There are many misconceptions regarding forgiveness. Some Christians believe that if there is not reconciliation, then forgiveness has not taken place. Some people believe that forgiving means “forgetting” the offense and having “feelings” of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice, and has nothing to do with our feelings or our memory of the offense.
The Bible requires us to forgive others in order for God to forgive us. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
There are several things that forgiveness is not. First of all forgiveness is not forgetting what happened. There is the common cliché “to forgive and forget.” The truth is we may never forget certain offenses that have happened to us for the rest of our lives.
However we can decide not to bring it up over and over again. When God forgives us he chooses to never bring it up and hold it against us again. Psalm 103:12 says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Those who actually forget offenses could possibly be repressing or denying what actually happened. We should acknowledge what happened, but simply choose not to relive the experience for our own benefit.
Forgiveness also is not excusing or condoning. Excusing an offense is claiming that the offender is not to blame. Condoning is claiming that it is okay that they committed the offense. Forgiveness is not minimizing or justifying what was done.
Forgiveness also does not mean denying the damage that has occurred and the feelings that the offense caused. We can express our emotions in non-hurtful ways, such as with a counselor, mentor or friend.
Forgiveness is definitely not risking victimization or allowing further harm to occur. You
can forgive someone and still take healthy steps to protect yourself, including choosing not to continue the relationship. For example, women who are victims of domestic violence should not remain in a relationship with someone who physically abuses them or their children. They are obligated to get their children and themselves to safety. They do not need to immediately file for divorce. They can remain legally separated for safety reasons and wait to see if their partner repents and changes. If there isn’t evident “fruit on the tree” proving change has occurred, one should not return to their abusive partner. However, some churches counsel women in domestic violence situations in ways that put them in harm’s way. Some churches will claim that divorce or separation is not biblically permissible in cases of physical abuse. They will sometimes even claim that a woman must simply pray harder for her “prodigal partner” and then if they have enough faith God will change their partner. This is spiritual abuse. People have free choice and they must want to change. We can never change anyone by simply praying harder.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Reconciliation requires all parties involved to work together to rebuild the relationship. Forgiveness only requires one person. It is
something that takes place within us. It does not require us to contact the offender and initiate anything with the offender. In some cases the offender may be deceased.
Forgiveness can take place without rebuilding or re-entering the relationship. If we choose to re-establish the relationship we should have wisdom and decide if the relationship is safe (mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually).
Forgiveness does not involve enabling, rescuing or neglecting justice. These are traits of codependency. We should allow natural consequences to occur for our offender. Some offenders will try to manipulate and guilt-trip their victims into rescuing them from natural consequences such as trying to get a victim to go to court to abolish a protection order. This simply allows the offender to bypass consequences. It is not
unforgiving to allow natural consequences to occur. Justice is separate from forgiveness. A victim can pursue their rights for justice with or without forgiving their offender. If justice is granted, sometimes forgiveness is easier. However if justice is denied, we can be more prone to seek our own vengeance. We need to trust God to
implement His justice. We need to get out of the way between our offender and God. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Clearly this is easier said than done.
So what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is simply releasing the offender. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky calls forgiveness “a shift in thinking” toward someone who has wronged you, “such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased.”
Forgiveness in the Oxford English dictionary is a noun and it means “the action or process of forgiving or being forgiven.”
The word “forgiveness” in Greek is aphieeme, which means “to send off,” “to release,” or “to let go.” Lynn Ponton, M.D. in her article, What is Forgiveness? states that “Forgiveness is letting go of the need for revenge and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment.”
It involves a decision to not continually speak of or relive the offense. If you are like me you are prone to continually rewind the tapes in your mind! We need to choose not to talk about it to others (with the motive to cause harm to our offender). We also need to choose not to talk about it to ourselves. Bad-mouthing our offenders to others and to ourselves through negative self-talk will cause bitterness that will destroy us (mentally, physically and spiritually). We need to replace these negative thoughts and words with positive ones. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones about offenses done to us will prevent bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is necessary for healing. It prevents the offense from having power over us.
This task of forgiveness is something I personally have to work on daily; it doesn’t come naturally for me. I try to always remember that forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves.
If you need healing from hurts or past abuse or simply encouragement and positive friendships from other women, contact us to enroll in a Journey To Joy Friendship Group near you! Blessings to you on your journey to joy!
Ponton, Lynn, MD. What is Forgiveness? Psych Central. http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-forgiveness/000965,2007.
Lyubomirsky, Sonjy. The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: The Penguin Group, 2007.