IN THE PRIOR INSTALLMENT, we posed the idea that when you forgive, "you are no longer judging that person for what they did or did not do". That prompted some very healthy debate (which is the idea), and was gratifying to see. Today we'll look at some myths surrounding forgiveness and hopefully answer a few questions - and spark more debate!
MYTH: Forgiveness is about relationship.
TRUTH: Forgiveness has almost nothing to do about relationship. It’s all about how you perceive your standing in a given relationship. When you choose not to forgive, you are continuing to put yourself in spiritual authority over someone else in a relationship. You are making yourself the judge – something Romans 2:1-2 says that we are never to do. In fact, Paul further stresses in the passage that at whatever point we judge them, we are really judging ourselves Romans 2:8 tells us we are then self-seekers. The Greek word there is eritheia, which means to follow our own agenda regardless of what others think or do such that we cause chaos - either in ourselves or other. The result, according to scripture, is trouble, distress, wrath and anger. (Rom 2:9-10).
MYTH: You forgave them, but you’re still so angry and hurt, OBVIOUSLY, you’re doing it wrong, or you DIDN’T really mean it.
TRUTH: True forgiveness has absolutely nothing to do with how you feel. Forgiveness has nothing to do with emotions whatsoever. Forgiveness is “one and done”: it is a onetime declaration - nothing more, nothing less. Once you declare that you forgive them and you hereby release them from any emotional debt – real or implied – the simple act of forgiven is over and done; you have forgiven them. Obviously, there are almost always significant emotional and psychological considerations that likely need to be dealt with, but that act of forgiveness has been accomplished once and for all for that particular person and that particular episode.
MYTH: You simply can’t face them – no way – not after what they did. There is no way you can go to them and tell them you forgive them.
TRUTH: Nothing, absolutely nothing, obligates you go to them and face them. True forgiveness is indeed great when it’s done face to face. Sometimes, it’s physically impossible to face them. In our ministry, we’ve had many people who forgive people who have long since passed on. Many times, what you sincerely believe is a noble gesture on your part by forgiving them face to face can, in fact, make the situation worse. Also, no one should think that they have to put themselves back into a situation whereby their physical safety or mental health is threatened, That’s simply not realistic, and there is simply no call to do so.
MYTH: Forgiving them means it’s all forgotten, as if it never happened
TRUTH: To believe that one can simply forget traumatic events in their lives is to suspend reality. To somehow think that the fear, terror, humiliation or that feeling of being grossly violated will somehow disappear is irrational. Forgiveness has nothing to do with any of those. Forgiveness is all about refuting your judgment of them and putting yourself in spiritual authority over them when you have no right to do so.
MYTH: What they did was beyond HORRIBLE and AWFUL.
TRUTH: Forgiveness is nothing more than a simple declaration that is devoid of any emotional consideration. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the severity of the crime. Forgiveness simply declares that you are no longer judging them. Indeed, forgiveness is a biblical command that must be observed. Many may think that this is simply a trite biblical observation, but the truth is that you will very likely condemn yourself to a life of shattered emotions until you do forgive.
MYTH: Doesn’t this mean that I’m somehow “absolving” them? They are the ones who hurt me! Shouldn’t there be justice somewhere along the line? They should be held responsible!
TRUTH: True forgiveness in no way absolves them from the guilt of what they did. God knows what they did. They still bear responsibility for what they did, and hopefully, they will held accountable. Hopefully, justice will be meted out for what they have done or failed to do. That said, human history tells us that in our sinful world, people get away with bad deeds all the time, and that’s not going to change. When you forgive, what you are doing is taking yourself out of an improper judgement position. The Father tells us that if we don’t forgive, He won’t forgive us (Matt 6:14-15). He’ll work it all out - we have to trust that He is true to His word. He doesn’t give exceptions or caveats, just a sweeping assertion: We are to forgive!
MYTH: Forgiveness means I have to re-establish the relationship and I don’t want to.
TRUTH: In some cases, yes, you may not have much of choice. But there is no biblical injunctive that says you must re-establish the relationship. Forgiveness merely means that you no longer judge them for what they did. You are never commanded to re-establish the relationship.
MYTH: Forgiveness means doing something I shouldn’t have to.
TRUTH: Again, you may think it trite or unwarranted, but Jesus forgave all of us and died a horrible death for us when He didn’t have to. Jesus - your Lord and Savior – did it for you and he expects us to do the same. This is not negotiable. You don’t have to do it right away, and in your flesh, you won’t like it. But the Bible is very explicit on this. We are to forgive; there are no exceptions.
MYTH: Once I forgive, I’ll be at peace
TRUTH: Many times, anger and hurt can actually be increased by forgiveness. Most legitimately need some time to get to the point whereby they can forgive sincerely. Getting to a point of peace can be quite lengthy. Depending on the episode, the circumstances, and the individuals involved as well as the offended person(s) personality and psyche, it can take many weeks – even months or years. It is truly tragic that some never overcome a severe personal betrayal or violation. Some even go to their graves after many years of holding on to the anger and hurt.
NEXT TIME: "Proactive Forgiveness: Forgiving the "Unforgivable"
Rev. Dr. N. Patrick Marica contributes incisive Christian commentary on this blog on a regular basis. He is the President here at ATS. He has been the Director of Godly Training Ministries since 1993. He received his D.Min from ATS in 2018 and he has his MA from Liberty University in Marriage and Family Therapy. He is the author of "The Walk Applied". He has been married to Kathy since 1985. They have 2 adult daughters and an extraordinary son-in-law.
Contact Dr. Marica at firstname.lastname@example.org