What I Wish Everyone Understood about Forgiveness

You’ve been wronged.  They hurt you. This wasn’t the first time either.  Now, because you are a follower of Jesus, you must show forgiveness. You experience tension inside your soul.

Jesus forgave me. So I should for forgive them.
But if I forgive, I’m just letting them off the hook. Yet Jesus seemed to let me off the hook.

Over time forgiveness becomes more like a chore. Creating inner turmoil that screams, “But they wronged me! I can’t keep ignoring this!” This struggle comes from a misunderstanding of terminology.

We use the word “forgiveness” to describe multiple different biblical concepts at the same time.  Not understanding that our misapplication causes damage to our souls and pain to our relationships.

I originally heard this misuse identified and corrected by John Townsend the author of Boundaries. Upon hearing his clarification, my immediate thought was, “I wish everyone understood this about forgiveness.”

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  1. Forgiveness is a past issue.

    Extending mercy and grace is a powerful message rooted in our loving savior.  We must present it freely to others. Grace says,

    “Despite the wrong you committed in the past, I will love you today.”

    Imagine a relationship as a fragile object. When you’ve been wronged it’s like that delicate mass was crushed by a hammer. Forgiveness declares that I will no longer be angry at the hammer or the person who swung it.

    What somebody did in the past is not stopping you from loving them today.

    Notice though that the once perfect object is now still destroyed despite the forgiveness.  That’s because point number 2.

  2. Forgiveness is not reconciliation.

    Reconciliation is a term describing the present state of a relationships.  Forgiveness can be extended and the relationships still not yet be restored.  The past is over, but the present is not the same.

    Imagine if somebody wronged your child.  They hit them in the face, bullied them, or maybe even worse.  Your Christian parental response is not, “Well, forgive them and go be friends with them.” Rather you want your kid to set up boundaries around the bully.

    It’s because forgiveness does not mean reconciliation.

    Reconciliation means that broken fragile object has now been restored.  That’s a two person job.  Both parties have to agree to it. If both sides don’t agree, then it’s not possible.

    Now even if you forgive and reconcile, that does not mean the relationship will be restored back to its original form because….

  3. Forgiveness does not mean trust.

    While forgiveness is a past issue and reconciliation is a present dilemma, trust is a future problem. ” How are you going to behave in the future?” is the question asked by trust.

    Grace is extended freely.
    Restoration is developed together.
    Trust is earned over time.

    If your friend develops a narcotics habit, they become addicted overnight.  They steal from you. Lie to you.  Do anything to get high again.  Each misstep is subsequently followed with, “I’m sorry! I will never to do it again.”

    Then not even a few days later they repeat the same cycle.  Wisdom says,

    “Forgive them? Yes!
    Reconcile with them? Try your hardest.
    Trust them? No. Not until they’ve earned it.”

    Love demands we don’t trust them in that moment.  They don’t know what’s best for themselves.  This is why understanding terminologies is critical.  It releases us from enabling and gives us permission to heal when we are hurt.

    As followers of Jesus we must forgive and work toward reconciliation, but be patient with extending trust to someone who has repeatedly broken it.

What is something you have always misunderstood about forgiveness?
Comment below.

15 thoughts on “What I Wish Everyone Understood about Forgiveness

  1. I really appreciate the notion of trust being divested from forgiveness. My father, through Christ, overcame a decades-long drug addiction. One of the things the Christian-based treatment facility had us do was sign a contract of terms for him to return home. We were not to use his error as fodder for arguments—the past was over and holding his former addiction over him was not to be allowed. For his part, If we suspected that he had fallen back into the habit, he would submit willingly to drug testing. It was both Forgiveness and re-establishing trust. It worked well because relationships were restored, but it took time and effort on both sides. When things are done God’s way, astonishing things happen before our very eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you!!! I’ve been ridiculed for forgiving and supporting my
    incarcerated husband by what was once our good Christian friends. Our relationship is rebuilding because we are both willing to work on it. And trust, well, I believe that will come in time. What a great explanation of what I feel in my heart!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. For me forgiveness is not feeling the pain anymore. The sadness over things lost, maybe. The pain from their action no.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree. Forgiveness is saying good-bye to the pain.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve learned as I got older to forgive quicker and let it go. I still hurt sometimes knowing some of the relationships can not be reconciled. I continue to pray everyday for my own forgiveness.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Beautiful April. There’s a lot of wisdom in your statements.

      Like

  5. I needed to read this. I’m catching up on posts. You must know that this message is so powerful. I’m sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words about this post. I’m glad it encouraged you.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There are so many levels to forgiveness and it is a process; and not an overnight one. This is something that is not addressed often in churches and Christian circles so you really have to study it for yourself. Townsend and Cloud are absolutely geniuses when it comes to explaining this stuff. Reading them and understanding the forgiveness process correctly has empowered me rather than leave me feeling like a victim.

    I was sent here from Tikeetha’s blog! Nice to meet you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wonderful to meet you maya. You are right forgiveness is far easier to talk about than actually do because it’s such a difficult thing to accomplish. Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate your encouragement

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow o wow! This is insightful.
    I like the relationship from forgiveness to reconciliation and trust. Very useful post.

    Like

  8. Thank you for this article. This speaks to my soul and the internal conflict I’ve had to deal with at times in defining forgiveness without becoming an enabler.

    Like

  9. Thank you for this insightful article, Chris! One of the most important lessons God has brought home to me over the years about forgiveness is that it’s both a milestone marker choice, and a process over what can take quite a while of daily or regularly choosing to continue submitting to the Holy Spirit’s tranformational work in our hearts, every time the pain comes up again. And each time we yield to Him and ask Him to flow through us with forgiveness, it washes more and more of the pain away until it has been completely healed. So I think it’s so important for people to know that they haven’t failed at forgiving if the process isn’t complete yet and they still have some of the pain left. I believe that the decision to keep yielding over and over and over to each step of the forgiveness process is part of what Jesus meant by asking us to forgive seventy times seventy times 🙂

    Like

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