Does Forgiving Say It Was Okay?

Today, we’re continuing in our series on forgiveness, tackling another myth of forgiveness:
If I forgive, am I saying that what my offender did was okay?

What Forgiveness Says

Our perspective –
This belief is a tough one because, I’ll be the first one to say, it’s scary to make yourself vulnerable to the one who hurt you! It just doesn’t “feel” right or, for that matter, seem very smart.

But when we operate in this way, we’re really basing forgiveness upon our feelings, or worse, on our need to settle the score. And let’s be honest, if that were the case, we’d probably never release our offender from their debt! Oh, what an awful world that would be!

Christ’s position –
Christ commands us to not only to forgive, but love one another (the “verb” – not the noun or “feeling of love”). No where will you find Him commanding us to feel forgiving or feel loving toward one another. Thankfully, Christ doesn’t ask us to do this without first leading the way …

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” –1 John 3:16 (NIV)

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13 (NIV)

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” –Ephesians 4:31 (NIV)

Notice that none of these verses speak about forgiving if and when your offender recognizes their sin.

Although we all want our offender to see his/her fault, it’s not our job—nor our right—to change our offender, convince them of the error of their ways or make them pay. The only condition mentioned in these verses is “on us”—to extend forgiveness out of and because of the forgiveness we’ve received from Christ.

To drive this point home further, Christ’s forgiveness of us does not mean in any sense of the word that the sin we committed is “okay” …

So how could it mean that when “we” forgive others?

Remember, when we forgive, we don’t just release our offender from their debt, we love our offender like Christ loves us.

We let His love for us flow through to them. When that happens we aren’t losing, even if our offender never wakes up to his sin!

In that miraculous moment (it really is a miracle God does in our hearts, peeps!), we gain in eternal ways that far outweigh any loss or wound.

Bottom line Christ asks us to do what feels counterintuitive—even foolhardy—because He is in control and is faithful to protect us and redeem what was broken (redeeming our broken hearts, not necessarily the relationship). To offer anything less than that to our offender shows, in the least, a lack of faith in Christ, and in the worst, an insult to His sacrifice and grace.

Even though forgiveness doesn’t make what our offender did against us all “okay”

 

What have you done to constructively deal with that loss and pain?

 

What boundaries have you or should you set with your offender that come alongside your forgiveness of him/her?

 

This is #10 in Forgiveness Series. Click link to access #9 – Forgive and Feel Better?

 

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

 

Now it’s time  for Wedded Wednesday!

 

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Come join our Wednesday Link-up!

  • Oh, boy. I read the title of this post and immediately said to myself, “No!” And then I figured I’d better keep reading so I could comment with a few more intelligent words than just that. 🙂 Great points here, Beth. I love your clarity regarding God’s forgiveness of us – it does not make our sin “okay” – so why have I not looked at my own act of forgiving others that same way? This helps me with a situation I’ve been facing recently. Thank you, my friend. Blessings to you and your household!

    • It’s a painful and scary shift to take our fingers off the apology and repentance we want from our offender, Becky. This can be especially true in marriage. When we have to live with and love deeply our spouse who may not see how they’ve hurt us–much less apologized–it can be corrosive. I can’t wait to unveil something I’ve had stirring in the back of my brain since December weeks from now. I’m just waiting on God’s good timing to put it out there and have really benefited personally from “writing” this series as well, my friend! Thanks for letting me know how helpful it is to you, Becky. Hugs!

  • Nannette Elkins

    Oh I am just like Becky before me!! Ugh! There is this one person in my life that drives me crazy and I have always struggled with over one particular thing. I have forgiven them, then they did it again. I prayed and prayed and prayed and forgave…again. Then…you guessed it…they did it again. It then was even more difficult and I began to think that 70 x 7 Jesus talked about was going to be a reality. The hardest part? Trust. Letting go of it completely so I CAN trust again. It is hard not to become cynical and from years of experience, not that I have always conquered, I can say the only thing that keeps you from becoming bitter is lots of prayer. I continually ask God to cover my mind and remind me that HE keeps forgiving ME…that’s a pretty stark reminder.

    Praying for you tonight my friend!! ♥

    • JosephPote

      Nannette, forgiveness is required and must be freely given. Trust is optional and must be earned.

      Forgiveness with healthy boundaries allows us to forgive completely and to love without placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability to be repeatedly hurt again and again.

      Here is a post showing how David did this in his relationship with King Saul: http://josephjpote.com/2012/05/forgiveness-with-boundaries/

    • We all have one of those EGR’s (a word Rick Warren came up with in his book, Purpose Driven Life) “Extra Grace Required.” They continually bust through our boundaries and trigger that righteous indignation that isn’t really bad until it causes us to feel entitled and vengeful, Nannette. Yes, I totally agree on the prayer point too. That’s where my forgiveness is bathed in God’s grace. My rubber ducky and I just have to keep going back and taking that bath over and over. Hopefully it makes our hearts smell and feel clean for a time. Then it’s back to more scrub-a-dub-dubbing! 🙂

    • Oh, and thanks for the prayers. I need them! Not feeling well yesterday or today. 🙁

  • bluecottonmemory

    Beth – You are doing this series with such love and grace. This line: “Although we all want our offender to see his/her fault, it’s not our job—nor our right—to change our offender, convince them of the error of their ways or make them pay” – this is liberating. I am only called to let go and love!!!! Healthy boundaries are needed – even in the act of forgiving!

    This is so helping me!
    Maryleigh

    • I’m so glad you found this to be liberating, Maryleigh! I, too, bask in that freedom when I let the bitterness go. I don’t know why it takes so long to let it go, though! You’d think we’d have learned how big and redemptive our God is! He’s mended many a broken heart in my life. Thanks so much for your sweet words of encouragement to me, my friend!

  • Nan

    I love how you drew the parallel about Jesus forgiving but that doesn’t mean it makes our sin o.k. Very good point! I do believe it is important to set those boundaries. Just because you forgive doesn’t mean you forget everything and let people cause you or your children harm. Some people need boundaries. I have a friend who won’t talk to her parents unless her husband is there in the room (or on the phone) with her to protect her from their verbal abuse. They don’t do it when he’s around.

    One of the hard things people sometimes struggle with is when you forgive and yet you see the person succeeding. You see good things happen to them, even though they are doing wrong and wronging and hurting other people, and you think “That’s not fair.”

    But forgiveness is letting go of our “right” to be in control of the situation, because we’re not. And it’s letting go of our right to see them punished the way we think they “deserve.” And it’s remembering grace. Thanks for hosting today!

    • Certainly Jesus paid an awful price for the sin in our lives, Nan. That makes the statement loud and clear that forgiveness is not about fairness. And, yes, boundaries and reconciliation are a separate part of this issue. That’s why I asked the questions at the end, hoping this post would not lead people to believe that I’m suggesting we “in practical terms” make ourselves vulnerable. I’ll be dealing with the subject of boundaries as this series continues to run. And you bring up another good point, Nan. When we see our offender succeeding or even succeeding as you know they continue to hurt you and others. I think that’s part of that training ground we all need for our hearts. Forgiveness and Christ’s grace teaches us what we need in those times. Thanks for adding some great thoughts to the discussion, my friend. Always good to have you here! 🙂

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  • I now know I do not have to “make” the offender see their fault, I just have to forgive and let God do the heart work in the person. If Jesus could forgive and wipe out my sin, I can too because He lives in me. No, it is does not mean my sin was okay, but He forgive. And no, my offender was not right but I must forgive and love (action word) him/her. It is ultimately because I love God and for my own good too. Thanks a lot for this series Beth, it has been a blessing.
    I trust you are doing great by God’s grace. Have a super blessed day!
    Love

    • Yes, Ugochi. I think all of this “unfairness” that we must suffer as we forgive is one way that Christ opens our eyes to the profound and devastating price He paid in offering forgiveness to us by dying on the cross. How else would we “get” that amazing gift? Thanks so much for your sweet smile in this place, my dear! Hugs to you!

  • JosephPote

    Beth, I absolutelylove how you handle this topic! That’s saying a lot, because it is a topic dear to my heart that has required much soul-searching and change of perspective over the years.

    Yes, forgiveness is intentionally choosing to release the offender from the charge…to take a position of “This offense will not be held against you” and “Father, forgive them” while choosing a position of love toward them.

    And, yes, that is huge! It is not easy. It is miraculous.

    It does not say the offense is okay…in fact to do that would lessen the act of forgiveness. The reason it is so hard to release them is because the offense was so offensive.

    I love how you wrapped it up with “Christ asks us to do what feels counterintuitive—even foolhardy—because He is in control and is faithful to protect us and redeem what was broken (redeeming our broken hearts, not necessarily the relationship).”
    It really is about trusting Christ! And I love how you made the distinction that we are trusting Christ to be in controland to faithfully care for us…not necessarily to restore the relationship.
    The part about the desire for the offender to recognize the offense and to repent of the offensive behavior…while definitely not required for forgiveness is (I believe) essential to potential restoration of a growing healthy vital relationship.
    Thank you for posting this series!

    • You make so many great points, Joe. We have this one thing in common – I’ve studied and investigated forgiveness for many years as well. It’s always been a “mystery” to me and even with the best of truths poured into my heart, it still is one of Christ’s most profound mysteries. Thanks for your kind words to me, my friend. And I love the point you made at the end about how this desire whets our appetite for reconciliation. Great insight!

  • Beth I love what you’ve said about feelings – we don’t have to feel loving or feeling forgiving towards an offender. But we love and forgive anyway. I think that’s one of the things we struggle with the most sometimes, because loving/forgiving someone without accompanying feelings can be pretty difficult! But I love how God enables us to make that decision and stick with it until it sticks..regardless of emotions.
    This is such a great series Beth, thank you for delving deep into this topic

    • Yes, Ngina, I needed to be reminded of that truth about “feelings” even as I wrote it. I truly feel like God’s been giving me wisdom that is not my own on this series. So I’ll take no credit for the clarity and freedom it brings. Yes, you and I are of the same heart–loving how God enables us to forgive when we trust Him. Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your wisdom to the discussion, my friend!

  • This is such a great topic, and was on my mind as I drove into work today. When we feel like we are saying the offense was OK, then we demand that the other behave in a certain way. Maybe that they should feel and express their gratitude toward us, the ‘forgiver’. Then, instead of repentance, we are actually demanding they make penance. thanks Beth!!

    • Yes, this whole issue of forgiveness is a minefield of potential temptations to sin. We give forgiveness and there’s the temptation to feel “holier than thou.” If we withhold forgiveness, we bind our hearts in a prison of self-pity and entitlement. I’m just praying I live each day choosing Christ’s way and not my own, Scott. Thanks so much for your encouragement to me on this topic. 🙂

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  • Hey Beth … I wonder if this is what keeps so many of us from going down that forgiveness road. No, being sinned against is not ok. No, it’s not ok that someone was abusive toward me. And no, their stuff doesn’t have to own me or possess me or fill me.
    And that’s where Jesus comes in …

    • Oh yes! “That’s where Jesus comes in …” Love that and the truth it holds, sweet Linda! You get this, don’t you?! So glad to have you as a fellow-blogger/traveler on this painful road of life. *Hugs*

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  • Although we all want our offender to see his/her fault, it’s not our job—nor our right—to change our offender, convince them of the error of their ways or make them pay. WE can only change ourselves…and this only by God’s grace. Thanks Beth…and today’s link up has so many great posts that I am having to limit my time here 🙂 Thanks all! xxoo

    • I’m so glad that this resonated with you, Shelia. I’m sure you’ve had more than your share of offenses to forgive of the offenders in your life. I pray that these hurts we feel piercing us in our hearts will only be God’s needle knitting our heart to Him and to each other. Love ya!

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Interesting topic, and deeper than it first seemed to me.

    I think there can be a problem with ‘forgiving and setting boundaries’, in that it can be a sneaky way to retain unforgiveness. It’s saying, “I forgive you, but I will remember your offense and refer to it in future dealings.”

    The key may be in the statement, “Love your enemies”.

    A person – even a spouse or parent who wounds you – may in fact be an enemy. We’re conditioned by our culture to ‘friendliness’, and to equate forgiveness with the restoration of a relationship, but that may not always be possible, or desirable.

    And it may be more merciful to those enemies we have forgiven to sever the previous relationship, rather than keeping them beholden to us on a netherworld of guilt and boundaries.

    Trust must certainly be re-earned; but when WE trust, it’s internal – we hold feelings of trust for someone else in our hearts. That’s natural, but to display a lack of trust may well be a lingering grasp on unforgiveness.

    Better in that case to withhold full forgiveness until full trust can be extended?

    I don’t know.

    I linked to “Wedded Wednesday” on my blog post today –

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-marriage-wedge.html

    • Yes, I agree, Andrew, that boundaries can be used more as manipulation or battering rams than what they are meant to do and provide. They get a bad rap from those who don’t use them wisely or lovingly. It’s a difficult and confusing path for most, if not all of us.

      I also agree that sometimes the best boundary is to cut off our relationship with a certain person. But that must come, in my opinion, with a few qualifiers that I won’t go into here. All I’m saying though, is that separating ourselves from toxic people may be necessary at times, but should almost never be our “go to” response–unless our lives or other’s are being threatened.

      You bring up so many great points, Andrew, and I hope that I will touch on each of them as this series continues. I’m finding that the more I write on this, the more I see holes that must be patched or issues needed to be addressed! ha! It truly is a complex issue, but bottom line–I want trusting Christ in it all to be my “go to.” 🙂

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  • Mary

    I was very interested in Myth #3 to understand how I could let go of what sometimes looks to me like I’m the loser in forgiveness.I love being reminded that releasing our offender goes hand in hand with loving our offender like Christ does. It also speaks volumes when you write the paragraph about the “bottom line”. Christ does not take us down the easy path and it can feel like it is going against the normal (counterintuitive) but we are honoring Christ in the action of forgiveness. Thank you for your wise words! Mary

  • Have you ever read the book, Helping Clients Forgive? There’s actually a model of therapy called Forgiveness Therapy. They somewhat touch on Christian origins (though I think they’re trying to market to the secular population so it’s really downplayed).

    Anyways, one person who I’ve always had difficulty forgiving is my father (typical daddy issues), the reason being that he doesn’t acknowledge fault for anything, really, that he won’t apologize because he doesn’t acknowledge fault, and that he continues to offend. God’s led me through various levels of forgiveness of my father, but it’s a process. Part of the process is differentiation and not allowing what he does to affect my emotional being, which means setting up boundaries within myself NOT to be offended by him, if that makes sense.

    I think it’s also important to differentiate between forgiveness and trust, and that there’s this misconception that to forgive means you need to trust again, which it doesn’t.

  • Another convicting post, Beth. Decades ago, before I was a Christian, I was deeply hurt by a relative where I worked. 1. I left the job. 2. I limited my contact. 3. I reminded myself that another family member who I loved deeply loved this person, so I needed to try to see them as they did. 4. I forgave this person in my heart. 5. I pray for them now because I can see how years of broken relationships have forged this person’s personality, which can be pretty, ummm, difficult. 🙂

  • Jf

    I have been noodling something since reading this. Joseph was wronged by his brothers and Potifer’s wife. Later, he went back to work for Pharoah. No boundary? What happened to his accuser? Then, he obviously had emotions for his brothers, but they did not change, really, for they were back at it worried Joseph would use power against them. One thing for sure, God used the bad things but didn’t condone them (as mentioned here.). So, I am trying to reassure myself that regardless whether I am able to forgive and whether my offender repeats, God can be trusted. As for boundaries, not sure. Joseph did not appoint any of his brothers in office and he did not even live near them, but he went back to Pharoah. Does that mean he knew his brothers couldn’t be trusted, but Pharoah could be? should we use discretion and not hard, fast rules? Like I said, not sure how this plays…

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