When do I forgive?

I understand. I guess what I’m asking is: When do I forgive? As time moves on, as it apparently has in your case, when do we forgive and move on? It seems the sin will never be acknowledged. Or, in other cases, it can not be … in the case of death of the offender, or legal restraints, or for safety’s sake. When do I forgive and move on? – Don (commenting on “The Doormat Is Not the High Ground“)

wpid-img_20140912_150104.jpgForgiveness does not require the acknowledgement of wrong on the part of the abuser. It only requires the faithful spouse choosing to hand over his/her rightful claim for retribution to God who is a merciful, wise, and righteous Judge (e.g. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” – Romans 12:19, KJV).

Put another way: Forgiveness is a unilateral decision. It just takes one. Reconciliation and restoration of the relationship takes two. Evidence of repentance, like confession of wrongdoing and restitution, usually are required on the part of the abuser in order to restore the relationship they damaged/destroyed. This is why I strongly discourage restoration of a marriage where true confession and acknowledgement of damage is not evident in the adulterer/adulteress. Spiritually speaking, I consider such relationships still broken without confession and restitution having taken place.

Forgiveness is not optional for a follower of Christ (see Mt 6:13-14). This is true no matter the heinousness of the offence. We are called to forgive.

When do I forgive?

I suggest starting the process as soon as possible. And it is a process likely to take a long time as the deeper the soul wound, the longer the healing. Adulterous betrayal is a very deep soul wound.

Practically speaking, this healing will likely have to take place without the help of your adulterous spouse from what I gather. A good way to start the process is to write down what wrongs were done to you. This gives you a place to acknowledge the wrongs physically (by writing) and provides you a way to validate your feelings around these wrongs.

This past weekend my wife and I listened to the testimony of William Paul Young who wrote The Shack. He was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. One way he suggested dealing with such deep sin was to confront the abuser in person with what they did wrong accompanied by some good friends. This would be to follow Matthew 18 principles. If the abuser is too dangerous or dead, Young suggested putting out an empty chair and in the presence of some trusted friends reading out the list of wrongs verbally then verbally forgiving the person. These are just a few ritualistic suggestions to help one move on.

Another practical suggestion is to write out the wrongs and burn them after reading them aloud somewhere. Or you could write out the wrongs and delete the document in an act of forgiveness. Or possibly you could tear up the letter after you had read it aloud. The important part in all these suggestions is to do something physical that acknowledges a wrong took place and that you have decided to forgive the wrongdoer entrusting him/her to God.

One thing I have done and do when I start down the road of wanting and ruminating on revenge is to lift my hand up as if to put a nail in the Cross as a way to remind myself that the sins of those people are forgiven. I chose and choose to forgive.

Be patient with yourself if you are not at the point where you can do this. I suggest starting by asking God to give you the grace to forgive.

Hope that helps!


8 thoughts on “When do I forgive?”

  1. My divorce is being finalized but since my stbx is also the father of my two college aged girls and we live in the same town, we need to speak and occasionally see each other. We have managed to keep our relationship “friendly” although it is sometimes difficult. (Backstory — he left me after 30 years of marriage for his college girlfriend who lives in the midwest and she was recently divorced because her husband left her…he was comforting her!)

    Over the past two years, I’ve kept a page on my work computer of phrases that stick with me and that give me peace and encouragement and speak to what he has done to me. What I’d now like to do is send him MY exit interview, but after reading your column, I think I just need to do this for myself and then delete it.

    Thank you for this post!

    1. Most welcome, Susan! And I think the page is a good idea as it is important to bear witness to what happened. Part of my issue with religious people who push forgiveness on faithful spouses is that they have not done due diligence on actually taking stock of the trauma. This is why I call it soul rape. That is a spiritual truth of what adultery is. And it explains why it is SO hard to forgive and let go of the pain. The wound is very deep indeed and will take time to heal.

  2. Is it possible to forgive when they keep wreaking havoc in your life and your children’s lives on a daily basis? How do you forgive when the crap never stops and it doesn’t look like it ever will? I can get past what he has done to me; I can get past what his friends and family have done to me. I can move on past their ignorance and leave them to their life of shallow debauchery. But, I can’t move past the daily harm that is being done to my children. The vengeance that I need to leave with God plays out horrible scenes in my head. No, forgiveness is not something I see in the near future.

    1. Home School Mama,

      Forgiving while the wrongs are ongoing is much harder to address. One can choose to forgive each instance of wrong as it happens. However, it is hard to do so in the midst of the justified anger, etc. My heart goes out to you in this situation. It is a very hard road to walk!


  3. Since asking the question about forgiveness a week or two ago I’ve come to realize that my forgiveness of others (and my forgiving myself for that matter) is enabled by the realization of what God has forgiven me. God, in Christ, died a humiliating, painful and ugly death on the cross for MY sin! My sin in all its hideousness, adulterous, wicked forms. That is a powerful realization! Thankfully, God did not wait for me to confess or repent. He died in my place, for my sin, SO THAT I CAN confess and repent … WOW! … and if I say I have not sined, I call God a lier … That’s in scripture, right? ALL my sin is forgiven! In light of that truth, how then am I to live?

    Going further, not only for MY sin did he die, but also for the sin committed AGAINST me. That is, the sin of those who hurt me. God already paid the price for what my x did, and is doing, so my x is also forgiven. As one who is forgiven of my own ugly sin, by the grace and mercy of God, I can only extend mercy myself and pray that my x one day will come to live in the realization of what God has already done in Jesus Christ. Then my x, too will be free. And, perhaps, there will be some level of reconciliation.

    What I’m trying to say is this: I’m free of past sin in my life because of what God did in Jesus! I can live in freedom! Free to forgive. Free to pray for the best for my x. Free to start a new life and make worshipful, God honoring choises, to the best of my ability, going forward. I can allow God to be God … so I don’t need to be! I have the honor and privilege of simply worshiping Him as He redeems this sin filled world and it people!

    1. Don,

      I agree. And I would add that the forgiveness is given freely to the world, yet we are still called to respond as you point out in your second paragraph.A lifeline tossed to a drowning victim will do her no good unless she grabs a hold of it. I think it similar in this case. We are all faced with the choice of whether or not to humble ourselves and receive forgiveness or pridefully reject God’s generous offer to us.


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