over time our discussions became strained, communication spotty and then non-existent. I had taken to intercession for both her faith and her future. It didn’t matter so much whether we ended up serving together, as long as she didn’t get lost. That was two years ago.
She must have sensed someone was there because her head turned slowly toward the open door. Her forehead wrinkled in a foggy frown, her voice was raspy and quiet. “What are you doing here?”
Crossing the distance to her bed, I took her hand in mine, and though I’d known it would be there, was stunned by the bandage around her wrist and tried, unsuccessfully to pretend I didn’t notice.
Snatching her hand away, she averted her eyes.
“I came to see if you’re all right.” Even I knew how lame that sounded.
“Uhhh, duh?” Her tone was dully sarcastic.
“Right.” I responded, just as I always had when she pointed out the obvious. With genuine compassion, I added. “I want to help, Chelse.”
“You can’t help me.” She replied, still turned away.
“I’d like to try.” I took a breath. “What happened?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
That stung. We’d always told each other everything… at least before. I could see how much things had changed; got an inkling how much she must be hurting. It made me hurt for her. “You could always tell me anything. You still can.”
Shaking her head, she declared. “No. I couldn’t bear it.”
“Chelsea,” I said firmly. “You know I care about you. Let me help you.”
Her head still shaking, she refused to look at me as her voice went so soft, it was almost inaudible. “You have no idea what I’ve done.”
“Maybe not.” I replied, and I wouldn’t press her but the girl I knew had been so sweet, so kind and generous, I couldn’t imagine her doing anything really awful. “And I don’t need to know if you don’t want to tell me. But you and I both know, there’s nothing you could do that Jesus won’t forgive.”
“No, you’re wrong.” She swallowed. “You know there’s such a thing as the unpardonable sin.”
It surprised me. How could this girl I’d known and loved my entire life possibly think she’d committed a sin that couldn’t be forgiven, or even prayed about? “You think you’ve committed the unpardonable sin?”
“Don’t mock me.’
“I would never…” I assured. “But you know the bible tells us there are conditions for that.”
“I know.” The pain in her voice sounded so deep, it seemed to fill the room.
“I can’t believe you think that’s you.”
“And why not? If you knew the things I’ve said and done…”
“Well, for one thing, it’s hurting you.” I explained. “If you’d really committed the unpardonable sin, you wouldn’t care.”
Encouraged, I continued. “Can you truly say that you’ve made the blood of Jesus of no effect? That your words and actions have crucified him again, where you’re concerned?”
“Maybe.” Now she looked at me. “I haven’t openly denied him with my words exactly, but I betrayed everything I knew and everything I believed — even knowing it was wrong.”
“Your heart was condemning you.”
“Yes, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself and every time it just got easier and… I don’t know how He could forgive me or want me after… I did something truly horrible.”
Checking my curiosity – after all what could she possibly have done that was so terrible? – I let my compassion come forward. “Because that’s who He is, and that’s why He did what He did. Don’t you see?”
Shaking her head again, her confusion showed.
“Jesus forgave the very people who put Him on the cross. Nothing you could have done compares with that.”
“But I’ve betrayed Him.”
“Well,” I said with a smile, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. “I have good news for you.”
“What good news?”
“A tale of two men.”
“Just listen.” Shifting position, I got comfortable. “You’ve read the bible enough to know that when Jesus began His earthy ministry, He prayed all night before He began to choose the men who would be His disciples. He said repeatedly that He said nothing He didn’t hear His father say and did nothing He didn’t see His Father do. Jesus chose them, just like He chose you.”
She appeared skeptical but nodded.
I had her attention. It was progress. “For three and a half years, those men walked with Jesus — in the flesh. They healed the sick, cast out devils and preached everywhere they went with the authority Jesus had given them. Even Judas.”
Her face wrinkled.
“Jesus knew he would betray Him and yet He allowed him to control the money, even though He knew he was stealing. He had a part in everything they did.”
Quiet again, she offered. “Yes, and look what happened to him.”
“Well that’s just it, Chelse.” I took a breath. “The bible says that worldly sorrow produces death, but godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation and healing.”
“What does that mean?”
“Judas betrayed Jesus. When he saw the consequences of what he’d done, he was sorry. He went to give the money back, but the Pharisees wouldn’t take it. So consumed with guilt, he went and hanged himself.”
Subtly, she slipped her bandaged wrist under the cover blanket.
“Don’t you see?” I urged.
“No. Judas is in hell. He’s called the son of perdition.”
“That’s because he never repented. He was sorry, but it wasn’t godly sorrow. I personally believe he thought he’d get by with it and Jesus wouldn’t suffer. After all, he’d seen Jesus avoid the wrath of the leaders in any tangible way for three and a half years.” I could see a spark in her eyes. “If he’d gone to Jesus, Jesus would have restored him. He could have been mightily used of God in ministry. What a testimony that would have been to the grace and goodness of God.”
Chelsea’s expression turned wistful.
“Now the other man, one of Jesus’ closest associates — Peter. Not only did he deny Jesus three times, he spewed curses while doing it. But Peter’s remorse brought him to Jesus. Jesus not only forgave him, He restored him. Peter preached the first evangelistic sermon that brought three thousand souls into the kingdom and he went on to have a mighty ministry as a church elder.”
Chelsea appeared thoughtful. “But I’m not Peter. I’m more like Judas….”
“No, you aren’t.” I assured firmly. “The very fact that you were concerned with hurting the heart of God shows that. Judas was more worried about himself. Peter wept bitterly; knowing he’d betrayed his Lord. And Chelse, God has a plan for you, just like he did both those men. He needs you.”
She looked away again and her voice went quiet. “How could He possibly need me?”
“Because He had a plan for you before the foundation of the world. None of this is a surprise to Him.” Now I dropped my voice. “And because I need you.”
“I have loved you all my life. I think you know that.” I swallowed hard. Even unsure how it would go over, now wasn’t the time to play around. “You’re the temper to my steel. I need you beside me to fulfill God’s plan for my life.”
Her eyes filled, her head shaking involuntarily. “But I… turned my back… Betrayed you. And I’ve done things… I don’t deserve someone like you.”
My smile was genuine. “None of us deserves anything but to die and go to hell but God is merciful. It’s why He sent Jesus.”
“How could you still love me after all I’ve done?”
“Because God is love and His love is shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit.”
“I feel so dirty; so unworthy. This sin… this weight. And I’ve failed…”
Taking her hand in mine, I lightly kissed the bandage. “This is one time I believe Jesus and I are both glad you failed.”
Tears slowly escaped down the side of her face.
“Chelsea, the only unpardonable sin is the one you don’t confess to God and receive His forgiveness and cleansing for.”
“You really believe that?”
“Of course. The Apostle John, the Apostle of Love, said we could be forgiven if we’d confess it to God in 1 John 1:9.” I could see the hope rise in her eyes. “Can you do that? Can you confess it to God and receive His forgiveness?”
“I won’t ask you to share it with me. It’s none of my business.”
Shaking my head adamantly, I reiterated. “No. I don’t want to know. Once it’s under the blood, it’s gone.”
She nodded as she squeezed my hand. “I’d like to be alone for a minute. Do you mind?”
“How about I go get some coffee and come back? Will that give you enough time?”
I started for the door.
“Hey,” she called, her voice already stronger.
Turning, I felt gratified to see a genuine smile.
“For never giving up on me and for… loving me.”
My own emotions were on the surface, so I just gave a quick nod. My heart soared as I walked down the hall to the coffee machine. Dawdling there, sipping my beverage, I waited for what I thought would be enough time.
Her eyes were bright and her entire countenance peaceful like the girl I’d known when I returned. Even her tone had changed to one of hope and enthusiasm. “Now what?”
I grinned. “Forgetting those things that lie behind, we press on to the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus because the path of the righteous gets brighter and brighter to the midday sun.”