Biblical Forgiveness vs. Forgiveness Myths
I’ve been talking about persecution and forgiveness, two very important and complex topics. Some common misconceptions about forgiveness that I hear from peers, people in ministry, and patients include the following ideas. 1) Forgiving is forgetting; 2) Forgiving is starting with a clean slate like nothing ever happened; 3) Forgiving is trusting just as you did before the transgression; 4) Forgiving is never bringing up the incident again. They’re all myths.
Contrast those myths with principles from the Bible about God, who is the ultimate forgiver:
- God never forgets. He is omniscient. Myth #1 busted.
- God took David’s and Moses’ sins into account long after their sins, therefore no clean slate. Myth #2 busted.
- God only trusts us as far as our skill set and reliance on Him, as evidenced by our past track record (spiritual maturity) allows. Myths 3 and 4 busted.
Let’s look at an example of a husband who has an affair. It is important to remember that the incident happened because a lot of work needs to be done – figuring out why it happened and developing a plan to ensure it doesn’t happen again. You can’t act as if nothing happened because the husband obviously has some deficits and areas of temptation that must be safeguarded and addressed. He must be held accountable so he and the marriage can heal and grow. So, if he comes home very late one night with a lame excuse, the wife needs to remember the past. She needs to ask who, what, where, why, and when with the right attitude and motivation, to make sure he didn’t stumble and isn’t on a slippery slope. She can’t jump back to the pre-affair level of trust. That would be unfair and unhealthy for her … and for him. He must prove himself trustworthy based on his present behavior and track record.
Forgiving or being forgiven doesn’t elevate trustworthiness. When she sees troubling warning signs, she needs to bring up the past transgression to facilitate regular assessment, accountability and growth in him. She knows his area of temptation better than most, so she has to keep it in mind to help him grow and avoid it.
Biblical forgiveness has two key components. First, giving up the bitterness, revenge, spite, rage, self-contempt, etc. you have for the transgression, for the transgressor, or towards God for letting the hurtful event happen. These all fall in the destructive anger category. When we have been wronged, constructive anger is OK. Second, when we have been wronged, our nature is to want, need, and demand payment from the transgressor. We really need to turn this over to God, the ultimate judge and executioner. He is the only one who can determine the fair and appropriate punishment for the infraction. The Choosing to Forgive Workbook by Les Carter and Frank Minirth, M.D. is a good resource that expands on these points and provides practical application.
Today, when you struggle to forgive, or you have forgiven but it still hangs over you, ask, “What am I still trying to get out of him/her as payment?” It may be you need an apology, or you need that person to feel your pain. Maybe you need to see the consequence, punishment, payment of restitution, or public acknowledgment. But if your happiness is based on getting that and it’s never given, where does that leave you? Quit giving others power over you. Forgive and let God extract whatever payment He judges necessary for their growth. Whether you forgive the Biblical way or you muddle through the hurt in a worldly way is your choice, so choose well.
Dear Father, Thanks be to You, Lord, for Your incredible gift of forgiveness. Without it, I would be buried under a ton of sin and shame. I am so quick to ask for Your Forgiveness, Lord … but so slow to forgive others. Help me remember that forgiving others lifts a heavy burden off me … and places me back under the grace of Your forgiveness. I seek to forgive as Jesus forgave … I seek the mind of Christ. Help me to understand I am not to judge them and exact payment. Although their transgression against me hurts, it is an even greater transgression against Your holiness. You are the perfect one to hand out justice or grace. In Your omniscience and love for them, you know best. Grow in me a humble spirit that can focus on own my actions, thoughts, and heart. Help me to accept Your actions in theirs. Help me to spread Your message about forgiveness in word, and especially in action. I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who loved and sacrificed so much for my forgiveness; and all God’s children say – AMEN!
That very day the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” Deuteronomy 32:48-52
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32