Does forgiving let my offender off the hook?

Today we’re continuing in our forgiveness series, debunking the myth –

“If I forgive, I’m letting my offender off the hook of responsibility.”

Off the hook

Like most myths this one has both falsehood and truth.

Let’s start with the truth …
In Jesus’ parable of the “Unmerciful Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35, Christ’s example of forgiveness is illustrated by the offended one {“the King,” who represents Christ} being willing to let go of any punishment or repayment by the offender—absorbing the loss and paying the cost.

So the truth is that forgiving someone costs us something, especially since our offender may not be able to repay us or undo the damage. (I’ll unpack the issue of amends, losses and reconciliation in weeks to come.*) Thankfully, true forgiveness doesn’t hinge on receiving repayment. Some losses must be surrendered to our faithful and redeeming Lord and left at that.

Furthermore, when we forgive someone, we’re making an agreement with God to leave the matter at His feet for Him to convict, discipline or even punish our offender (Deut. 32:35a, Rom. 12:19). We may or may not even tell our offender about our decision to forgive, especially if our offender, or our relationship with our offender, might be harmed by this knowledge.*

Now to the falsehood of this myth …
Asking for our offender to take responsibility is “incongruent” with and even invalidates our forgiveness of our offender.

There’s a deeply theological Greek word for this – Bologna! {wink, wink}

Again, in Jesus’ parable in Matthew, we see “repayment” or amends being made {when it can be made} as an example of the offender’s sincerity and true contriteness.

But even though it’s a demonstration of “sincerity” by our offender, it’s never something we should demand. And it’s certainly not necessary for us to do our part—forgiving and releasing our offender to Christ.

Asking {not demanding} our offender to “take responsibility” comes as we attempt to reconcile. In fact, asking for this may be {and often is} what’s necessary for the health and rebuilding of our relationship with our offender, but is not necessary for forgiveness.

Ultimately, reconciliation requires our offender to “take responsibility” {to make amends where possible and respect our boundaries moving forward}.

Forgiveness accepts the loss and extends mercy and grace to the offender.

Forgiveness is for our heart’s sake, our uninterrupted communion with God, and also helps to heal our relationship with our offender. But forgiveness is not based upon whether our offender takes or responsibility or not. When that’s our expectation in order to forgive, it becomes codependency or enmeshment. Instead forgiveness should be our sacrificial response to God’s command.

Bottom line –

Forgiveness doesn’t need reconciliation or our offender’s willingness to “take responsibility” to be complete, but “reconciliation” is built upon the foundation of forgiveness.

 

Do you agree or disagree? What parts don’t add up for you?

 

What other misconceptions or hesitations do you have about letting your offender “off the hook” when forgiving?

 

This is #11 in our forgiveness series. Click the link to access #10 – Does Forgiving Say It Was Okay?

* I will be addressing these particular issues in posts to follow in this forgiveness series.

 

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Joining with  Works for Me Wednesday, To Love Honor and Vacuum, Whimsical Wednesday and Wholehearted Wednesday

 

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  • I’ve gotta tell you, Beth, that God has used this series to prompt me to release several situations that I’ve held on to for too long. I have been on a forgiveness journey, and these weekly posts have propelled me forward big time. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, friend.

    • Really, Linda? That’s high praise coming from you, my friend. I don’t often get to hear how the studying I’ve done on a certain subject makes an impact, so this has truly brightened my day! But like most good things that come from me, it’s all God who speaks into and enables me to share “His wisdom!”

  • Mary

    Once again, your bottom line sums up a truth that has me truly thinking about forgiveness in a different light. I love that forgiveness accepts loss and extends mercy and grace to the offender. The second part that I had not thought about before is that reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness. You have a true gift for digging deep into this subject of forgiveness and for getting the reader to stop and think about what is true and what our misconceptions might be. Prayers and blessings for you!

    • It’s something of a complex and therefore confusing issue. I found myself writing and rewriting certain sentences because even just the shifting of a word here or there could distort the meaning I was trying to get across. I feel like I’ve just run a marathon after this and some other forgiveness posts, Mary! Whew! Can you see my glistening brow? (and no, I’m not talking about a halo, should you be confused) ha! And as far as reconciliation and forgiveness – that’s an often misunderstood aspect. People don’t understand how forgiveness stands on its own two feet. 🙂

  • bluecottonmemory

    Yes – leaving it at his feet. I can do this so much more easily with my husband – and ask God to open his eyes because I know he loves me – and he doesn’t intentionally hurt. There is a trust there.

    About 12 years ago, I was working through forgiveness for my dad – who hadn’t met my children. It was one of those classes God enrolls me in(smile) – and He mentors me. There was a process – recognizing the hurt, anger – and then came the forgiveness. I realized that forgiveness was a like a gift given – and that is my part – where my soul benefits and is healed. He would only benefit by actually accepting it upon request. It was a gift that he never picked up.

    This touched my heart: “we’re making an agreement with God to leave the matter at His feet for Him to convict, discipline or even punish our offender (Deut. 32:35a, Rom. 12:19). We
    may or may not even tell our offender about our decision to forgive,
    especially if our offender, or our relationship with our offender, might
    be harmed by this knowledge”

    I so like this series, Beth!

    • You’re right, Maryleigh. These truths and practices can be entered into so much easier with some than others who’ve repeatedly hurt us or don’t “get” how destructive they’re being. And yes, forgiveness is a decision wrapped in a process. We need both, but often just want to bite into the tootsie pop to get to that chewy center and miss the hard work that comes from daily surrendering and letting God refine our hearts as we untangle the hurts. Sorry for the candy metaphor! I think I need a snack! ha! Thanks so much for sharing how this touched you and has deepened your understanding of forgiveness. This series has challenged me as well–in the writing and especially in the applying! Hugs to you!

  • Again I say Beth, I am blessed. I don’t have to demand responsibility from the offender and I forgive in order to keep a free flow in my relationship with God. Thanks a lot Beth, this series have been many blessings to me, have a super blessed day!
    Love

    • Yes, there’s so much that we get caught up in with our bitterness. It bogs us down and all God wants is for us to surrender it at His feet. Thanks for your constant encouragement, Ugochi! You’re a sweetheart!

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  • Nan

    Oh I agree! Love this post. Loved what you said about true forgiveness not hinging on repayment. Because some things just can’t be repaid or “fixed.” And so we have to give it to the Lord, as you said.

    Many years ago we were going to adopt a precious little boy. We were excited and scared and we were ready! He was going to be turned over to us that week and the adoption proceedings finalized, and then they changed their minds and kept him.

    I was devastated and my husband and I had to sit our children down and explain it to our kids. How do you do that? Yet God graciously gave us the words and helped me hold it together while we explained it to them.

    I had a few people get angry on our behalf and ask “How could they DO this to you?”

    And I had to explain that they didn’t “do” anything to us. They weren’t trying to hurt us. They just made a decision of what was best for them, and their decision impacted our family. Sometimes things like that happen. People make choices for themselves that wind up hurting or impacting you in a negative way.

    It was hard because I felt like there was nothing to forgive because they hadn’t done anything on purpose to hurt us, so there was nothing to forgive them FOR. Yet I was hurting, deeply. So I had to forgive the fact that they hurt us, even though they didn’t MEAN to hurt us. And I realized that it’s o.k. to forgive even when you question whether, technically, there’s anything to forgive since it wasn’t intentional. And I learned that forgiveness doesn’t require that the transgression be intentional in order to forgive! 😉

    • JosephPote

      “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

    • Whenever you visit lately, Nan, you bring up so many other great nuances to our subject on forgiveness. I can tell that you’ve really studying and worked through/wrestled with this issue as well, my friend. Thanks for always adding an “ah ha” to our comment discussions.

    • Me

      I am glad you chose to behave like an adult in that situation, and recognize while your are hurting, they didn’t do anything wrong, it was their baby after all! Surely it is understandable, especially for those who are parents themselves, to know heart wrenching it is to give up your own flesh and blood up! I think as Christians, we need to be less selfish and try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoe a bit more.

      Do to others as you would like to do to you, even non Believers know that saying!

  • JosephPote

    Beth, with every new post in this series I’m smiling a bigger smile. Reading your words of validation are like healing balm for my soul. God has given you much wisdom in the area of forgiveness, and I appreicate how you’re unpacking it for the rest of us.

    • I’m so glad you feel that God is using it to heal your heart. He’s doing the same for me as I wrestle with this topic and pin down His truths. You’ve encouraged me, Joe! Thanks for your kindness.

  • Letting our offender off the hook. It does feel that way sometimes, doesn’t it, Beth? And at times like that I remind myself that I am an offender, too. My heart, though, seeks to remain in right standing with my Lord even when it is hurting or feeling used or angry. That helps me choose to let go, but it can be hard sometimes and I need to come back to this point of forgiving the offender and letting it go…

    • Oh yes, good point, Sheila! That’s what helps me to rein back in my pride and self-pity too! I know God called us to be “fishers of men” but this is a whole ‘nother hook that He wants us to get rid of! Thanks for stopping by to encourage and weigh in, girlfriend!

  • Kim Adams Morgan

    Hi Beth, been praying for you and hope you are doing well. I LOVE your bottom line sum up. I believe so many get hung up here and lost in anger and depression. Very well said and a wonderful post!

    • Thank you, Kim. And I do hope that this gives hope to those who are hung up as you’ve said with the bitterness and depression of a boundary-busting relationship. Thanks so much for your prayers too. That is the best kind of gift you could give me!

  • Marie Steinhardt

    Hi Beth, Thank you for helping me see things from a new perspective regarding forgiveness. More times than I care to admit, when I forgive someone, I think of it in terms of her/him and me, leaving God completely out of the mix. You’ve reminded me that forgiving someone is making an agreement with God that we are leaving the matter in His hands.

    • Yeah, this concept was a turning point for me in my understanding of forgiveness, Marie. There’s so much that we must filter through our relationship with Christ. It’s our relationship with Him that matter most of all. Love you, girlfriend!

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  • I just love how you are unpacking this Beth. I completely agree! I love this “forgiveness is not based upon whether our offender takes or responsibility or not..” It’s sometimes hard to walk that out 🙂 and I am just happy that true forgiveness is not based on feelings or emotions, rather it’s a decision..to be made as often as necessary. thanks for these reminders today.

    • Yes, Ngina, like most messy and “fallen” things in this life, forgiving our offender is by no means an easy task or free of pain. But God is so good to walk with us through these valleys and to remove the barriers of whether our offender “gets it” from the equation. Thanks for stopping by, my friend!

  • I love the challenges here for forgiveness…forgiveness not being tied to the other persons actions…or inactions…for me… reconciliation happened with my dad without him “owning” anything…we had a rough relationship growing up…when I came to the Lord, he kicked me out of the house…for a season…I lost everything…my college education( he was paying) but that was given back…home…family…it was a long road of forgiveness for me…to pray over and over…Father forgive him for he doesn’t know what he does…I continued to grow…and my dad continued to grow…8 years ago they moved here…and we are finishing stronger than I could have EVER…EVER imagined. …and I can honestly say…I hope we never have to go back and talk about the past…I think it would break his heart… I think it is evident when the other person is growing and changing…there is fruit…and if we are willing to wait …willing to let go of our pain being validated by the other person……but sometimes reconciliation can happen just like forgiveness… complete without being contingent “hashing it out” with the other person. Only God can lead each person through their pain…and I am so thankful…He can bring us to freedom though many avenues.

    • I think I recall you talking about your rocky relationship with your dad, Ro. I had something similar with my dad, although not as painful as your situation. God also blessed me with the opportunity to work through some of those hurts while my dad was still alive and this helped me to rebuild my relationship with him before he died of cancer years back. There’s so much that God can do in the singular space of our hearts that benefits others but doesn’t rely on them to “get it.” Thanks for stopping by, dear friend!

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot – and have found the dark center of my soul, in that I’ve seen some things that I simply can’t forgive. And I don’t want to forgive them.

    They were things done to others – which, I think, makes forgiveness harder. I can forgive my offenders, but witnessing the torment and destruction of the innocent mobilized something cold and bloody at my core. A red mist descended, and has never lifted.

    If these individuals repented in my presence, would I show mercy? Possibly. But none of those I met did, and thus no real soul-searching was needed.

    Looks like I have a very, very long way to go.

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2014/02/how-to-talk-to-your-husband.html

    • Oh, yes, Andrew! Forgiveness is often hardest when those we love have been hurt by an offender. I’m glad you’re moved by this and grappling with it still–being honest about that as well. My prayers go with you!

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  • KimberlyAmici

    I love this post. We can never hear or read too much about forgiveness. My favorite part is leaving the matter at God’s feet for Him to convict, discipline or even punish our offender. Forgiveness is an on-going process especially in marriage. Stoping over from Wifey Wednesday.

  • Emily Davis

    I recently read that forgiveness doesn’t mean acceptance. This was freeing for me. I can forgive people and move on without accepting their behaviors (my child, my family, whoever). I also know that forgiveness does not mean I have to allow a person back into my inner circle. I was very badly abused by my mother. There are people who think I am awful for not having a relationship with her. I do not hate her. I care for her. But I hardly know here… and though I have forgiven her, I just have no desire to be around her. She’s still not well. I am stronger than I used to be. As far as forgiving without an apology – absolutely necessary. God calls us to forgive. He doesn’t say forgive only where there is apology. He says FORGIVE as I have forgiven you… and he does forgive us long before we’ve forgiven ourselves. I loved this post. I hope people read it and take it to heart.
    Blessings,
    Emily

  • Our pastor has been speaking on forgiveness. Today he said that we forgive in order to release the person who offended us so we are freed to have a victorious Christian life and not live in bondage. Thanks for sharing this for WholeHearted Wednesdays. I am praying for you during your time of chemo. God bless and heal you!!

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  • Me

    I have marked this page, I am going to finish your series when my exam finishes in another week’s time

    looks like you are teaching some pretty difficult stuffs though.