Is there such a concept as ‘I can’t forgive myself’?

I am currently re-reading the book I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas A. Harris – and if you’re on FB, you probably know this already. This book triggered a turning point for me fourteen years ago when I was in a pretty dark place. I am not reading it for help at this point in time (although it is proving very useful going over the concepts it covers again – concepts I’d completely forgotten), but one of the things I’ve been interested in was to find the section that had triggered the turning point. As near as I can tell, the section I quote below is ‘it’ – the only problem is, I clearly did a huge amount of associated thinking at the time, because the principles I’ve lived by ever since are not in themselves reflected below. Principles that I’ll outline following the quote.

The following description by Tillich in The New Being seems to come close to how the religious experience feels. He begins by asking, ‘Do you know what it means to be struck by grace?’ (I would like to paraphrase: Do you know what it means to experience I’M OK – YOU’RE OK?) In answer he says:

It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the Saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. To believe that something is, is almost contrary to the meaning of grace. Furthermore, grace does not mean simply that we are making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against society. Moral progress may be a fruit of grace; but it is not grace itself, and it can even prevent us from receiving grace … And certainly [grace] does not happen … so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel our separation is deeper than usual, because we violated another life. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted,’ accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted! If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before, but everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presuppositions, nothing but acceptance. In the light of this grace, we perceive the power of grace in our relation to others and to ourselves. We experience the grace of being able to look frankly into the eyes of another, the miraculous grace of reunion of life with life. [Emphasis mine.]

The realisation that struck me at the time was that, by saying ‘I can’t forgive myself’, I placed my own standards above that of God’s – and that to me was anathema. It was at this point I realised that Jesus’ death at Calvary was ‘enough’. That He had died knowing I would make a mistake and yet He died. I was loved and accepted.

As you can see, none of my line of thinking really stems from the passage quoted, but it was definitely reading it that triggered it. Apparently it was just what I needed to hear.

So if you’ve ever heard me say ‘There’s no such thing as “I can’t forgive myself”.’ – that’s why.


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