A long time ago, I was in the midst of an ongoing conflict with someone.
Once the conflict cooled from raw anger to cordial awkwardness, the other person made a request of me. If I had granted this request, it would have given this other person a certain amount of leverage over me, requiring a great deal of trust on my part. The problem was that, in the midst of the conflict, the person had lost my trust.
So as politely as I could, I said no.
“I thought you were supposed to be a pastor,” the other person said with a touch of venom. “Aren’t you supposed to forgive and forget?”
That comment bothered me. It bothered me so much that I almost gave in to the person’s original request. However, thanks to the guidance of a few close advisors, I held my ground, and the other person was mad all over again.
I think comments like this raise lots of questions about how forgiveness really works.
Last week, I wrote a post about drawing lines between us and other people and how Jesus always seems to end up on the other side of our lines. In the Comments section, my friend Stefanie made a good point that sometimes we need to keep a certain level of distance between ourselves and others, not out of hate or anger, but out of a need for self-preservation.
So can we forgive others while still maintaining healthy boundaries? Can we love toxic people without being infected by them?
To answer this, let’s take a look at a few things that forgiveness is not.
1. Forgiveness is not condoning. I think this is why we struggle with forgiveness so often—we feel like the act of forgiving is akin to saying that whatever hurt us was no big deal. But that’s not what forgiveness is. If the offense had been no big deal, forgiveness would not be necessary.
2. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is what we must do when we cannot forget. I don’t know where we got the idea that forgiveness required the act of forgetting, but it just doesn’t work that way.
3. Forgiveness is not always reconciling. This goes back to the story above. Just because I forgave the person who broke my trust does not mean that I have to trust that person again.
Sometimes we have to make very hard decisions and say, “I wish you well, and I don’t harbor any anger against you, but we cannot go back to the way things were.”
In the book of Proverbs, there is a passage that says this-
As a dog returns to its vomit,
so fools repeat their folly. (Proverbs 26:11)
The writer is saying, “There are people who are toxic, and just by forgiving them you will not make them less toxic. Be careful.”
Just because you forgive someone does not obligate you to trust them or give them any part of yourself.
4. Forgiveness is not the same as justice and consequences. It’s okay to call the police if someone breaks into your house. Forgiveness does not require you to be someone else’s victim.
Tomorrow we will continue this discussion with an exploration of what forgiveness is. But for now, may you be set free from false ideas about forgiveness.
Can you think of other things that forgiveness is not? Do you ever feel like people use your willingness to forgive as a weapon against you?