I can hear the resistance already: “First you talk about the pitfalls of forgiveness, and now you’re saying there’s a dark side? If forgiveness is supposed to be such a good thing, then why are you so negative?”
I’m highlighting the negative so that the experience can remain positive. There are people who have given up on forgiving because they’ve had a bad experience… or they know someone who has. But bad experiences can be reduced by knowing how to avoid them.
Our task today is to think our way through how we can forgive without being subjected to this “dark side” of forgiveness I call…
“But you’re a Christian… you have to forgive me!”
Ever heard that one before? What do you do in that circumstance? Let’s run through a series of questions to think our way through the forgiveness process:
Do I have to forgive?
If we are Jesus followers, the answer is yes. Scripture relays this truth in many areas. Here’s one example:
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt 6:14–15 NLT)
Forgiveness is not an option, yet it is a choice. But here’s the real question:
Do I have to condone or enable their behavior?
We may have to forgive, but we do not have to condone or enable bad behavior. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!
Forgiveness contains an upward element. Scripture contains many references to help confront wrongdoing (see Matt 18:15-17) and to teach and encourage one another.
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives…” (Col 3:16a NLT)
Forgiveness is an invitation to a life that honors God… for both parties. So rather than excuse or enable poor behavior, we are called to teach, instruct, and admonish (i.e., to warn or caution) each other.
How do I proceed as a Christian?
1. Pray! If we want to honor God in our actions, we’re going to need to hear from God. Pray that God would be honored at the end of the day… pray that if there is to be a “winner” in resolving a wrong, it is to be God alone.
This means not only praying for the other parties heart change, but the willingness to have our hearts changed as well if God reveals we had any part in the wrongdoing. (Careful what you pray for!).
2. Use God’s standards to determine right and wrong… not ours.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16–17 NLT)
Not only will this shed light on others’ behavior and motivations, but ours as well!
3. Ask this question, constantly: Will God be honored as a result? Whether it’s a next step or a proposed reconciliation, we can tell if we’re on track by constantly asking this question. For example:
- Will God be honored if I don’t forgive?
- Will God be honored if I move back in with an abusive spouse and get beaten?
- Will God be honored if that abusive spouse has a change of heart and changes behavior and lifestyle through counseling and treatment?
Forgiveness is part of a complex process. It’s a process that includes pitfalls and dark sides… but only when we attempt it apart from God.
My advice? I think Paul says it best:
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace… And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Col 3:14-15,17 NLT)
What would have to change in your approach to avoid the pitfalls and dark side of forgiveness? What others ways do you successfully navigate the process of forgiveness to honor God?