When NOT to Forgive

This is the seventh in a series about forgiveness. Click here to read the first post in the series. 
According to the Bible we must always be willing to ask for forgiveness from those who have offended us, and to forgive those who ask us for forgiveness.
However, there is another part of this–a part that I had struggled with for a long time. I could understand that I must ask for forgiveness and forgive others who ask for forgiveness, but what about those who have hurt us and who do NOT repent or ask for forgiveness? And how do we love people and give to them when they continue in their dysfunctional ways?
I have been pondering this for a long time. All the teaching and advice I’ve heard has been about unconditionally forgiving people ALWAYS, under all circumstances, with no reservation, and with no consideration about whether it’s dysfunctional or damaging. I’ve seem Christians so afraid of being “judgmental” and unforgiving that they embrace abusers, they let molesters babysit their children, they blame victims for not loving enough…At what point can a Christian say, “Enough! This situation is not safe or healthy?”
Then I read something on the hebrew4christian website about forgiveness and repentance that helped me greatly. (Since the root of our faith is Jewish, since Jesus was raised in a Jewish family, in a Jewish culture, with Jewish traditions and customs, there is much we can learn from the Jewish understanding of Biblical principles. If you want to understand something, go to the culture in which it was created.)
The wonderful article I read is called “Mechilah – Forgiving Others.” It is one of many written during September 2009, and it requires scrolling past a lot of other articles. It is well worth reading. Other articles about forgiveness that John Parsons, a Jewish believer, author, and administrator of the hebrew4christian website, wrote are:
At the end of those articles are links to related topics if you want to study more.
Now back to the article I was originally referring to. In John Parson’s article Mechilah – Forgiving Others, he explains the Jewish understanding of forgiveness, which is that
  • If we have wronged someone, we are obligated to ask him for forgiveness.
  • If a person has harmed us, we are obligated to tell the person in order to allow him to correct the wrong that he did to us. This is the path of mutual respect and responsibility.
  • If a person who wronged us asks us to forgive him, we are obligated to forgive him.
  • However, if a person refuses to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs he has committed against us, we are NOT obligated to forgive him. If fact, if we forgive an unrepentant person, we are allowing him to continue in his sin.
Not forgiving an unrepentant person, John wrote, might at first seem unloving, but it’s intended to ensure the integrity of everyone involved. We are not respecting ourselves or others if we suppress our pain by immediately offering excuses for the sins of the other person. Not only are we being emotionally dishonest with ourselves and hypocritical toward the other, he explains, but it degrades the image of God within us. It takes courage and self-worth to say to a person who has hurt us, “Hey–I am important here. I am hurt by what you did. And you matter to me, too. This relationship matters to me. If I didn’t care, I’d blow it off, but I do care, and therefore I won’t let this go.”
My understanding of forgiveness is that we must ask others for forgiveness for the offenses we commit against them, as well as forgive others for the offenses they have committed against us if they ask. We must place judgment in God’s hands rather than seek revenge. We must keep our hearts free of bitterness and anger. However, reconciliation is not always possible. In order for a relationship to be truly healed and restored, the person who has committed the offense MUST repent and ask for forgiveness from those they have hurt. It is for THEIR sake as well as for ours. The healing cannot take place in THEM unless THEY repent of the wrong they do. THEY cannot accept forgiveness and love if they are not willing to acknowledge their need of it.
So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3)
This is not like anything that I’ve ever heard taught at church.This has been revolutionary to me, and has enabled me to begin to break free of the cycle of abuse.
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