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Day 8 – What Forgiveness Is Not

Psalm 1:1; Proverbs 26:11

To clearly understand forgiveness, it is helpful to begin with what it is not. Forgiveness is not:

  • saying that what someone did to us is really okay (excusing);
  • saying that what someone did to us is not that big of a deal or is understandable given their circumstances (minimizing);
  • a one-time thing; rather it is a process that takes time and repetition as life retriggers known hurts or reveals those we were unaware existed;
  • trusting the offender once again; or
  • reconciling with the offender.

In the following days, we will see how excusing or minimizing the offense against us actually prevents us from forgiving, and why forgiveness is not like an on-off switch; either we have or have not forgiven someone. Today, we will address the issues of trust and reconciliation.

I have heard smart, good, well-intentioned people teach that forgiveness requires reconciliation and trust. I wholeheartedly disagree. It’s a blessing when forgiveness leads to reconciliation and trust, but those are secondary steps which follow forgiveness. Trust and reconciliation require participation by both people, offended and offender. Forgiveness requires only the action of the offended person (though it may include both). You can forgive an untrustworthy, destructive person without trusting them or entering back into relationship with them. This is good news since you should not trust them nor reconcile if they are untrustworthy and destructive. You don’t need to be there when the dog returns to its vomit! (see Proverbs 26:11). But you can forgive while maintaining appropriate boundaries. Many people with whom I’ve worked have found the freedom to forgive once they understood that trust and reconciliation are independent steps that may or may not occur after the primary step of forgiveness.

Closing Exercise

Continue to ask God this week to show you if there is any forgiving for you to do. Share with your group the results of this prayer and pray for one another that God will help you forgive. Also share your thoughts about the difference between forgiveness, trust, and reconciliation.