Common misconceptions about forgiveness
So many of us don’t understand this nature of forgiveness that we fail to receive its power based on certain misconceptions. My hope is to address some of these misconceptions here.
As was discussed in Part 1, forgiveness is NOT a restoration. It is an erasure. Forgiveness erases the debt of justice, the expectation of renumeration, the price dictated to a recalcitrant offender.
This erasure frees the forgiver from maintaining the debt. And once free, the forgiver can move forward, regardless of the offender’s attitude or action.
If we want to move forward, we have to move on.
Misconception 1: They don’t deserve forgiveness
This statement is couched in the erroneous idea that forgiveness is for the offender. It is not, though it may benefit them. When we realize forgiveness is for the offended, then this statement of “they don’t deserve” becomes nonsense. What the offender does or does not deserve is beside the point. Forgiveness is about freeing the offended. Any benefits beyond that are a welcome bonus.
If forgiveness were based on merit, it couldn’t ever happen anyway. By its very nature, forgiveness is for the undeserving. If a person deserved it, it wouldn’t be forgiveness. It would be justice.
Misconception 2: I will forgive, but I will not forget
This almost sounds right, except that it is usually said in anger, suggesting that forgiveness isn’t happening, at least not yet. Also, forgiveness does not require forgetting. It does require letting go, or accepting things as they are. This often is expressed as something like ‘It happened.” with an accepting attitude and a shrug. Notice that acceptance of the offense actually validates its existence, rather than erasing it from memory.
And remeber, too, that forgiveness is NOT permission to be hurt again! It is zeroing out the debt, not refilling the account!
In some instances, forgetting an offense could lead to, or return to, an unsafe situation. That isn’t necessary or acceptable. Everyone deserves to be safe. ‘I forgive you’ can be right at home in combination with ‘Never again’. Letting go can often be a cathartic step into a new beginning.
Misconception 3: There can be no forgiveness for THAT!
Again, this statement hangs on the merit of the offense or the offender. NOTHING MERITS FORGIVENESS. If forgiveness were merited, it isn’t truly forgiveness. Anything merit-based would be more like restitution, which revolves around contractual or judicial justice and the actions of the offender.
To say something is unforgivable, again, is to misunderstand forgiveness, at least where mere mortals are concerned. The Lord Jesus Christ reserves for Himself the right to forgive whom he will forgive. Of us it is required to forgive all. And we can, because forgiveness ultimately is for us. It can help others, it can clear the way for new and better things, or even a restoration of something beautiful. But it isn’t dependent on these things. These are results or fruits of forgiveness, not prerequisites.
Forgiveness also does not require the forgiver to believe that the offense was justified or acceptable. Forgiveness is for when an offense is neither justified nor acceptable.
Misconception 4: If I have forgiven, then I won’t or can’t seek justice.
Also not true. Forgiveness starts with personal feelings. It can end there. It is just to seek restitution for damages done, where possible. Seeking justice may be quite important to protect others or to avoid setting a dangerous precedent of letting an offender continue destructive patterns.
Now, there is nothing wrong with going further and extending mercy. More on that in the future. However, in this post, we are discussing what forgiveness is and is not. Forgiveness isn’t grace or mercy. Those are things we give. It is letting go of any expectation to receive.
Forgiveness is not permission to harm again
It is worth noting that forgiveness can be extremely difficult when the offense is ongoing. It is right to protect oneself from abuse. It is NOT right for an abuser to ask forgiveness so that they may then continue an abusive pattern.
Promises of change aren’t acceptable collateral in an abusive situation. The circumstances that allow abuse must be short-circuited and the offender undergo rigorous self-reflection and repatterning of their life. Even then, things should never return “back the way they were.” New behavior belongs in a new environment, as a symbol of the promise “Never Again”.
Abuser and abused can move on, in some cases together. It is my humble recommendation that a determination of a continued relationship should be placed on hold during recovery. After all, the ground must be cleared before anything new can be built. And until that ground is clear, building anything new is risky at best.
It should not be surprising that some relationships will not survive abuse, and perhaps should not. Forgiveness has nothing to do with restoring anything old or building anything new. It is really just restoring balance so that the next phase, whatever that is, can commence.
Always worth it
Understanding what forgiveness is can allow us to enjoy it, or enjoy the knowledge that we have already achieved it.
Today’s challenge: Ponder one relationship or situation where you have struggled to forgive. Examine if any of today’s discussed misconceptions have interfered with your process. If they have, ponder through writing or meditation how changing your perspective on forgiveness can help you achieve it in this situation.