A quick Google search on “how many times will God forgive me” yields over 115 million hits in one second. Clearly, we have questions about God’s capacity to forgive.
When our life seems shot-through with poor decisions or layered with one ill-conceived plan after another, guilt hangs heavy like a weighted blanket around our shoulders. Memories of our sinful choices flood our minds, reminding us how far we’ve strayed from the God of love who formed us. Even if we’ve returned to God, we may still doubt that his well of forgiveness is expansive enough to wash away all our unrighteousness. And we find ourselves wondering, How many times will God forgive me if I can’t even forgive myself?
Tucked squarely in the middle of Scripture we read two beautiful verses describing God’s character.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
We turn to these oft-quoted verses when we find ourselves unable to explain away a tragedy or understand how God is moving.
- When the diagnosis is cancer.
- If the layoff strikes your family.
- If the unfaithful spouse is your own.
- When the world suffers through a lingering pandemic.
Quoting these verses when the unexplainable happens helps us hold onto some semblance of understanding—even if it’s just to say, “I understand that God doesn’t act like I would.” But these verses weren’t written to remind us that God is still good and still at work even in times that seem very dark. These verses were written to assure us that we can never out-sin God’s capacity to forgive.
Forgiveness is for everyone
Nestled in the midst of eight chapters dedicated to revealing the life, ministry, and redemptive work of the coming Messiah, the 55th chapter of Isaiah reads like a personalized invitation to everyone to come to him. Not just those who’ve cleaned up their lives. Not just the righteous. Even those who recognize their own wickedness are invited to come.
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
The invitation is as clear as it is certain. Seek the Lord, call on him, leave behind your old ways and thought patterns, and return to God. And the promise? God will have compassion on everyone who returns and will abundantly pardon him.
How can this be? Surely, even God must have a limit to his capacity to forgive.
God’s forgiveness is limitless
God’s explanation appears before the prophet Isaiah even has time to inquire how it can be that God would so lavishly forgive even the most grievous and shameful of our sins. Simply put, God doesn’t think like we think. Nor does he act like we would. His way of responding to our sinfulness is beyond our understanding. His capacity to forgive is as far removed from ours as the heavens are higher than the earth.
God tells us his ways are higher than our ways not so we have a canned explanation for someone’s suffering. Those verses are not addressed to the one going through a difficult time. They are addressed to the one who is so aware of his sin that he identifies himself as wicked, unrighteous, and unforgivable. To this person, the Messiah, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, declares, Come to me all you unrighteous ones, for I will abundantly pardon you. Don’t ask to understand why. My capacity to forgive will never be outpaced by your capacity to sin. My thoughts, my ways, my love are so much higher than yours.
The chapter concludes with God’s promise for everyone who comes to him—irrespective of what sin they’ve committed, or re-committed—forgiveness, joy, and peace.
How many times will God forgive me? There is no limit to how many times God will forgive you because his forgiveness knows no bounds. Are you thirsty today for true forgiveness, joy, and peace? Then come! “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; you who have no money, come, buy, and eat!”