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Forgiveness is hard!

forgivenLately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of forgiveness. I won’t share why, but let it suffice to say that pastors need forgiveness just as much as anyone. Funny thing is that we are best prepared to teach the things we have hardest learned. One who truly understands forgiveness, has both forgiven others much and been forgiven much by others—there is no other way to learn these lessons.

Often when counseling someone to forgive, there is one most common reaction. When hurt by another or slighted in some way, we are often unwilling to forgive the person because it would mean they got away with what they did. We can find ourselves thinking, “Once that person pays for what they did I will forgive them.” Another form of this would be “Once that person reverses the results of their actions, then I will forgive their actions.” The problem is that this is not forgiveness.

According to Dictionary.com, the word forgive comes from the Old English forgiefan, which is a compound of the prefix for meaning “completely” and giefan meaning “to give.” It literally means to give up completely. You see, if we require any rebalancing of the scales prior to forgiveness, it is not forgiveness we practice. This is because we would not be giving it up completely. In effect it would be saying, “I will not give up that much, but if you act to bring the line back this far then I can work with you by giving that up.”

Another reason a requirement for restitution does not constitute true forgiveness is because it is, instead, a demand for justice, or at least a more just outcome. Forgiveness is not interested in justice, it offers grace and mercy. Forgiveness is, in effect, to declare the scales balanced. If one demands the scales be actually balanced, then there is no forgiveness necessary.

One can only forgive if one gives up completely the right to be recompensed. One truly forgives only when one declares the scales of justice to be balanced.

So, how best can we do this? One thing to do is keep in mind that this is exactly what God did for you through Christ. God did not demand you make up for your sins, or work some of them off so there was less to forgive. No. He met you where you were, in the midst of your darkest sins, to forgive you. He declared the scales balanced. When he did this he gave up any right to demand justice against you. Think about that for a moment. The God of the universe, creator of all, the most holy and righteous judge gave up any right to demand restitution for your sins. He declared the scales balanced, meaning he declared you as not guilty of the sins—he declared that you did not do them. You see, one reason we cannot require restitution when forgiving is because we are in effect declaring the forgiven action never happened—if it never happened there is nothing for which to make restitution. We are, in effect, justifying that person in our own eyes and hearts. So, was this act of God a divine fiction—God winked and pretended you were not guilty? No. God did this by placing your sins upon Christ. The sinless Christ was declared, willingly taking it upon himself, to be guilty of your sins. We often gloss over this because we know that Christ is sinless and never sinned. We are willing to say he bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24). We are willing to see his parallel in the scape goat. We forget that this means the guilt itself was placed upon Christ. Folks, understand! This means you are not guilty of your sins. Christ has been declared guilty of them! I know this sounds too harsh, but it is the reality of the transaction to which Christ submitted. We are forgiven because Christ took our sins and he is righteous enough to balance any scales of justice.

We are commanded to forgive and should do so, because that sin committed against us was also placed upon Christ. Now this assumes the person to be a Christian. What if that person is not? Then all that person has to do is come to Christ and that sin will be placed upon Christ. So, when we refuse to forgive, we are declaring the sacrifice of Christ as insufficient to cover that sin. If Christ’s sacrifice is insufficient to cover that sin, then there is no hope for our own sins. We find ourselves caught in a trap when we refuse to forgive.

There is one more thing to remember about forgiveness. If we are truly declaring the person who has sinned against us as not guilty (as we do when giving up their offense completely), then can we ever bring that back up? If we bring it up against them later, then we show that we have not actually forgiven them. We do this because bringing it back up says, “You are guilty of this,” which is the opposite of forgiveness which declares, “You are not guilty of this.” How can we say we forgive when we then hold the forgiven act against the one we claim to have forgiven?

As you read this understand that I rebuke myself in this far more than anyone can know. There are things I have not forgiven people for. I thought I had done so, simply because I had decided to not demand restitution. However, by continuing to see them as guilty of the transgression shows I did not truly forgive.

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Bad Choices

Recently I’ve been doing some reading in one of my preferred areas of study: Ethics. Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It, by Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel, is an interesting study on the choices we make that do not line up with our ethical views and why these choices happen.

I found it most interesting that many individuals if asked to predict how they would behave when faced with a certain choice would pick the option lining up with their ethics (what they should do), but when facing the actual choice they will often choose the opposite (what they want to do). Then, after the choice and the situation has passed, that same individual realizing the dissonance between their ethics and their actions will reinterpret the situation to justify their action.  In this way they follow what they know to be unethical, then remake it to look ethical.

One problem the authors point out is that when simply discussing scenarios most people quickly realize they are facing an ethical question, but when facing an actual life scenario they fail to recognize the ethical dimension of their choices. It is easier to weigh the ethics when not faced with the actual choice—when the ethical determination is simply a theoretical exercise with no actual cost.

This got me thinking about the choices churches make, never realizing what they have actually chosen. Often we justify our choices as wise, as stewardship, as honoring God, when they are actually abusive, uncaring, and divisive.

I’ve spent years as a pastor (usually going into a church after the previous pastor made a horrible choice). I have also counseled many of my fellow pastors when facing bad choices being made by themselves or their congregations.  As I mention these, understand I am not going to say what church or pastor did what. Please don’t assume I am speaking about my church or about any particular church. Also understand that I write this, not to condemn or judge, but to get people to dig a bit deeper under the surface, step back and look at choices with fresh eyes. If a congregation or pastor could foresee what choices they could face in the future, and what could tempt them to make the wrong choice, then they can be better prepared to recognize both the ethical dimension of the choices, and see the choices for what they truly are.

I know of one church where the pastor worked multiple jobs to take some stress off the church finances. He did this because the church had a mortgage that it really couldn’t afford, but by supplementing his salary, the pastor enabled the church to pay it down sooner. He felt strongly that the church was worth it and wanted to enable them to do more with the resources God gave them. At one meeting where the church board was speaking about the growing income and the decreasing mortgage balance, the pastor in passing said, “Let me know when you think the church can afford for me to go full-time and I’ll quit my other jobs.” One of the elders responded, “Well, you should be able to be full-time on what we pay you now, depending on how you live.” This pastor felt stung. It was his sacrifice that permitted the church to do what they were doing. He used his jobs for outreach and the church was growing. By having those jobs the church did not have to pay the pastor enough to support his family on the local economy. Yet, the elder was saying the pastor should be happy with a standard of living that the elder himself would have found unlivable. Churches often make choices on pastoral compensation based on the idea: “Well. It is a calling. If you serve God, then he will provide for you.” They then see it as an excuse to not support the pastor sufficiently—to abdicate their responsibilities in that area. They forget that the Lord does promise to provide for his servants. He promises to support the pastor/teacher/elder, but he promises to do it from the giving of the local church—from the wealth with which he blesses that congregation. Using “calling” and an unscriptural view of “providence” to justify forcing those who serve the church the most to raise their families on the least is at best an affront to the God who called the pastor.

I know another church where the board constantly fought the pastor. One day, an elder got some strange ideas about the pastor and put a chain and padlock on the church doors so that no one (especially the pastor) could get into the building without the elder being there. The elder believed he was protecting the church from a pastor he did not trust. In reality he was protecting his own power and from then on the church was known as “the church with the chain on the door.” In discussions with this elder he gave many justifications to support his choice to lock the pastor out of his own church.

Many churches are divided into factions. Each group seeks to have authority and exercise it over the others. They will be rife with party spirit and each make decisions not on what will glorify the Lord, and fulfill his will for the church. They make decisions based on what will keep them and their party in authority and then, after the fact, twist their reasoning to justify their behavior. I’ve seen such in operation in worship format, in building improvements, in benevolence giving, in outreach strategy.  Even the most holy of activities, as worshipping the Lord, become ammunition for these people. Let me ask you a question. Do you think God listens to the worship of his people and actually says, “I prefer when they worship me with that type of song and don’t really like when they worship me with the others.” Many will say, “But I don’t get anything out of (insert type of music) and get much more from (insert other type of music).” That is the problem. You falsely imagine that worship is intended for you to “get something from it.” Worship is intended as an opportunity to worship and bless God. He could not care less if you chant to him or rap to him. Before you think I am beating up on the traditional music folks with this, I have seen worship leaders, pastors, congregants, on both sides using music to beat up their opposition. This is not honoring to God, when you dishonor those Jesus died to save. Doing this is unethical regardless of the style of worship you are defending.

We’ve all been in churches where any noise from anyone—especially a child—receives stern looks from others. When you choose to glower at a young mother who is struggling to keep her toddler quiet, you do it with the hope they will see your face and choose to keep their child quiet. Do you really want to send the message: “Your child is not welcome here”?  In one church, I had a couple elderly women come to me to complain, “Don’t their children know how to behave in church?” I knew the family and responded, “They’ve never been in a church before so how are they to know?” I told them to give them time and be patient because the parents were seeking and we didn’t want to make their children unwelcome just because they didn’t act like these two elderly women imagined their own children did. It is funny just how much of our own children’s behavior we forget. We imagine that our own children never made any noise or never misbehaved in church and then judge parents because their children do not act like the perfect examples we imagine our own children to have been. When we do this we are choosing to send a message that children are not welcome—at least not those who act like children. We would never say it outright, but that is because we are more comfortable with a politely silent lie, than a spoken one.

Years ago, I heard about a church served lovingly by a pastor and his wife for over thirty years. They had always lived in a parsonage and lived on low income to sacrifice for the service of the church. One day the pastor died, rather suddenly. The church board notified the widow, shortly before the funeral, that she had thirty days to vacate the parsonage. In their mind, this was just good stewardship. They only had one parsonage and couldn’t pay enough for the next pastor to rent a home, so they needed her out. The problem is that the pastor and his wife were probably in that situation because of the church’s twisted view of stewardship. We are to be stewards of what is truly important to God—the people he redeemed. We are to use the world’s wealth to care for people. This is an example of a church who thought it was the money in the bank account that mattered most to God. Such a twisted view is not as uncommon as you might hope.

One bad choice people and churches make is often found in memorials. One day a friend was showing me around his church facility. It appeared everything had little brass plaques attached showing in whose name they had been given. When a person gives such things they are giving with strings attached. Heaven help the pastor who tries to remove grandma’s memorial organ, or grandpa’s memorial pew from a small country church. The thing takes the place of the beloved person and must then be treated with the same respect as the person. I told him that I felt sorry for him because if he ever decided to remodel he would be deemed guilty of throwing out Grandma or Grandpa rather than an outdated piece of furniture. Are you giving to your church to bless the kingdom or to trumpet your generosity?

There is one other type of church choice that is too common. It too can be rooted in bad stewardship concepts or in any other number of areas. This happens when a church makes a decision that will hurt another person—often the pastor. When a church knows they can have A or B, but not both, choosing either means preferring it over the other. If the church chooses A, then that means they value it more than B. If they choose B, then they prefer B to A. I’ve seen churches take actions that will require the pastor to leave—one example is a choice that favors the building over the pastor. When they do this the church is showing the pastor that they prefer the building to the pastor.

If your choice or action is unethical, it doesn’t honor God to twist the facts afterwards to make up for it. The only thing that can be done is repent, as forgiveness and make amends.

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Shelter for our Enemies

Isaiah 16 demonstrates an interesting dimension of Judeo Christian ethics. In this passage, God is punishing Moab for past sins against God’s people. Yet, God commands his people in verse four, “let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer” (ESV).

It’s often imagined that compassion for one’s enemies is a purely Christian commandment first given by Jesus. Of course, Jesus takes it to a new level by telling us to love them. We imagine because Jesus said, Matthew 5: 43f, “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (ESV). Because of this many have claimed the Old Testament taught hatred for one’s enemies. Actually, no such command is found in scripture. Jesus, in this passage, is directly referencing the extra biblical teachings of the Pharisees.

Actually, Jesus command in Matthew 5:43f is very much in keeping with the tenor of Old Testament on behavior towards one’s enemies. Jesus took it farther by commanding active love towards them, but the Old Testament includes several admonishments to act toward them in a loving way (Ex 23:4f; Pro 24:17; 25:21; 29:10 to name but a few).

Yes, there were times the people of God were commanded to kill their enemies in warfare. However, we must be careful to discern two things, (1) these were directly commanded by God, or in response to active enemy attack, and (2) these were commands for the nation and not the individual. The duties of the individual were often very different from those of the nation. It was often the actions of the nation that made it possible for the individual to live to a higher ethical standard. Think of it today as our government leaders have the duty to punish the evil doer, and my individual duty is to forgive that same evil doer.

In Isaiah 16 God commands us not to gloat over our enemies. It also commands us to actively shelter our enemies from the outpouring of God’s wrath. Think of it this way:

“Moab has harmed you and attacked you. Moab has taken advantage of you when you were smitten. Now, I will smite Moab and punish them severely. But when they come among you to escape the destroyer I send among them, you must shelter and protect them. You must not do as they have done, but must behave as my people should.”

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Only Sacrifice for Sins

The Old Covenant provided sacrifices to be performed over and over for sins. The New Covenant also provided a blood offering for sins, but the two are quite different. Heb 10:3-4 (ESV) says, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Under the Old Covenant the sacrifices had to be completed year by year, day by day, over and over. Sin was not actually removed, it was merely covered. We too often make the mistake of believing sins were actually removed by these sacrifices, but such offerings could never remove sins.

There was only one sacrifice ever offered that actually removed sins. This offering was the last one performed under the Old Covenant—the sacrifice of Christ. Once this was completed sins were removed (not just covered) and the Old Covenant sacrificial system was abolished. The New Covenant was ushered in.

There was only one sacrifice efficacious for the removal and forgiveness of sins. All the others were merely a shadow of the true sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:1). Don’t make the mistake of thinking anyone was actually forgiven for offering bulls or lambs. Instead those who made these offerings had their sins “laid aside” or “overlooked” without punishment, until God offered the only sacrifice that would forgive us and them. No one in any age has ever been saved outside of Jesus Christ. No one in any age will ever be saved outside of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not an alternative route of salvation offered by God. Jesus is the only route of salvation offered by God.

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Forgiveness Guaranteed?

1 John 1:9 (ESV) says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We all sin. We all fall short of perfection. The solution to these sins is taking them to Jesus for forgiveness, but we often feel we don’t deserve forgiveness or that we have been too bad to forgive. This passage is a wonderful promise of forgiveness because it is tied to very important qualities of Jesus. You can be sure of forgiveness, not because Jesus is “nice” or “kind” enough to forgive. Unfortunately, this is how we often imagine it. Niceness and kindness are vague concepts. What is the nice thing to do in every situation or the kind thing to do? Sometimes being kind or nice can actually inflict discomfort—such as to teach an important lesson. This passage does tie forgiveness to Jesus’ character, but not to these vague qualities. Instead it is tied to two of the strongest qualities of our savior. Our forgiveness is tied to Jesus being faithful and just. The first part, Jesus’ faithfulness says Jesus is going to do exactly what he is supposed to do when he is supposed to do it, without reservation, hesitation or failure. This faithfulness can be scary because if the right thing to do was to exact punishment then we would be punished. But the passage isn’t so vague. It says he “is faithful [to] forgive.” This means Jesus will always (another way of saying “faithfully”) forgive. He doesn’t wait for you to feel sorry enough, or for you to do enough penance. Confess and be forgiven. Jesus forgives because that is his role as our savior. God sent him to secure forgiveness and salvation for us, and he is faithful to do the will of the Father, at all times (John 6:39f). There is no danger of Jesus refusing to forgive you because to do so would violate the will of the father and make the son unfaithful—something he can never be.

But there is another quality of Jesus mentioned here and tied to our forgiveness: justice. It says that Jesus “is just [to] forgive us our sins.” Now wait just a minute! Justice is usually to be feared when guilty of sin. It is justice that balances the scales. Justice responds to evil with punishment. When one is harmed justice forces the guilty party to make recompense. When one sins, it is justice that ensures you receive the punishment you deserve. Justice is not usually associated with forgiveness. Actually, forgiveness is the antithesis of justice. If one is forgiven, then justice was not met. If one receives their just reward, then there was no forgiveness. However, through Christ the forgiveness and cleansing of our sins has changed from unjust to just. You see we deserved death for our sins. Justice would have repaid those sins with death (Romans 6:23a) to balance the scales. But the death of Christ balanced them on our behalf and in our place. This death paid for them fully—not just past sins but all sins (past, present, future). Since the sins are already paid for, forgiveness has already been secured (Hebrews 9:26ff). To refuse to forgive would, itself, be unjust. To refuse to forgive would declare the sacrifice of Christ insufficient.

There is a huge difference between justice without Christ and justice with Christ. Before coming to Christ we were responsible to pay for our own sins. Justice demanded payment. However, once we came to Christ he paid it all and justice assures any subsequent sins are forgiven, fully.

Now, some will still demand a price for this forgiveness—a price paid by the sinner. They will point out that this passage says we will be forgiven “if we confess our sins.” It is claimed (wrongly) that one who does not confess (or fails to confess) will then not be forgiven. This is only possible if the confession is what makes the forgiveness just. To claim this would be to claim that the confession is what makes the sacrifice of Christ sufficient to pay the price, and without our confession the sacrifice of Christ would not be enough. Such a claim, in effect, is a claim of needing “Jesus plus” (it requires my actions to complete the work of Christ). This is abominable. But if you know how to look at such statements you will understand that this is not what the author is saying.

He does not say, “If you confess you will be forgiven, but if you do not confess you will not be forgiven.” No. He says, “If you confess you will be forgiven” then justifies this with the qualities of Jesus. So the first part must be taken by itself, since the latter is meant to justify (or explain) the former. Does it mean that we will only be forgiven if we confess? Of course not.

The statement is what is known in logic as a conditional statement. These take the form of “If A then B” (or in propositional logic A→B). Such statements have two parts: a sufficient clause and a necessary clause. In this case “confess” is the sufficient clause, and “will be forgiven” is the necessary clause. To understand these let’s look at the rules for each:

Sufficient Clause: “A sufficient condition for some state of affairs S is a condition that, if satisfied, guarantees that S obtains.”

Necessary Clause: “A necessary condition for some state of affairs S is a condition that must be satisfied in order for S to obtain.”

(Taken from: http://philosophy.wisc.edu/hausman/341/Skill/nec-suf.htm)

You see, logic (and language is really just a logical way of making statements) has rules for such statements. For a conditional statement to be true, the necessary statement must be true if the sufficient clause is true. In the example of A→B, if A is true, then B must be true or the statement is false. In this case, if I confess and Jesus does not forgive then the statement is false. However, the reverse (If I do not confess, I will not be forgiven) is not impled. That would be a very different statement: (A→B)&(~A→~B) which would be the equivalent of A↔B. Such would actually set confession as the equivalent to forgiveness (the two would define each other). It would ultimately be my confession that causes my forgiveness—a heretical idea. And to make confession a necessary for forgiveness, the statement would be “If you are forgiven, then you have confessed.” This is a very different statement—no longer a promise, but a simple declaration.

The statement “If you confess you will be forgiven” is saying that is you confess your sins you can be sure of being forgiven because of whom Jesus is and what he has done. However, it says nothing at all about what happens if you fail to confess or are unaware of sins and unable to confess them. Those are handled by the second statement: Jesus forgives because he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us. We can also rest assured in other promises, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:23f, which says (ESV), “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Add to this the promise of Jesus interceding for us forever as High Priest (Hebrews 6:19f). The Spirit will bring sins to your attention for you to confess. This is not because one must confess to be forgiven—the forgiveness is already secured. The Holy Spirit does this so that you can repent of the sin and turn from it. This is part of sanctification and growth, not a requisite of forgiveness or salvation, which were already secured.

Once you have come to Christ, you are never again in danger of unforgiven sins.

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God’s Pleasure

We talk a great deal about God’s forgiveness. But I wonder what image many of us have about it. It is quite true that we can only be forgiven because God gave his son to die for our sins. Unfortunately, we can often find ourselves thinking in a surprisingly negative way. It is too easy, and I have seen it too often, that we imagine going to God with our sins and him saying, “Well, a deal is a deal. I agreed to forgive you because of Jesus’ death and will have to abide by that agreement.” Fortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. This morning I was reading Micah 7:18 which, in the ESV, reads:

“Who is steadfast like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”

God doesn’t forgive because of a bargain struck and sealed in the blood of Christ (though it is only through this blood that forgiveness is available). This sacrifice makes it possible for us to be forgiven, but as Romans 5:8 tells us this sacrifice was done because of God’s love. You see, God does not forgive because he is bound to by a bargain or contract. God forgives us because he loves us and (hear me on this next part) because he delights in forgiving your sins. Imagine that for a moment! God of heaven, maker of heaven and earth, omnipotent, omniscient, holy, and just judge of the universe takes pleasure in forgiving your sins.

Don’t go to him sheepishly racked with guilt. Go to him quickly, boldly, happily saying, “Father I have sinned. Please forgive me.” He takes pleasure in forgiving your sins, so be quick to please your Lord. You do this by taking your sins to him, turning from them and seeking his face.

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My Brother’s Keeper

Matthew 5:21-24 (LEB) says:

“You have heard that it was said to the people of old, ‘Do not commit murder,’ and ‘whoever commits murder will be subject to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Stupid fool!’ will be subject to the council, and whoever says, ‘Obstinate fool!’ will be subject to fiery hell. Therefore if you present your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and first go be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your gift.”

If you give this passage a cursory reading you miss something very important. It’s easy to miss the change in concentration. In the first part, Jesus is warning that being anger is the source of murder, and a cause of judgment. It is natural to imagine verses 23f address your response to being angry at your brother. However, it says something very different.

In verse 23, Jesus says “If you remember that your brother has something against you…” This is not saying “Do this, if you remember your brother has something against you, because you are in danger of judgment.” This is actually saying, “Do this, if you remember your brother has something against you, because your actions have put your brother in danger of judgment.” Jesus is telling us to take care for our brother’s emotional condition. He is telling us to care more for our brother’s spiritual well-being than even for our religious observations: “Leave your offering at the altar and go…” In this passage it is the brother who is angry. This anger tempts the brother to sin, and puts him in danger of judgment. Jesus places responsibility upon the errant disciple to go and make things right with one he or she has angered.

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Forgiven or Trusted?

There’s an old saying, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” While the phrase is usually meant cynically, it is something to look at. This is because our Christian faith includes so much about forgiveness—both our being forgiven by God and others being forgiven by us. However, we should never take this forgiveness for granted, nor use it as an excuse to be immoral or hurtful.

When we take the forgiveness of others for granted, we act expecting them to forgive us. We know our action is something the other would not like. We know the action is something for which we will need forgiveness—in other words it will be an immoral or inappropriate act. We may find ourselves thinking, “So-and-so will not like that I am doing this, but he will forgive me.” This is true, but will that person trust you again? We forget that trust and forgiveness are two very different things.

When I forgive you, I am choosing to not demand restitution or punishment for an act committed against me. For example, if you took money from my wallet and I forgive you, then I would not demand repayment and neither would I demand your punishment. I would also choose to not hold the act over you. So, I will not come back at you years later in anger and say, “Remember when you stole my money?” It is this last that is so hard. We often express forgiveness, but in a heated moment the memory comes back and we lash out. This is part of our own imperfection—we want to forgive as completely as God, but we are weak and sinful.

This problem doesn’t just stem from our imperfection though. It also comes from the problem of trust. Trust and forgiveness are too different things (as I said above), but they can be related. Back to our illustration: if you took money from my wallet and I forgive you, does that mean I will be comfortable leaving my wallet around you in the future? Some may, but I think most would not. You see, even though you have been forgiven, you may never be trusted again. You committed the first act; you were forgiven for the act; you may not be trusted in a similar situation again. Though forgiven by the other, your status with that person has been harmed.

Now, is this wrong? Is there anything that says forgiveness must include future trust? Since I trusted you before your action, does forgiving the action require me to still trust you? Actually, I don’t believe one always requires the other. One is a question of relationship and response to an action. The other is an assumption of actions. When I trust you with my wallet, I am assuming you will refrain from taking anything from it. When I trust you with my children, I am assuming you will protect them as your own. When a woman and man marry, they trust each other to act in keeping with that covenant. When any of these are violated, the offender needs forgiveness by the offended, but can the one offended return to the original assumption about the person.  Does the command to forgive require resetting the assumption?

This is a hard question. This is because our own forgiveness is such a justification (remember the old saying, “Just as if I’d Never sinned”) that not only has the old sin been covered, but it is removed as if it was never committed—we are declared to have never committed the sin. This justification is the basis of our being reconciled to God and the establishment of a relationship with the Father. From then on, he treats us as one who has never sinned.

So, when we forgive, we should seek this sort of reconciliation with those who hurt us. However, does this reconciliation mean trusting them? Should a woman who was beaten by a boyfriend continue to date him as part of forgiving him? Should a parent whose children were harmed by a neighbor forgive and then continue to allow that neighbor to watch the kids? It is in these situations where we find it easy to agree that forgiveness may not mean a restoration of trust—at least not to the original degree.

My reason for bringing this up today is not to tell you that forgiving someone doesn’t require you to trust them. That would be too much of a blanket statement because sometimes the trust should be restored. I am writing this to remind you that while it may be “easier to get forgiveness than permission,” the ruptured trust may be impossible to restore. When you approach a relationship this way you make an assumption about the other person. That assumption may irreparably harm the assumptions the other person makes about you. Do not treat others from the assumption that they will have to forgive you. Instead, treat them with the respect of demonstrating that you want their trust rather than their forgiveness—because you may not be able to have both.

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