How To Be Offended, Resentful and Forgiven All At Once.
|Eric Kounssays, “And finally, even as God is able to forgive only those who recognize their need of His forgiveness and call upon Him for it, we are able to offer forgiveness only to those who acknowledge their offense and request it (Luke 17:1-4). “Forgiveness” which is not acknowledged and received by the offending party is not genuine forgiveness at all. It may make us feel better, but it is not really forgiveness.”One of our discerning readers has raised an important and very practical question which needs to be considered, “How would you counsel a Christian who has been sexually abused by his father, for example, where the issue has never been reconciled?”|
Abuse is a huge, and sadly all too common, problem for many people. The aspect of “forgiveness” is tough for us to handle and the post by Eric Kouns challenges some thoughts we have found comforting.
Jesus taught, Forgive us our debts, As we forgive those who owe us (big time!) Matthew 6:12
Here’s a couple of points to notice:
- this instruction is directed to people who have established a relationship with God (that’s the “our Father” part) and as a consequence of that relationship they have experienced forgiveness.
- There has to be an act of coming to God and asking for his forgiveness in order for that relationship to be established. Without it, there is no foundation for forgiveness.
- The expectation is that we will forgive, without question, those who offend and harm us. It’s not an option, it’s an expectation.
- It’s not an opportunity for manipulation of God – “If I forgive . . . then you must . . .”
- It is an expression of his nature and character and again, the expectation is that we will do as he does, we will treat others as he treats us – because we have discovered the joy and release of being forgiven and we also discover the joy and freedom found in letting go of old scores.
Score-keeping leads to impoverishment. Simon wanted to get the score-keeping thing straight (and maybe earn some points for his brilliant insight) so he asked Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? As many as seven times?” He could handle a fixed number since it would allow him to show tolerance as well as allow him to get even when the magic number had passed.
Jesus spiked his guns by throwing back a much larger number – one which would give Simon difficulty in keeping an accurate score. The point being that we look for rules to dictate our behavior and have no difficulty getting legalistic and harsh when someone steps over the line we have drawn. Jesus’ advice was, “Forget about the line!”
Then he went on to tell a story about a guy who pleaded for forgiveness from a huge debt he had no hope of ever repaying. He pleaded to be released from it. Once his debt was erased, he set about collecting from others what they owed to him. When his former creditor heard about it, he reinstated the enormous debt and the guy faced ruin. Moral of the story: pass it on, don’t hoard it, let others enjoy what you have experienced. You will notice in this story that all the people who needed forgiveness did in fact ask for it.
Can there be an act of forgiveness without the active participation of the offended and the offender? Well the debt can certainly be unilaterally expunged by the “lender” so that it is no longer owed, but Jesus’ story points us towards something beyond that – he’s looking for transformed behavior that positively impacts our relationships with others. Where there has been offense / abuse/ violence/ betrayal . . . there is a distressed relationship and healing cannot occur by simple saying, “It doesn’t matter!” It does matter and while we can gradually get over hurts, they produce a residual toxic effect in our relationships.
If the offense is still continuing, it cannot be ignored. This is one of the challenges to a person suffering in an abusive relationship: the parties must reach a point where the abuse stops before any sort of healing can occur. Trying to unilaterally apply forgiveness is never a solution for active abuse; there has to be a correction in the relationship before forgiveness can become an option.
But that doesn’t mean we have to wallow in anger and outrage until the relationship is resolved. There are cases where resolution never happens, and we are left holding our resentment and bitterness. It has the power to ruin us.
Stephen shows us only viable option we have in such cases. Acts 7 records how he got a tad direct in his statements about the behavior of some folks and they decided to silence him. As the stones slammed into his body and the excruciating pain surged through him, he was in an abusive situation that could only have a bad outcome. He knew they would succeed in killing him. This was a personal sin against him, he had the right to be full of indignation and outrage. They were taking his life and he had the option of cursing them as he died. The sin against him could not be corrected unless they stopped and they had no intention of doing that. They were not about to ask his forgiveness. He would die with this situation unresolved.
What is interesting is that he doesn’t try to forgive them. Yes, they have sinned against him and he is paying the price for it. But notice how he dealt with that situation: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
He refused to take it all personally. He recognized that they had a problem with God that they would have to face. He declined to be offended and he did not resort to bitterness. He did not call out for “justice” or for “retribution.” He had no control over their actions and was unable to escape or stop them. The only thing he retained control of was his own attitude.
There’s power in this approach. Instead of nursing the insults and abuse, he was able to let it go. He rightly recognized that each of us must give account to God – it is enough, there is no need for us to add sins of our own bitterness and outrage.
There’s release in ridding ourselves of resentment and bitterness and this is the path that many find helpful when dealing with the hurtful actions of others. If both the offended and the offender come to terms with each other, the basis for forgiveness and restoration is present and we need to follow it. But what happens when the “perpetrator” is dead or long gone and beyond reach, or willfully unrepentant? There is no hope of a restored relationship but the path to freedom lies with us placing the situation in God’s hands, refusing to live any longer in bitterness and resentment (since these are toxic to us). “Lord, it’s beyond me, You need to do what is right and I need to get on with living for you. My expression of faith is to place the whole matter in your hands so I can move on, I refuse to let resentment control me any longer.” We break the power of the past and we release the creativity of the present. We know that past events have shaped us and, in a way they have made us what we are today, but we refuse to let them become our prison. Is it right? Is it fair? Only God knows but it’s time to get out of the prison of resentment and go on with life. He will deal with it in his way and time, our task is to do his will.
We often call this forgiveness but it’s really only a part of that process. It can result in release for the offended party but it won’t produce healing in the relationship between offender and offended. It’s worth doing since it brings freedom but there’s a higher road we need to learn – that of refusing to take offense or to feed resentment in the first place. It’s a choice we each can make so why not drop the score-keeping and get on with life?
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