Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Debunking 4 Myths About Forgiveness

If you’re anything like me, there are days when you feel like you have the forgiveness-thing down pat.  Perhaps someone causes you pain. You examine the situation and discern there was no ill-will or intent involved. It’s easy, then, to quickly forgive and leave the incident in the past.

Other times, when deep wounds are involved, forgiveness seems almost impossible and we realize how much work we have yet to do.  This might happen when…
  • We’re physically harmed or assaulted
  • Our children become victims
  • We’ve experienced infidelity
  • We’ve endured years of neglect from a family member
  • Words cut to the quick 

I’m sure you have examples of your own.

What causes one person deep pain might seem superficial to someone else.  Forgiveness might come easily to one but feel like climbing Mount Everest to another. We all have different histories and different breaking points.  

Consider the following verses:  

Matthew 6:15 But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you

Forgiveness is a commandment.  Most of us desire to forgive, but over the years, we’ve developed inaccurate ideas about what it means to forgive. At times I’ve condemned myself for unforgiveness when that wasn’t what I carried at all.  Wrong thinking kept me imprisoned until I learned the truth.

Here are four myths about forgiveness that were most difficult to overcome: 

1) Granting forgiveness means I’ll never again remember the offense.

Forgiving is far different from forgetting. Looking at forgiveness as an accounting concept instead of one tied to memory and emotion, we’ll soon understand the separation between these two ideas.   

In Jeremiah 31:34 (Their sin I will remember no more) and Hebrews 10:17 (And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more), God is using human language to illustrate a heavenly reality.  

Think of it this way: God knows everything. If He is truly omniscient (all knowing), then He cannot be taught. If He needed reminding about an offense that He forgot with His memory, He simply wouldn’t be the God of the Bible.  When His Word says He “remembers no more”, it means He will no longer take action against the offense.  As He judges sin and accounts for the wrongs in our life, His forgiveness blots them off the records. 

Forgiveness is a release from action toward an offense and the acknowledgement that the penalty or debt is paid in full.  It is not tied to the biological idea of memory.  This means that we may continue to feel pain, anger, or frustration over an offense. We may continue to bring the offense to mind. As we do, we can also remember that God has an eternal plan and a purpose and will work all things for our good and His glory. 

2) Granting forgiveness means acknowledging that what happened is okay.

Can God forgive a murder? Of course He can. Does that mean that murder is okay? Of course it does not!  Forgiveness doesn’t correct a wrong or imply that we’ve deemed an offense as acceptable. It does not provide permission to continue in ways that cause pain to others. 

Part of this misconception comes from how we learned to grant forgiveness as children.  When we were hurt or offended, our offender would say “I”m sorry.” We were taught to reply with, “It’s okay.”  At least that’s the way it was in our home.  Saying “It’s okay” carries strong implications that the offense itself is okay.

In contrast, others may have learned to instead say, “Will you forgive me” instead of (or in addition to) “I’m sorry.”  Replying with a positive response does not imply that the offense was okay, but grants forgiveness to the offender. There’s a significant difference. We’ve forgiven a person while still rejecting an offense.

Forgiveness doesn’t make an offense okay, it makes us okay. It sets us free from carrying a large burden and allows us to embrace God’s best.

3)  Granting forgiveness means we’ve fully reconciled the relationship.

Reconciliation can occur as a result of forgiveness but does not always come simultaneously with forgiveness.  We can decide to release penalty or debt for an offense but still need a great deal of work to achieve reconciliation.

In cases where threat of physical or emotional harm continues, reconciliation might never occur.  In these instances, some may judge an act as unforgiven, but the two activities (forgiveness and reconciliation) are separate from one another. 

4) Granting forgiveness means trust is re-established.

Forgiveness is granted. Trust is earned. As with reconciliation, trust may require years of work to rebuild. There are times when we (as the offended) have a willingness to restore trust and a we’re amenable to work toward that goal. Our offender, however, may not choose to put forth the effort. They may find contentment in the status quo. 

In these instances, it’s good to remember that the only hearts, minds and actions that we can change are our own. We continue to pray for those who hurt us and trust God will work out every detail in His perfect timing.

Misconceptions may convince us that we harbor unforgiveness when that’s not the case.  They are used as tools of the enemy to leave us feeling paralyzed and unable to move forward.  As God’s Word says, the Truth will set us free (John 8:32).

Your Turn:

Have you believed some of these same misconceptions about forgiveness?

What other misconceptions about forgiveness have you believed?

How did you overcome?  

What were the benefits of finding the truth?

Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below, or meet me on Facebook or Twitter!  

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28


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