We have a destructive, false conception of forgiveness in our age. It is very common to believe that if you haven’t forgotten, you haven’t forgiven… And that if you can’t make the commitment to forget something then you shouldn’t even begin to say that you’ve forgiven the offender. Then there’s the idea that if you truly forgive someone of something, you – by extension – cannot put accountability in place or withhold your trust from them.
For instance: If your husband was texting another girl behind your back, telling her of all the many problems in your marriage… You find out and confront him about it… He apologizes and you forgive him. Does that mean you can’t check his phone over the next few months to make sure he isn’t continuing this behavior?
Or let’s say your wife has run up a credit card without you knowing it… You get the bill and ask her about it… She breaks down in tears and apologizes, and you forgive. Since you have “forgiven,” does that mean she is free to carry around credit cards and use them at her sole discretion? I mean – if you have forgiven her, can you really place boundaries around the activity? Is that really true forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. Please allow me to offer you this more realistic, healthy definition:
FORGIVENESS is a relinquishment of the desire to retaliate.
When we say we forgive someone but we still have the urge to “get them back,” we have not truly forgiven. Conversely, when we acknowledge someone’s guilt against us and choose not to “make them pay” in any way (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.), then we have truly forgiven.
So let’s go back to our hypothetical examples above. If the text-adulterant’s phone is constantly checked out of the motivation to rip away his freedom b/c “that’s what he gets for treating me like this,” forgiveness has not occurred. However, if the boundary is placed out of accountability to ensure openness and transparency from this point forward, forgiveness has come. Likewise, if the credit card abuser is ripped of her privileges out of spite, there is no forgiveness. But if it is to prevent potential further damage and provide future accountability, forgiveness has still been realized.
The ultimate example is forgiveness in Christ. We do not serve a forgetful God. He does not “forget” our sins in such a manner that He is not able to recall them. Rather, the Bible tells us that if we have Christ as our Savior, God does not continually call those past sins to mind and make us “pay” for them. Instead, He knows of our guilt and chooses not to hold it against us. That’s what forgiveness is. A complete relinquishment of the desire to retaliate. Often, it takes time. A daily commitment on the part of the offended… “today I will choose to forgive. I will relinquish the desire to retaliate against my offender. Christ does it for me. I will do it for him/her.”
Forgiveness is not necessarily forgetfulness. And it is not a magical word that invalidates accountability and transparency. It is a relinquishment of the desire to retaliate. Try it some time. It will revolutionize your marriage/life/occupation/friendships/etc.
Grace and Peace