This was my first step in understanding how to forgive, and why: “…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”—Luke 23:34.

We lack the infinite wisdom that’s necessary to judge someone. We don’t know everything, and so we’re unable to make informed decisions. It’s a miracle we ever do anything right. Therefore, forgiveness should be automatic, right? Though I see Jesus’ quote from the cross as the first step, and all that really matters at the end of the day, there is a second step.

We know exactly what we’re doing when we sin.

“And, behold, one [rich young ruler] came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”—Matthew 19:16.

Since he asked what he should do, he must not have known the answer.

“And [Jesus] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God; but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”—Matthew 19:17.

Instead of just telling the young man to follow the Ten Commandments, Jesus added a seemingly tangential definition of what is good. At first I thought he was making fun of the fancy man—come to hang out with all the cool kids. But we aren’t talking about some snarky teenager.

Though we might throw the word around, especially in more formal settings (my good sir), only God is good. Does that mean we aren’t even capable of doing what’s right?

“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed; saying, Who then can be saved? / But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:25-26.

But we’re jumping ahead in the story. After Jesus told the rich young ruler to follow the Commandments, which would seem pretty obvious, the young man asked which ones he should follow. To me, he might as well have asked which laws he should follow, so that he doesn’t break the law. The answer is all of them! Jesus had patience, though, and spelled it out even further.

“He said unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, / Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”—Matthew 19:18-19.

Jesus cut the Ten Commandments in half, and attached the Golden Rule. Still, he wasn’t specific enough for that rich ruler.

“The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?”—Matthew 19:20.

That was the point I started thinking, we know when we sin.

Did he actually believe he’d kept the Commandments for his entire life? Had he never broken the Golden Rule, even before Jesus stated it as the ultimate goal of his lessons?

“…He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”—John 8:7.

None of us are without sin. We all make mistakes. Remember, Jesus said that only God was/is good. Was the ruler lying to himself? Maybe he lacked the introspection to recognize that he’d sinned.

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”—Matthew 19:21.

That changed his tune. Don’t just give everything away, but sell it all, and give the money to the poor, then leave your old life, and follow Jesus.

He asked how to get eternal life, as if he didn’t already know. When he was told to follow the Commandments and Golden Rule, he said that he’d been doing so all his life. Therefore, he did know how to attain eternal life. But he wanted to be “perfect.” Despite his bravado, what he did next showed his true colors:

“But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”—Matthew 19:22.

At the start of their exchange, the rich young ruler thought he had it all under control. He had never sinned, and was hoping that whatever Jesus claimed he lacked, he could then respond how he’d been doing that all his life too. When he found out the truth, he turned away, because he knew that he could never be perfect.

The Bible has many such stories of people doing what they know to be wrong.

Adam and Eve:

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”—Genesis 2:17.

Lot’s wife:

“…Escape for thy life; look not behind thee…/ But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”—Genesis 19:17, 26.

Most of the time, it was only one thing they couldn’t do, one simple act. In Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples fell asleep three times, when they were supposed to be guarding him.

“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”—Matthew 26:41.

That’s our biggest problem: strong spirit, weak flesh. In other words, our physical lives take precedence over our spiritual needs; or, as Jesus put it:

“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”—Matthew 19:24.

That doesn’t apply to just literal riches, like gold. Instead it could mean any earthly, physical possession that means more to us than loving our neighbors; I’ve always interpreted the first commandment (No other Gods before me) in that way. Maybe that meant God was jealous. But I think it’s a reminder that we can serve only one master; only one thing can be first in our lives.

Think of what you put first; consider what you would (or wouldn’t) do to protect it; and ask yourself if you’d be willing to give it up, surrender this all-consuming part of your life. Also, think of what you do that isn’t healthy, that benefits only you (possibly at other’s expense); be honest. We can’t just confess our sins to a priest; we must confess them to ourselves. Now think of giving up all those sins.

For me, smoking is a big one. I can’t give it up! I won’t! But I need to, badly. I just lack the strength. Like Eve, I know that, by smoking, I shall surely die. First, I have to forgive myself for being so stupid. Then, I have to accept that I did this knowingly. Finally, I have to find the strength to surrender a sin that I’ve come to depend on.

“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed; saying, Who then can be saved? / But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:25-26.

Since I’ve reached the second step of forgiveness, accepting that my sins are deliberate, maybe it’s time for my second step in understanding God. The first, if you’ll recall from earlier essays, was this: God = Love. At the end of the day, that’s all I really need to know. But since God’s presence accomplishes what would be impossible for me, I feel there is a greater understanding required.

“Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”—Psalm 23:4.

Thou art with me: omnipresence.

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yeah, I will help thee; yeah, I will aphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”—Isaiah 41:10.

I will strengthen thee.

God gives us strength. God is everywhere, everything.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”—John 1:3.

Look to your right. What’s the first thing you see? Whatever it is, God is there; He made it, and exists as it. That person or object deserves the same love and respect you’d give to God. Look to your left. Whatever you see, that is also God—both of them, left and right. Stop and consider them.

This is why we love our neighbors. They, and everything you see, and everything you don’t, it is all God. This is where our strength comes from.

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: / Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:20-21.

Not just within you, but within everyone and everything. You can gain strength to accomplish the impossible just by looking to your right, and loving what you see. This is what empowers us to forgive.