I am envious of the one who says, “God has forgiven me.” Not because I believe God really has forgiven them, mind, but for having that certainty which allows them to move on. That is some kind of freedom.
For my part, I hope that God will forgive me for all that I have done wrong, but in truth, mostly I am haunted by my mistakes, great and small. At night, when in contemplative mood, they frequently keep me awake. Lying on my side, as each moment of idiocy creeps across my mind, I beg my Lord for forgiveness, pleading that He veils my sins and replaces my evil deeds with good.
Hope comes from our book, wherein our Lord follows up every threat of retribution for our sins with the chance to repent and reform:
Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them God will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is God Forgiving and Merciful. — Quran 25:70
So there is hope, yes, but no certainty, for what happens after we repent is key: to leave what we have been doing, to correct our intentions and then focus performing beneficial actions thereafter. If, on the other hand, we repent only to return to our sins soon afterwards, as is often the case with anyone afflicted by addiction, that hope is tempered by our reality. Hope that God will forgive us again and again and again, each time we are stirred by conscience to return, but fear that we are deluded, erroneously ascribing to ourselves sincerity, when we are simply destined to sink lower and lower, and move further and further from His clemency.
When I ponder my own mountain of sins, there are three kinds that trouble me. The first are those strictly between me and my Lord: malevolent thoughts, bad intentions, bad deeds done in secret, good deeds delayed. Such sins are, perhaps, more easily rectified, if only I could escape them and break free. The second kind are those in which other people have been involved indirectly, whether in thought or as a consequence of ill-considered actions. Perhaps this one is too esoteric to articulate properly, but deeds of this kind keep me awake at night nevertheless.
The third kind, however, are completely different. These are those pervasive deeds that have directly impacted other people, the recollection of which perpetually plague me. In those actions, wherein I have wronged other people, there is the feeling of constant agitation. Sometimes it is possible to apologise, in which case a sense of relief may eventually emerge, but all too often these wounds remain open to fester, until it seems that there is nothing we can do to free ourselves from what we have done. It is deeds of this kind that torment me, forever apprehensive about my end.
In truth, none of us can say that God has forgiven us. Only on that awesome day, the like of which is 50,000 years — when we will stand before Him to be held to account for our deeds — only then will we know whether we have been forgiven for all the evil we did, or if our meagre good deeds will be taken away from us to compensate those that we wronged in life. That is my great fear.
And yet, in life we encounter those who tell us that they know that God has forgiven them. They cite the reaction of those they love, or a good dream which bestowed calm. Good for them, I say, but there are many reasons people stand by us, even when we are wrong. Loyalty to family, friends or tribe is one reason. Preservation of a way of life is another. Fear or dependency might figure in the reaction of others, or blind love, unrealistic belief, or profound hope. We may take the reaction of others as sign, indicative of God’s mercy, but we ought to be careful not to confuse the reaction of our our friends and family with the will of God.
If we claim to have repented, but then continue to lie to cover for what we have done, how can we truly believe that we have been forgiven? If we claim to have repented, but continue to attack those we have wronged, how on earth can we claim to be sincere? If you sincerely believe that God has forgiven you, whilst you continue to persists in wrongdoing, it may be time to ask yourself whether you might be deluded?
Perhaps this is why I am so anxious about my mountains of sins. Not because I have not tried to free myself from them, but because I know I have returned to them so frequently. It is that eternal curse of addiction, in which we return over and over to bad deeds, despite that once sincere conviction that we would leave them for good. Can any of us really, truthfully say that God has forgiven us, when we have so many unresolved issues coalescing all around us?
And he who repents and does righteousness does indeed turn to God with repentance. And they are those who do not testify to falsehood, and when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity. And those who, when reminded of the signs of their Lord, do not fall upon them deaf and blind. — Quran 25:71-3
Words such as these are a cause of hope for me, if only I could supplant the bad that I do with righteous deeds that are beneficial to myself and others. Naturally I wish the same for my brothers and sisters in faith, regardless of what they have done. Naturally I wish that God forgives the one who has stopped wronging others, even if he cannot make amends with those he has wronged, just as I hope that God will forgive me. But, alas, until we are raised again from our graves, our fingertips recreated from dust, none of us can claim safety. All we can do is repent, over and over, and resolve to do good in what remains of our time.