Wait… forgiveness has pitfalls? Sadly, yes.
Like most things humans interact with, forgiveness is meant to be a good thing, yet sometimes we manage to distort its purpose and meaning. Forgiveness can become a weapon, and a warped form of forgiveness can actually lead to more isolation and separation instead of bringing folks back together.
Forgiveness is worth thinking through: it’s complex, but done well, it can restore relationships, build unity, and mend brokenness. So, what should we watch out for? How about these two pitfalls for starters:
1. Preemptive Forgiveness
I also call this “first strike” forgiveness. This happens when we tell someone they are forgiven as the opener to our conversation. In our mind, we’ve already condemned them as the wrongdoer, but thank God we’re gracious enough to extend forgiveness! (The sarcasm meter just registered there…)
But wait… shouldn’t our first response as a Jesus follower be forgiveness? Perhaps, but there’s a big difference between first response and first strike!
Response happens as a reaction. In the case of forgiveness, it is a response to being wronged. But what happens when we haven’t yet established that a wrong was committed?
First strike… that’s what happens. Before extending forgiveness, we should ensure there is a need for it. Jesus gives us this approach:
““If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses” (Matt 18:15–16 NLT)
Why the progression of bringing witnesses if we can’t work it out? Perhaps a witness can provide an objective look at the situation and help the two parties see where wrong has been done… or not. It could change our whole approach with each other and further the goal of restoring relationship.
Takeaway 1: Forgiveness should be redemptive, not preemptive!
2. Stealth Forgiveness
This kind of forgiveness is so stealthy, no one knows it hit them! Maybe you’ve experienced the situation where someone says, “I’ve forgiven [that person].” But when you talk to [that person], they had no idea that an offense had even occurred… nor did they know they were forgiven!
Stealth forgiveness usually happens because people are afraid to tell another person they’ve been hurt. It might be a lack of courage, or an earnest desire to keep the peace… but in reality it misses the mark and the purpose of forgiveness altogether.
Forgiveness brings us together in genuine affection. It’s the platonic version of kiss and make up; where the relationship can actually be stronger on the far side of a resolved conflict.
The saddest part of stealth forgiveness is the logical end result: if we continually fail to confront and resolve, we slowly isolate ourselves. Taken far enough, we will have a handful of people we consider legitimate Christian brothers and sisters… until they offend us too!
So rather than sweep relational conflict under the rug and further isolate ourselves, perhaps we should learn how to successfully raise issues, solve them, and forgive! Again… done well, this can make a relationship even stronger.
Takeaway 2: Forgiveness should be seen, not blurred!
What other pitfalls have you encountered when it comes to forgiveness? What takeaways would you add to this list?