Forgiveness Footnote

Forgiveness is not a process, but a choice, a decision that happens in an instant when we apply Jesus’ command, “as we forgive our debtors.” God has forgiven us instantly and forever, and so we do that for others who have offended us. (See BB 155, August 28.)

But there is more to the story, both before and after forgiveness. For while we choose to forgive, all offenses are not the same, and a relationship broken by a grievous offense takes time to repair and restore.

A victim of child abuse, for example, may forgive his father or mother for what happened years before, but how should he relate to the parent now that he has reached adulthood? What about a wife who had to leave her home for fear of her life? What about a business partner who was cheated out of his half of the business? How do relationships continue when the offenses were so severe?

There are no easy answers, no one-size-fits-all solution. And here, wisdom is essential. While I may forgive my parent, that does not mean I subject myself to further abuse. While a wife may forgive her husband, she must demand clear evidence of change and repentance before she returns home. While you may forgive a former business associate, you need not make him treasurer of your new corporation.

In cases like these, wise counsel is crucial, lest we impulsively and foolishly put ourselves back into dangerous situations and set ourselves up for even bigger disappointments.

We may need time and even physical distance to ensure healing, both before and after the moment we forgive. We should not say, “I forgive you,” until we understand what has happened, and what we are forgiving. Forgiveness is discharging a debt, not denying a debt.

So although forgiveness itself may be an instantaneous choice, we dare not assume that means an automatic restoration of a relationship as if nothing had happened. While forgiveness is required, it is neither mindless nor naive.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Matthew 10:16 ESV

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