The last couple days we have talked about persecution and forgiveness, two very important and complex topics. As a psychiatrist, I see many misunderstandings or myths about what Biblical forgiveness actually is. Myths like, 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. These are some common misconceptions about forgiveness that I hear from peers, people in ministry, and patients.
Some principles from the Bible:
1. God never forgets. He is omniscient. Myth 1 busted.
2. God took David’s and Moses’ sins into account long after their sins, therefore no clean slate. Myth 2 busted.
3. God only trusts us as far as our skill set and reliance on Him, as evidenced by our past track record (spiritual maturity) allows. Myth 3 and 4 busted.
Let’s look at an example of a husband who has an affair. It is important to not forget the incident happened because a lot of work needs to be done to figure out why it happened and how 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 and needs to be safeguarded and 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 the who, what, where, why, and when, with the right attitude and motivation, to make sure he didn’t stumble or isn’t on a slippery slope. She can’t jump into a pre-affair level of trust until he proves trustworthy based on present behavior. That would be unfair and unhealthy for her … and for him.
Forgiving or being forgiven doesn’t elevate someone’s trustworthiness. When she sees worrisome 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 and stumbling better than most, so she has to keep it in mind to help him grow and avoid it.
Biblical Forgiveness has 2 key components. First, giving up the dysfunctional anger like bitterness, revenge, spite, rage, self-contempt, etc. you have for the transgression, or the transgressor, or toward God for letting the hurtful event happen. Second, when we have been wronged, our nature is to want, need, and demand some payment from the transgressor. We really need to turn this over to God as the great judge and executioner. He is the only one who can determine the fair and appropriate punishment for the infraction, just as He does for us and our many sins against others. The Choosing to Forgive Workbook by Les Carter and Frank Minirth, M.D. is great at expanding on these points with practical application.
Today, when you are struggling to forgive, or you have forgiven but it still hangs over you, ask, “What am I still trying to get out of them as payment?” It may be you need an apology from them, or you need them to feel your pain. Maybe you need to see their consequence, punishment, payment of restitution, or public acknowledgment to others about what they did to you. If your happiness is based on getting that and they never give it, where does that leave you? Quit giving them power over you. Forgive, and let God extract whatever payment He judges necessary for their growth. Your choice, choose well.
Dear Father, Thanks be to You, Lord, for Your incredible gift of forgiveness. Where would I be without it … 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 one 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 to focus on my actions, thoughts, and heart, and to accept Your actions in theirs. Help me, Lord, 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.”
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.