4 Misconceptions About Forgiving Others Turn to God’s Word to uncover “what forgiveness is not” June 25th, 2015 Randy Petersen
4 Misconceptions About Forgiving Others
4 Misconceptions About Forgiving Others Turn to God’s Word to uncover “what forgiveness is not” June 25th, 2015 Randy Petersen
Bible Blog

Somebody jostles you on the street and says, “sorry!” You could lash out at their carelessness, but instead you say, “no problem.” Have you really forgiven that person?

Forgiveness can be a wonderful thing, but it’s often misunderstood. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive our trespasses (or debts) as we forgive others, so it’s a process we’re committed to. We know that we are sinners, relying on God’s mercy, and we want to show that same mercy to others, but forgiving is a tough business. When we are deeply hurt—not just jostled on the street—it’s not so easy to say, “no problem,” because it is a problem.

As you seek to forgive others, watch out for these common misconceptions:

1. True forgiveness does not shrug off the offense.

My friend Dawn had a husband who cheated repeatedly and then abandoned her. It’s not surprising that she found it hard to forgive him. “That would be like saying his actions were okay, but they weren’t,” she said. “He was awful to me!”

But forgiveness doesn’t excuse the crime. It doesn’t minimize it. It doesn’t say it was okay. In fact, it does exactly the opposite. It squarely faces the offense. It says, “you did wrong, and it hurt me badly. But now I’m choosing not to hate you for it.”

“I, the Lord, invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow or wool” (Isaiah 1:18, CEV). God does not shrug off our sin. He asks us to own up to it. We should do the same as we forgive others.

2. Forgiveness does not automatically restore a relationship.

Some marriages heal after infidelity, but they also change. Some friendships weather betrayal, but they will never be the same as they were before. Sometimes forgiveness can make a relationship better, as people find a new level of emotional honesty, but it is also possible to forgive someone without renewing the relationship. You can release the bad feelings while keeping healthy boundaries in place.

King Saul chased David through the canyons of Judea, intent on killing him. But at certain points he was penitent, begging David to forgive him. Did David forgive? Maybe. He certainly maintained a respect for Saul’s royal status. But he kept running (1 Samuel 24).

Jesus told his followers to be “cautious as snakes and as gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16, GNTD). That’s a good way to forgive. Open your heart again, but be wise about it.

3. Forgiveness does not mean completely forgetting your hurt.

People often recite the old adage, “forgive and forget.” But what if you’re frustrated because you can never totally forget how someone hurt you?

“We should not make forgetting a test of our forgiving,” wrote Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes in his book Forgive and Forget. That approach can lead us into mind games that sabotage the normal healing process. The question is not what memories you retain in your brain, but where you choose to focus.

God promised, “I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs” (Jeremiah 31:34, GNTD). What does he mean by that? Omniscient as he is, he can’t be clueless about what has happened—he just chooses not to focus on our sins. He moves on, and so should we.

Consider how the apostles treated Paul after his conversion to Christianity. He had been a fierce persecutor of Christians, but now he wanted to join up. Did they forgive him for his past violence against them? Apparently, yes. But they were still careful about welcoming him into their midst. In fact, they sent him off to his hometown for a while, perhaps to prove his sincerity (Acts 9:26-30).

4. Forgiveness does not require an apology.

Oh, it’s great when the person who wronged you comes begging for mercy. You can talk about what happened, make your peace and negotiate wise boundaries for whatever the new relationship needs to be. But that’s not always going to happen. Sometimes the offender has run off. Sometimes he or she remains obstinate, refusing to admit anything. And sometimes the person you need to forgive has passed away. In these situations, how can you truly forgive?

In his teaching against retaliation, Paul writes, “Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody” (Romans 12:18, GNTD). You are not responsible for what others do, but you can choose to “live in peace.” In such cases, you may need to let go of the offense unilaterally. You’re refusing to focus on it anymore. You’re choosing to release the hate and any vengeful feelings you have harbored. You are choosing to live in peace, setting yourself free.

“Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.” (Colossians 3:13, GNTD).

As forgiven people, we are forgiving people. God can work miracles of healing in our hearts. But we need to let that healing happen in God’s way, in God’s time.

Read more posts about: Healthy Relationships

Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen

Writer of more than sixty books and hundreds of church curriculum lessons, Randy Petersen has served churches as a Bible teacher, small-groups coordinator, drama director, preaching consultant and softball pitcher.

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