“What about an emotionally abusive marriage? How would this work?”
When I posted my previous article, I knew that the topic of forgiveness would touch some painful places in some people. Teaching forgiveness challenges me in the same way. So when someone posted that comment after my previous post, my heart went out.
Whoever you are, thanks for posting your question. It’s easy to teach forgiveness in a clinical or theoretical way, but when the harsh realities of life hit us in the face its hard to put theory into practice. Are we supposed to forgive an abuser or a murderer? How do we balance justice and grace? These are incredibly tough issues to figure out and I’m sure that one blog post is not enough to answer all the questions.
As I have dealt with my own forgiveness issues and as I have helped people navigate forgiveness, there have been some big myths that we have encountered. Ultimately, each time we come to one of these myths two things happen. The process of forgiveness stalls and we can’t move on and we reopen old wounds without healing them. It is possible to find the healing, but we have to go through the process.
So let me share the three biggest myths about forgiveness that I see. As you read, do a bit of inventory. If you see these myths in your life, either post a comment below or email me. I’ll do my best as a pastor to help you get pointed in the right direction.
MYTH 1: Forgiveness Means Forgetting
“Forgive and forget” is an old expression that has been around at least as long as I’ve been alive. Probably longer. While it may sound good or godly, here are three reasons why “forgive and forget” is a myth.
First, you can’t forget. Let’s be real. If you have experienced something bad in your life you really can’t forget it. So telling someone to “forget about it” is ridiculous.
Second, you shouldn’t forget. Yes, you read that right. You should not forget the people or experiences that hurt you. I realize it might sound unbiblical, but it’s true. Think of it this way, if a person hurt me and I forget what they did to me, then chances are that I will get hurt again. By appropriately remembering our wounds we are able to build better boundaries.
Third, God doesn’t forget. To be accurate, the Bible says that he no longer remembers our sins (Hebrews 8:12). But that does not mean he forgets. The word used in the original language means that God no longer intentionally recalls our sins. That’s different. As an all knowing God, he can’t forget anything. Instead, when he forgives us he chooses to no longer recall our sin or hold them against us.
The second myth actually explains this a bit more.
MYTH 2: Forgiveness Means Tolerating Sin or Abuse
I think the heart of “someone’s” quote at the beginning of this post comes up here. So let me be clear. Under no circumstances are the people of God to tolerate any kind of abuse: emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual. So its an incredibly important question to ask “how would [forgiveness] work” in an “emotionally abusive marriage.”
To begin, forgiveness does not mean that sin (or abuse) is tolerated. If you read Matthew 18:21-35, you will read that Jesus calls us to forgive those who sin against us. However, that discussion of forgiveness comes after Matthew 18:15-18. In that passage we read that people who sin against us are to be held accountable. If a person won’t stop sinning against us when we ask them to, then we appeal to godly authority to protect us.
The key word here is Boundaries. We forgive people because of God’s instruction. However, we also build appropriate boundaries between us and the people who sin against us.
Sometimes, we don’t rebuild relationships after we forgive.
MYTH 3: Forgiveness Means We Have To Be Friends.
Just because I forgive someone, this doesn’t mean that I have to be their friends any more. Again, I know this sounds unbiblical, but hear me out.
I believe we are dealing with both a vertical and a horizontal reality.
The vertical piece is what we call Forgiveness. When I choose to forgive someone who hurt me, I forgive them vertically to God. They may never know that I have forgiven them, but they have been forgiven before God.
The horizontal piece is called Reconciliation. The Bible absolutely expects us to be agents of reconciliation in our relationship (2 Corinthians 5:18), when it’s possible (Romans 12:18). Where forgiveness is a vertical interaction between God and I, reconciliation requires the other person to participate.
In my experience, here are some reasons why we would not reconcile.
- It would be dangerous (the other person is unsafe)
- The other person is unwilling
- The other person is dead (forgiveness can still happen, but obviously not reconciliation)
- Other relationships might be damaged
- The other person is unknown.
In these settings (and probably some others) reconciliation may not be wise.
So What Now?
So bottom line, every time we work through this process we need to consider three factors: Forgiveness before God, Reconciliation with others, and Boundaries as needed.
I know the theory is simple to talk about, but practicing forgiveness can be incredibly difficult. If you are trying to forgive and get stuck, please feel free to contact me here.
Join the Conversation Below:
How do you balance Forgiveness, Boundaries and Reconciliation?