For many people, the hardest person to forgive is oneself. Groucho Markx captured this in his resignation from a club by writing: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” This self-defeating quip implies, “I can’t believe in a God who could love me as I am or forgive me after what I’ve done.” But the good news is Jesus came and spent time with those on the edges of society.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
— Luke 15:1-2 (NRSV)
Many people feel that forgiveness requires atoning for all of one’s previous misdeeds and living a righteous life every day in the future. Constantine may have exemplified this misbelief by delaying his baptism and confession of faith until he was on his death-bed. People cannot achieve perfection, only God. Thus the good news is that repentance is a continually turning toward God.
Forgiving oneself has practical implications. I experience this regularly with my back exercises. When I exercise regularly my back feels fine. Occasionally I miss exercising due to an early appointment or another distraction. And having missed once or twice in a row, skipping one more day becomes more likely. I could get angry at myself for not taking good care of my body, or I could forgive myself an begin anew, to repent and turn back toward taking care of the body that God gave me.