Forgiveness — Part 4

Overheard:

“But aren’t we supposed to forgive, forget, and move on?”

In Part 1 of this series on Forgiveness, I outlined how we have arrived at such a fractured and unbiblical view of what forgiveness is and is not as we have in the church and society-at-large today.

In Part 2, I discussed the foundational aspect of forgiveness. The first of the three types of forgiveness in the human experience is JUDICIAL FORGIVENESS, which is God’s alone to provide.

In Part 3, I described the second type of forgiveness as INTERNAL FORGIVENESS. This is the one we are responsible for.

The third and last type of forgiveness we want to discuss is the one that is most misunderstood and misapplied: RELATIONAL FORGIVENESS. This is the level of forgiveness where the restoration of relationship can take place in a manner that is both Biblical and safe.

RELATIONAL FORGIVENESS

Relational Forgiveness occurs when the one offended can trust that the offender will most likely not reoffend.

Since offenses can fall anywhere along a broad spectrum of sinfulness and resultant evil suffered, it is helpful to us if we can have God’s mind about when and how to properly be restored in relationship to someone who has wronged us.

As we have seen in my earlier posts on this subject, confession and repentance go together – two sides to the same coin, as it were.

Relational Forgiveness is conditional upon our repentance (repentance – turning and traveling in the opposite direction).  You cannot have one without the other.  (See Matthew 3:8; Ephesians 4:28).

It is not just a change of behavior; it is the heart attitude behind it. This heart-change is required in order to be transformed and for old toxic, sinful behaviors to be replaced with fruitful, righteous behaviors.

True change is NOT a matter of behavior modification alone. If one’s heart isn’t in it, the “change” is temporary at best.

Just as we have to wait for an apple tree to produce fruit for from 3 – 5 years after it is planted, so it takes time to see the fruit of authentic repentance.

Someone saying, “I’m sorry,” is not confession, neither is it repentance – nor has there been any time for fruit to develop. Someone saying, “I’m really, really sorry,” is neither confession nor repentance either.

A helpful parallelism for understanding the contrast between the prerequisites for Internal Forgiveness and the prerequisites for Relational Forgiveness (reunion) can be found in Lewis Smedes’, The Art of Forgiving:

It takes one person to forgive. It takes two to be reunited.

Forgiving happens inside the wounded person. Reunion happens in a relationship between people.

We can forgive a person who never says he is sorry. We cannot be truly reunited unless he is honestly sorry.

We can forgive even if we do not trust the person who wronged us once not to wrong us again. Reunion can happen only if we can trust the person who wronged us once not to wrong us again.

Forgiving has no strings attached. Reunion has several strings attached.

If we enter into Relational Forgiveness with a person before we see the fruit of repentance, we often actually get in the way of the work that God desires to do in that person.

Are they denying the wrong? They are unrepentant.

Are they rationalizing or justifying the wrong? They are unrepentant.

Are they minimizing, blame-shifting, or scapegoating? Again, then they are unrepentant.

A contrite heart – a heart that recalls the raunchiness and effect of one’s sin – underlies true confession and repentance. Contrition means a heart that is broken over the sin committed and the evil another has suffered as a result.

Do you feel a sense of repentance from someone who does not have a sense of contrition? Not if you understand repentance, you don’t. And for those who have experienced abuse, a lack of contrition on the part of the offender is the NORM when it comes to being unrepentant.

The Need of the Offender

God has an intention and purpose for every life: in every case, God’s desire is for each person to be reconciled to Him.   That reconciliation requires confession and repentance (See Part 2).

Confession and repentance, in turn, require a conviction that what we have done has violated God’s moral code and that we are accountable for it; authentic confession and repentance do not come because we simply wish to avoid consequences.

Entering Relational Forgiveness illegitimately often alleviates the process of the offending party having to face most or all consequence for their evil and, hence, the catalyst for authentic confession and repentance is absent. That puts us between that person and God and weakens their ability to be aware of Him.

  • Q. Why would we oppose God’s best?
  • A. Only because, some place in our heart, we believe God’s agenda is defective and our agenda supersedes His.

If we are willing to allow our offender to live out consequences for their offense, we clear the way for God to work in them – and we may get to witness God work in their life in a real and powerful way.  There then arises a very real possibility for a safe, God-honoring relationship to develop that will become good and healthy instead of ungodly and abusive.

When you really grasp this, you will see that you are not responsible to forgive based on others’ expectations of you.  God not only doesn’t expect, He doesn’t allow for us to enter into Relational Forgiveness in certain situations.  When there is no repentance or fruit in keeping with repentance, God makes no provision for Relational Forgiveness.

To expect and to teach abuse survivors that they must “forgive. forget, and move on” is not only grossly in error, the result is a retraumatizing of the victim. We have no business doing that: it makes us as guilty as the original offender.

In Summary

There can be no comprehensive forgiveness unless we understand and process the sin that has been committed and the effects of it on us, as well as our sin responses to it. Remember: Internal Forgiveness and Relational Forgiveness are NOT one and the same thing.

It’s important to continue to remember and to reinforce in our hearts:

  1. One type of forgiveness (Judicial) has nothing to do with us; it is God’s alone.
  2. The second type of forgiveness (Internal) is our responsibility, and is accomplished with God’s help.  Internal and Relational Forgiveness are not synonymous.  One doesn’t necessarily lead to the other.
  3. God does not expect us to forgive relationally until the offending party has done their part.  The restoration of relationship is not a simple affair and needs to be handled according to God’s economy for it to be God-honoring, safe, and healthy.
  4. Unless and until the offender has confessed, repented, and borne fruit in keeping with repentance, we are neither required nor allowed to enter into Relational Forgiveness.

 

Once again my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Steven Tracy for his powerful book, Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse. Of all of the tools I have used over the last 26-plus years, this one (in conjunction with the workbook by Steve’s wife Celestia) is by far the most theologically robust and scientifically sound material available to those who counsel abuse and neglect survivors.

Forgiveness — Part 3

Overheard:

“But aren’t we supposed to forgive, forget, and move on?”

In Part 1 of this series on Forgiveness, I outlined how we have arrived at such a fractured and unbiblical view of what forgiveness is and is not.

In Part 2, I discussed the foundational aspect of forgiveness. The first of the three types of forgiveness in the human experience is JUDICIAL FORGIVENESS.

The second type of forgiveness is INTERNAL FORGIVENESS, and this is the one we are responsible for.

Internal Forgiveness

This level of forgiveness is almost impossible unless we have already gone to God and received His (Judicial) forgiveness.

That provides the seed-bed for us to forgive others. If we don’t have that foundation of God’s forgiveness of us as the foundation for our own forgiveness of others, in practice we end up setting our own standards for forgiveness.

What happens is we almost can’t help expecting those people to live up to a standard for forgiveness that we have set in our own heart. We may even be able to rationally explain why our stance on what it will take for us to forgive. But if we have not gone to God and been forgiven in Christ, we have only human standards to work from.

Then it becomes between them and us and not them and God.  I have to be able to say that it is between them and God to live up to His standard; not between them and me for them to live up to my standard.

When we are living in unforgiveness, it is like carrying a backpack full of sharp, jagged rocks. We tote them around and, while we may learn to live with the pain and discomfort, our life lacks joy and God’s peace.

When we are able to forgive, we remove those jagged rocks and hand them over to God.  We walk away from them and leave them where they belong. When we walk in unforgiveness, we are trying to bear something that is not ours to bear.  Let that person be God’s business, not yours.  Romans 12:19:  Leave room for the wrath of God (“Leave it to Me,” says God).

Internal Forgiveness is NOT “forgive, forget, move on, and leave myself open to be misused/abused all over again.”

Internal Forgiveness is where I no longer demand or expect revenge or retribution for the wrong done to me. It is not me declaring my offender, “Not guilty!” It is me declaring my offender “Responsible to God for what you have done.”

I can do this without being face-to-face with my offender; I can do this with someone who has passed on to their exit interview and who I will not see again in this life. I can do this to someone present in my life, or someone from my past.

By entering into Internal Forgiveness, I am the one who is released from the event(s) that took place. I am not responsible or accountable for the wrongs of another – I am only responsible for what I DO with what others have done to me.

This is connected to Judicial Forgiveness in that both are precursors to the third and final type of forgiveness (which we will examine in the upcoming Part 4), “Relational Forgiveness”.

As we learned in Part 2, God is the only one who can extend JUDICIAL FORGIVENESS. As we learned today in Part 3, we are the only one who is responsible for INTERNAL FORGIVENESS. Next time we will see that the offending party has the greatest amount of responsibility and work to do in RELATIONAL FORGIVENESS being extended.

 

Forgiveness – Part 2

Overheard:

“But aren’t we supposed to forgive, forget, and move on?”

In Part 1 of this series on Forgiveness, I outlined how we have arrived at such a fractured and unbiblical view of what forgiveness is and is not.

In Part 2, I want to discuss the foundational aspect of forgiveness. The first of the three types of forgiveness in the human experience is JUDICIAL FORGIVENESS.

(Special thanks to Dr. Steven R. Tracy for his helpful paradigm in Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse.)

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Forgiveness – Part 1

Overheard:

“But aren’t we supposed to forgive, forget, and move on? Isn’t that how Christians are SUPPOSED TO forgive?”

Unforgiveness weighs us down and isolates us from one another. Forgiveness lightens the load and restores community.

Unforgiveness separates us from God, from others, and from the truth. Forgiveness reconciles us to God, to others, and restores our connection to the Truth.

Unforgiveness is the heaviest burden a person can carry, yet it is the easiest one to take on. Forgiveness I can be the most difficult journey to undertake.

The only escape and relief from Unforgiveness is: FORGIVENESS.

Many people outside and (especially) inside Christianity misunderstand forgiveness. Combinations of defective hermeneutics, logic, and homiletics, added to a certain level of emotionalism, plus one person after another repeating the same misinformation, has created an unbiblical and unhealthy view of forgiveness.

I want to tackle forgiveness from a Biblical, practical, and authentic perspective. Only by understanding forgiveness from God’s perspective can we experience and extend true forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a component of redemption.

The Defective-Hermeneutics Spiral

In Psalm 103:12 we read:

“As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

In Isaiah 43:25 the Lord is quoted as saying,

“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

Then in Hebrews 8:12 (quoting Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:34; Jeremiah 50:20; and Micah 7:18-19) we read,

“FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE.”

These passages are conflated, over-extrapolated, and the doctrine of “Forgive-Forget-and-Move-On” results.

Because of a misunderstanding of the Biblical languages and a weak approach to hermeneutics, we are often taught the phrases “remember no more”, and “will not remember”, mean that God develops the equivalent of “Divine Amnesia”.

This is not at all the case. Both the Hebrew and the Greek words used in these and comparable passages where remembering is employed in this manner, are referring to a “being mindful of; mentioning” and similar concepts.

When this misunderstanding is combined with a decontextualized Philippians 3:13 where Paul speaks of “forgetting what is behind”—which is referring to his pedigree and accomplishments as well as what others have done to him—we arrive at the defective idea that, as Christians, we are to, “Forgive, forget, and move on.”

Nothing could be more unbiblical as regards forgiveness than this idea. In fact, this false teaching regularly retraumatizes people and, very often, becomes propagandized so strongly that spiritual abuse results.

It is important that we take hold of God’s view of forgiveness and adhere to it if we are to live free, healthy, and become able to walk in authentic, godly forgiveness.

In this series of posts, we are going to look at the three types of forgiveness described in the Bible: Judicial Forgiveness; Internal Forgiveness; Relational Forgiveness.

Since forgiveness is analogous of Christianity, this seems like a good place from which to launch a new blog – don’t you agree?