Thoughts on Forgiveness

Recently, I came across a blog post on my social media feed. It is found on Dr. Henry Cloud’s website teaching boundaries.

The way the author–Dr. Cloud?–frames forgiveness is helpful. The article is entitled, “Just Because You Forgive, it Doesn’t Mean You Have to Trust Again.” 

Three important points are laid out as follows,

1. Forgiveness has to do with the past. Forgiveness is not holding something someone has done against you. It is letting it go. It only takes one to offer forgiveness.

2. Reconciliation has to do with the present. It occurs when the other person apologizes and accepts forgiveness. It takes two to reconcile.

3. Trust has to do with the future. It deals with both what you will risk happening again and what you will open yourself up to. A person must show through his actions that he is trustworthy before you trust him again.

Confusion around forgiveness usually muddles the three together–namely, forgiveness, reconciliation, and trust. Christians assume forgiveness entails reconciliation and trusting a cheater, again.

It does not!

In philosophy, we would call the muddling of the three a collapsing of distinctions. This leads to all sorts of problems as it comes do dealing with cheaters.

Let’s use an analogy:

A “friend” is managing my retirement account. However, unknown to me at the time, he is just siphoning off money from his accounts at a great magnitude. He gets caught.

Now, I could forgive this “friend” for stealing $10,000 from me. But that does not mean we are reconciled or that I will ever trust him with that much of my money again.

If this “friend” continued to maintain innocence (even though caught “red handed”), we would be unable to reconcile as the wrong is not being acknowledged. Many faithful spouses–present company included–find themselves in just this place.

Reconciliation is not on the table for us because our cheater is unwilling to repent and acknowledge how they wronged us.

Most people would not fault someone for refusing to entrust their money with a convicted embezzler. Yet they do not make the same connection as it comes to trust in marriage.

Christians often fail to see that to remain married is to entrust a treasure worth far more than money–one’s heart–to someone who has demonstrated–like the convicted embezzler–he or she will abuse that trust.

I can truly forgive the embezzler. He does not have to repay the money he stole (although, a truly repentant embezzler would).

But that does NOT mean I want to remain in relationship with him as long as he refuses to acknowledge that he stole from me. The stealing destroyed the friendship, and the thief is responsible for working to restore what his sin destroyed. Denying the sin is a non-starter here.

Plus, I refuse to be a fool and give him an opportunity to abuse my trust again by giving him more of my money. “Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me.” It is that sort of idea.

Many of us, faithful spouses, have given up on ever seeing what was stolen from us by our cheaters returned–to the best of their ability.

We have forgiven our cheater and given those debts to God. It is not in our hearts to play “collector” any longer.

However, we may want nothing to do with our cheater as that cheater continues to maintain their so-called “innocence.” Reconciliation is not on the table.

Finally, we may have chosen divorce as we are unwilling to trust the cheater with our hearts, wealth, and well-being. It is just like not trusting the convicted embezzler. Why continue trusting them with more years of your life?!

Just because we are not reconciled and refuse to remain married thereby trusting the cheater with our future does not mean we have failed to forgive our cheater. To suggest otherwise is to collapse important distinctions, and that is an error in reasoning.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Forgiveness”

  1. Do I have to forgive the cheater who ran a smear campaign behind my back and made up lies about me?

    Do I have to forgive someone who lied and cheated (emotionally for sure) on me before we even got engaged? And when I asked about this person two times, they lied both times?

    Do I have to forgive someone who has continually seen women behind our back our entire relationship and marriage? And then when confronted about it all, blamed everything on me?

    Do I have to forgive someone who committed adultery on me?

    Do I have to forgive the cheater who did lots of things with 100% nude strippers, but lied about a lot of it after he told me that there was “no touching” when that certainly was allowed.

    Why do I have to forgive the cheater for all of the above when he’s never apologized for any of it and for the most part has denied all of the above? Why is the burden on me to forgive when I haven’t done anything wrong? And even God doesn’t forgive us unless we repent. Why do I need to?

    1. No and yes. Jesus tell us that forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance by one who sinned against us (see Luke 17:3). In that sense, none of those mentioned ought to be forgiven.

      That said, I do think we DO need to “forgive” even in the case where repentance isn’t evident (and never will be). That forgiveness looks more like handing the burden of justice over to God. It is giving up the “collector” role to God. The debt is still outstanding–so, it is not forgiven in that sense–but you can move on and sever your bond with those wrongdoers. They now deny their wrongdoing to the peril of their souls!

      Wrongdoers will always remain accountable for what they did. Forgiveness does not say the wrong never occurred. They must answer for what they did to God (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Forgiveness for us, faithful spouses, is growing to a place where we no longer are consumed by feelings towards these people. It is to come to place where they no longer matter to us, IMO.

      Hope that helps!
      -DM

      1. Thanks, Divorce Minister. I guess than I have forgiven, because I have handed him over to God. There is nothing in my actions towards him (mostly NC except for texts concerning our kids) that is me seeking justice from him or hurting him in any way. That’s the only forgiveness I can give. Thank you for your time. 🙂

      2. I’ve often wondered if Christians have misinterpreted scripture especially when it comes to the process of forgiveness. Does “turning the other cheek” really mean you give the abuser the other cheek to hit?
        Perhaps God is telling us to turn away from the abuser and focus elsewhere. Get away from them, don’t give them opportunity to
        continue the abuse and have power over you.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I love podcasts and need to download as much in my brain as I can about forgiveness. 🙂

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