Thursday, October 23, 2008

True Forgiveness

Often I hear Church people using forgiveness the wrong way and mis-applying basic Bible principles to force forgiveness upon those who have been wronged. For instance they might tell an abused woman, "You have to forgive. He's sorry for his sin." When they do this they are bullying the victim with their spirituality, using Scripture badly, and might be causing further grief. But they think they are merely telling the victim of the abuser to take the higher spiritual road.

Let us be clear about what the Bible says and stop falling into flaky church tradition. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus "heal a relationship." He restores souls, he heals bodies, he casts out demons. But it is up to humans to do the work of healing a relationship.

True forgiveness is accountable.
Why? Because repentance is often incremental. For instance, the Bible tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? Cruel people don't know themselves. Abusing people can't see their own hearts. Not all at once. Heck, they might feel they ought to apologize and they might be sorry for their sins. But they have not yet learned the skills of being a kind human, or the skills of anger management. To ask an abused person to re-enter back into a relationship with such a person is abusive.

True forgiveness can never be demanded.
Why? Because if an abusive person comes to you and says, "You have to forgive me. I'm sorry now," that person is not really humbled enough. Nowhere is it written that someone should demand forgiveness of another. They can ask, and we can forgive. But that doesn't mean we have to enter into a relationship with such a person. Again, repentance and self-knowledge is incremental.

True forgiveness means the person who has sinned against another must confess.
Why? Because there is a difference between admission and confession. Abusive folks are often great at admitting a fault. They are also manipulative. They will wound someone quite badly, then they will go to the pastor or the elders or the family and admit their fault. Then, after admitting their fault they will say something like, "Pastor, Brother, Sister, Mom-in-law, could you call my wife (or my husband) and ask her to forgive me and to live with me again?" This is all very good-appearing, but it's not really confession of sin. It's playing the spiritual game. It's the old "I'm converted now, so you have to accept me" slick game. Again, conversion takes a while. We can say, "Well, praise God! You have seen the error of your way. But you don't have the skills yet. Conversion takes time. So keep away from the person you are abusing until you truly understand how bad you have been."

True forgiveness does not mean the scale is wiped clean.
Why? Because pain, woundedness, griefs, are still in effect. It's like being stabbed with a knife. One may forgive the blow but the wound is still deep. Repentance means paying for one's sins. Oh, Christians will say, "but we don't have to pay for our sins. Jesus paid for our sins!" But that's not true. Jesus paid for our sins, but we also have to reap what we sow...in our lives, and what we have sown in other lives. Consider a man who leaves his wife for another woman? His wife becomes sickly, loses her insurance because she is no longer married to a wage-earner, is living with the kids in poverty while the adulterer and his new wife are fairly well off. if the man says he's sorry, he was in love...and he couldn't help himself, we may forgive him. (Although, the Bible tells us that emotions are our servants and we are not theirs...and the man should not have fallen into the lie of "I couldn't help falling in love" the fact is the Christian church is so wimpy about the power of the will (especially when it comes to love, attraction, and sex) that we'll forgive the guy? But shouldn't this man remember to take care of his wife? Shouldn't he try to heal her heart now that she has gotten hill because of the hurt he caused her?

Or consider the man who has stolen --not a spouse but money-- and says how sorry he is. Shouldn't he return the money? And if he doesn't, the scale is not wiped clean.

Peter was crucified. Jesus forgave him but I suspect his rejection of Jesus had a lot to do with how he died. He still had to prove his love, to reap what he had sowed. David kicked out his wife Michal from his bed and later killed his friend Uriah in order to protect the adultery with Bathsheba, Uriah's wife. God forgave David through Nathan the prophet but nevertheless God declared that the sword would be against David's house FOREVER. FOREVER!!! And then David ended up losing ALL his concubines from his bed, just as Michal was cast out. That's not just old testament. In the New testament, we are repeatedly told that we should not deceive ourselves, we reap what we sow.

So it is kindness to remind the sinner who continues sinning what true forgiveness is. For our sanity, and for his salvation. Perhaps we should always link true forgiveness with true repentance. In that way we don't further wound and burden the person who is already in pain. -C
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