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Forgiveness: Part 3 – Some Misperceptions

Forgiveness: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Do It

Common misperceptions about forgiveness. 

Some people may believe forgiveness must be requested before it can be granted. In actuality, forgiveness can be given to someone who is no longer living, to someone who doesn’t acknowledge any harm was done, to someone who is not repentant, to someone who only acknowledges a portion of the severity of the transgression, etc. Remember that forgiveness only requires one person while reconciliation requires two cooperating parties.

By forgiving someone, you are not simply “getting over it.” Some of the transgressions you may have experienced are very serious and cannot be simply overlooked. God does not excuse sin or deny its severity; neither should we. Remember that, “God’s mercy cannot override His holiness. Offenses demand payment.” The solution that God offers for all sins for all time is Jesus, the perfect son of God, who died to pay the penalty for sin.

Below are misperceptions and Truths about forgiveness:
Some people incorrectly believe that forgiveness: Denies the seriousness of sin, lets people “off the hook” too easily, places too much responsibility on the victim, and is unjust.

On the contrary, true forgiveness: Acknowledges a wrong has occurred, recognizes that the wrong has created an obligation for repayment from the offender, recognizes of that often the offender cannot provide adequate compensation for the hurt, realizes that revenge, although a natural desire, isn’t a Godly or healthy solution and releases the debt over the offender.

We can acknowledge that there are times when the offender does provide some payment for their wrong. For example, a drunk driver who drives head-on into a car, killing the other driver and passengers, may be convicted by the law and go to jail. However, that payment does not begin to cover the losses experienced by the family members and friends of those who died. Those losses are greater than that which the transgressor could ever provide compensation. Those are the losses that are acknowledged during the forgiveness process.

What forgiveness IS NOT.

Forgetting: One does not completely forget an offense when forgiving. The often cited phrase, “Forgive and Forget” sometimes leads people to believe that forgiveness means that one will truly forget the memory. Many people believe the phrase “forgive and forget” comes from the Bible, but it does not! In fact, trying to deny that some act of mistreatment or betrayal hurt you can actually intensify the memory of what you are trying to forget. Christ-like forgiveness for human beings means that we will not hold anger, bitterness, or hostility “over the person’s head.” Therefore, instead of trying to literally forget a memory, the goal is to be released from the unhealthy emotional tie it has to you.

Pardoning: Pardoning is a legal term that means to release from punishment, or to not punish, for some crime or offense. Even when someone is forgiven, they may receive consequences for their actions.

Apologizing: Apologizing is an acknowledgement and expression of regret for a fault, injury, or insult. Flippant or insincere apologies can do more harm than good. A sincere apology means that the offender is (1) acknowledging the wrong they have done, (2) accepting responsibility for it, (3) acknowledging the hurt caused, and (4) is willing to accept the consequences.

Reconciling: Reconciling is the process whereby two people take steps to rebuild a relationship that has been hurt. Though forgiveness may lead to making a relationship right, it does not in and of itself bring about reconciliation. Reconciliation is actually the work that both people, the offender and the offended, do together to restore a broken relationship.

Avoidance or denial: Sometimes people are so hurt by something that they quickly say, “I’ve already forgiven it.” in order to try to avoid having to feel the pain of the injury. Forgiveness is not simply a way of avoiding dealing with someone or something to get around pain or conflict. It is also not the same as denying we were truly hurt by someone’s words or actions.

Excusing the offense: Forgiveness does not give the offender the right to offend again. Healthy boundaries are important so that we do not simply allow another person’s hurtful or sinful actions to continue.

Easy or cheap: True forgiveness is not simply a few pleasant sounding words. It is hard work that involves a true and lasting change of behavior.

Trusting: Trust in relationships is built and maintained over time. Depending upon the seriousness of an offense, trust may be slightly diminished or even destroyed. Forgiveness may lead to the process of trust being restored as part of reconciliation, but trust isn’t a prerequisite for forgiveness. Remember that forgiveness is what one person extends to another. Trust is earned over time, and the person who committed the offense must accept that regaining trust will occur as a process over time.

A feeling: We can’t wait to forgive until we feel like forgiving someone or are no longer feeling the effects of the offense. Rather, forgiveness is an act of obedience through which God can guide us.

Dependent on time: A phrase that is sometimes quoted about relationship hurts is, “time heals all wounds.” Unfortunately it isn’t true! While the passage of time can sometime help us get perspective on a hurt, time itself doesn’t heal anything! We could more accurately say, “Time plus forgiveness leads to the healing of wounds.”

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References:

  1. Robert Jeffress, When Forgiveness Doesn’t Make Sense (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2000), Chapter 3.
  2. Ibid., 42.
  3. Ibid., 41-46.
  4. Ibid., 162.