When Should You Forgive?
by John B
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Noble words, aren’t they? A real man forgives his enemies...
But how practical is it?
In the old WCG they came across that scripture every so often, reminding us that we must forgive our neighbor if we expected forgiveness ourselves. And it sounded logical enough, especially in the light of “do unto others as you’d have others do unto you”. I think most of us tried to practice that admonition, but sometimes it was difficult.
Let’s face it – we are selfish by nature. We have to be. It’s part of the survival instinct. WCG told us that our “selfish human nature” was a “stench in God’s nostrils”. And that sounded logical, too. After all, we were excrement. Worms. Dog vomit. They made sure we believed that, and didn’t forget it.
So what right did we have to hold a grudge if someone offended us? After all, God had forgiven us, hadn’t he? (They said he did, anyway; I figured he’d forgiven everyone around me, but I never felt forgiven for my own sins.) So if God had forgiven us, and the individual who had offended us, who were we to withhold forgiveness?
It sounded logical.
More than once I heard sermons about how we couldn’t know what was in another person’s heart, that the one who offended us might have shed tears in his prayer closet over the incident, and God had already forgiven him. So we had to forgive him too.
That sounded logical, too.
But why was it that the same individuals, who allegedly had “shed tears in their prayer closet”, kept offending time after time, with never an apology, never an acknowledgement of wrongdoing? I sincerely doubted that those individuals had shed any tears at all. I was frankly convinced that they (and a few of them existed in every congregation I ever attended) felt no remorse at all. Did I still have to forgive them?
I tried to. But damn, it got harder every time!
One day a young man in my local area said to me, “They tell us we have to forgive people who offend us, but do we have to forgive them if they haven’t repented?”
And that was an excellent question. I had to think about it. His point was that God only forgave us after we repented! If someone offended me and didn’t apologize, was I still required to forgive him? I never asked my minister that question, because I knew what his answer would be. He would have said Yes, definitely. But I wasn’t so sure. After all, we were supposed to be trying to become “Godlike”, and if God didn’t forgive before repentance, why should we? Especially when the same sumbitch kept doing it over and over again.
In the mystical world of Worldwide, we not only had to forgive, we were expected to forget! And keep a “good attitude”!
Well, that’s simply ridiculous. There’s a well-worn cliché that states, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!” In other words, once someone has stiffed you, don’t turn your back on him. Forgive him if you want to, but don’t give him the opportunity to do it again.
A Recent Example
A few months back, Ambassador Watch covered an unfolding story about alleged sexual abuse in one of the COG splinters in the Southeastern United States. I don’t recall the whole story, but apparently an elderly deacon or elder was hugging a young girl in an annoying manner. The girl was understandably distressed about it, but the old lecher insisted he was doing it out of affection, and the minister refused to correct him. Worse, the predator himself refused to apologize, and the whole thing turned into a big stink. Included in the coverage, one of the girl’s parents commented that it was really hard to keep a decent attitude toward the offender when he refused to apologize.
WHAT??? Keep a decent attitude toward someone who is molesting your daughter? These poor people have been brainwashed right down to the spinal cord! All they owe that molester is a broken nose! You don’t forgive someone like that! You prosecute him!
So when should you forgive someone? Always? Sometimes? Never? How logical are the words of Jesus on the matter? When he uttered those words, was he talking about forgiving someone who is an unrepentant repeat offender?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I think a little logic is in order. It makes no sense to forgive someone who is gleefully sticking it to you and shows no inclination of stopping. Certainly people have faults that we have to overlook, just as we hope others will overlook our own faults, but there are some people, including many in the ministry, who seem to relish their ability to push others around.
Everyone has heard stories, whether true or anecdotal, about schoolyard bullies who ran rampant until some little kid got his belly full and flattened the bully’s nose. We’ve seen it in the movies, and audiences always want to cheer when the bully finally gets his due. Yet the Bible says we have to forgive, and the COGs insist on it.
But do we? Really?
When Should We Forgive?
Clearly, there is a time to forgive, and many excellent reasons to do so; by no means am I advocating holding grudges for fun and profit. But to forgive everyone all the time isn’t good for us or for them. Forgiving someone means absolving them of what they did, releasing them from accountability. If we forgave criminals for their crimes, no one would ever have to go to prison, and that would be a disaster for society. It’s just as counterproductive to forgive habitual offenders at the personal level. Rather than forgive them, we need to confront them and demand accountability. If they refuse to be accountable, our next step is to cut them out of our lives and forget them. With no consequences for their actions, they will never change.
So when, exactly, should we forgive?
It’s a personal choice, of course – no set of guidelines can cover every eventuality, but I’ve drawn up a few suggestions that work for me.
· When someone offends unintentionally, and feels really bad about it (no-brainer).
· When someone has offended repeatedly but was unaware of it, and corrects the problem when confronted.
· When the offense occurred thirty years ago and the offender is no longer around to be confronted; hanging onto the memory will only torture you, not the offender.
· When someone undergoes a behavioral change (rare, but it does happen) and no longer pushes people around.
· When someone has destroyed his own life by his behavior (optional – you may feel he has suffered enough).
· Any time you find that you are suffering more than you should by hanging onto the offense. In other words, the other person refuses to change, and it just eats you alive. As hard as it may be, you’re better off just letting it go. This isn’t true forgiveness, but it relieves you of the stress.
Of course, these are only suggestions. Do what works best for you, but don’t allow yourself to be forced to forgive someone when you don’t feel it in your heart. Coerced forgiveness is not forgiveness at all, and benefits no one.
Forgiveness may be easier if the offender is a relative. It also may be harder, especially the part about cutting him out of your life if he refuses to change. Sometimes that is the best course, as the proponents of “tough love” argue. But no one can make such a decision for you.
If you choose to follow the words of Jesus, just remember that Jesus said some really dumb things, such as “turn the other cheek”, or “sell all that you have and follow me”. How many of those instructions do you follow on a daily basis? How intelligent is that advice?
It’s fine to forgive, if you really mean it. But if you don’t feel it in your heart, don’t waste your time. And whatever you do, if the offender hasn’t repented, and has done it before, don’t turn your back on him!
It’s simple logic.
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