I have a problem with forgiveness.
My problem is that I tend to have a guilty conscious whenever I am trying to figure out if I have truly forgiven someone. Most times, as is the increasing habit of people these days, the person never apologizes or asks for forgiveness when they know they have wronged me. But regardless, I do forgive them….or at least I make every effort to forgive them and wind up feeling like maybe I really didn’t forgive them after all because things have “changed” between us.
Moreover, I find myself doing everything possible to “patch things up” between us. I’ll go out of my way for the person, even while still trying to overlook the offense because I just want everything to be peaceable at all times. Truly, I don’t like the dissonance that is created when an offense has taken place. Granted, that means that I am really quick to ask for forgiveness when I know I’ve done something wrong, but it also means that I won’t even encourage the person who has offended me to legitimately reconcile. Although I want the person to apologize and recognize what they did wrong, I really don’t even wait for it. I won’t even bring it up. I just try to fix the tension between us by doing a bunch of stuff to make the other person happy. And when I feel some kind of way when it’s all over, I chalk it up to the fact that I still need to really forgive them….you know, like the way God forgives me.
So as you can see, I have a problem (or really, some problems) with forgiveness. And yesterday, all of these thoughts were stirred up as I listened to the latest podcast from the Mortification of Spin. Todd Pruitt and Aimee Byrd were discussing the relationship between repentance and forgiveness and whether we should forgive people who don’t repent and so on. It was a really good podcast, and I think it’s definitely worth the listen. So after pondering and praying about this for a while, I got to throw it all at my husband last night (he gets a lot of things thrown at him) to see if he could offer me some better insight on the matter, and he delivered! Now, he did say that this would likely get some backlash, but it is the division in his mind that he has kept to deal with social interactions and matters of exploitation.
Basically, he said that as Christians we have a responsibility and duty to forgive others. Forgiveness is the baseline that we must meet with everyone. Jesus instructed Peter that he should continue to forgive a brother, no matter how many times that brother sinned against him (Matthew 18:21-22 and Luke 17:3-4). Forgiveness is not looking for anyone to “pay back” the offense, but just wiping the slate clean and going forward. And we all find it easier to forgive people who have acknowledged their sins against us, but even if they never do, we are still called to forgive them. Moreover, and this was mentioned in the podcast, we also have a duty to always hold forth the opportunity for full reconciliation in the relationship. If the person comes back years later and asks for forgiveness, we ought not to reject them and refuse to acknowledge it.
But my husband drew a line here that was hard to initially hear, but it eventually sunk in. He said that although forgiveness is the baseline we must meet, the trust that lies above that baseline must be earned. So you can genuinely forgive someone and not trust them. Now, my immediate response was, “But that’s not nice! I mean, when you forgive someone, shouldn’t it be all the way? No conditions or anything like that?” To which my husband responded, “Nice? Being nice is not in the Bible. No one in the Bible was commended about being nice.” And of course, when I thought about it, being nice is not a fruit of the Spirit.
And he went on to present examples like if someone sexual assaults your child. As a Christian, you would have to forgive them. However, would you leave your child alone with that person? And that reminded me of an example used in the podcast about someone coming in your home and stealing money from you. You’re called to forgive them each time, but at some point, you should probably exercise common sense and put your wallet away before they show up.
And you know, it makes sense. It really does, but it’s still hard. It’s hard for me to admit to myself that while I do forgive someone, I really don’t trust them that much anymore. It feels incomplete. And it is even more difficult to admit that to the other person. I’ve been in that position of having to say that the trust is broken, although I forgive them and that it will have to be worked on. I feel horrible because it feels like a deficiency on my part to not be able to trust them completely as before. And as I pondered on this, my husband mentioned that although God does forgive us for our sins, He has never trusted us with our own salvation, but worked that out on His own accord applying the work to our account.
We have a duty as Christians to be quick to forgive, but we are also called to use wisdom in this world. We are called to encourage and exhort others, but we are also called to lovingly rebuke as well. We are called to love others and be patient and gentle, but we’re not called to just be nice to avoid tension and conflict. Paul told Timothy that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
If this is the case, that people around us will continue to grow more wicked, are we preparing ourselves for the inevitable sins and offenses that will be committed against us? Are we thinking rightly about forgiveness? Are we giving any forethought into how we can walk wisely in such an evil age? And what would that wisdom encompass? Do we have an inherent belief that being constantly exploited is a part of the Christian life? Do we believe that trying to avoid being exploited is not having a Christ-like attitude? Are we considering the words of Christ when he sent out the twelve and told them “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”? And then, on the other side, what are the consequences of misunderstanding forgiveness? How can Satan use a weak understanding of forgiveness and a tender conscious against us? What are the perils of not growing in wisdom?
So, yes, as always, I have lots of thoughts and questions around this topic. But I do appreciate my husband’s insight, and I thought it was worth sharing. I think that I need to “build a bridge” over my desire to not recognize sins and offenses against me and speak with people when it does happen. I think that I also need to recognize more often when trust has legitimately been broken and probably let people know too. I think that I also need to stop just being “nice” to people, but be more honest and sincere in my relationships. And I also need to spend more time pursuing wisdom as well. I can only imagine that situations will become more challenging as I get older, and knowing how to live a godly life in a godless age takes considerable skill. But I’m open to hearing your thoughts on the matter too. So, if you having any good suggestions, please share!
Blessings to you!
One Final Thought:
I also considered these questions in relation to the ongoing topic of racial reconciliation within the Church. We know apologies and repentance have been made already. Have people truly forgiven and wiped the slate clean? Is there just a lack of trust issue really going on now? And if it is a lack of trust, are people willing to admit that and accept it? And are people willing to accept that it takes a LONG time to rebuild trust after it’s been broken?….and that trust will not be earned through guilt-tripping and putting burdens on others to bear. Just some final thoughts on that topic.