How Unforgiveness (and a misunderstanding of forgiveness) Can Poison

Devil in Pew 7After reading about 80% of this book two years ago, I stopped reading. I decided the story was done and closed the book. I then started a blog post about books I never finished and why. This title, of course, received prominent mention.

A couple weeks ago while searching for something new to read (among the hundreds of titles collected on my ereader cloud), I remembered this title. My mother loved the book — the whole book — and so I decided to finish it. Or at least try. It only took an afternoon. I’m so glad I did.

Abused Christians Wrestle with Forgiveness

I’ve read a lot about forgiveness. It is, after all, the supreme topic for Christians with abusive pasts. People have talked to me about it and preached to me about it and condemned me for not doing it according to their specifications of propriety. And we all know from Matthew 6 that if you don’t forgive those who offend you, God will not forgive you – right? Well … I personally believe God’s grace is greater than my ability to forgive and, therefore, cannot be dependent upon my finite, fallible choices, but let’s leave that discussion for another day.

Beaver Cleaver Christians — those whose lives and families lack the dynamic interest of dysfunction — too often believe that, if you’ve not reconciled with all your enemies, you clearly haven’t forgiven them. That’s not true.

Why? Because reconciliation and forgiveness are not the same thing. Because reconciliation requires both parties to move together in healthy ways.

I can forgive the abuse, but if the perpetrator still blames me for the act, we cannot reconcile. Reconciliation is not dependent upon forgiveness, but on repentance.

Trying to force a relationship based on my forgiveness but in the face of his or her lack of repentance will only cycle me back to the abusive relationship. Nothing will have changed. What’s more: I will again be subject to the shame, humiliation and personal deterioration of the original relationship. And since not all perpetrators repent of their abusive behavior and patterns, reconciliation is not always a possibility. No matter how many times the wronged forgives.

Unfortunately, too many believers, too many churches, misunderstand this. They place the guilt of the failed relationship on the victim and his or her “lack of forgiveness.”

But there are cases of toxic unforgiveness.

I quit the book because I thought the story was over. It tells a true crime story coupled with religious persecution. It was a dramatic story, but once the gavel sounded judgment, I was done. God, however, was not.

The last part of this book follows the author (It is an autobiographical memoir.) through the aftermath of abuse. How did she and her brother survive? Did they just survive or learn to thrive in spite of their past? And what part did God play in all this?

There were many profound lessons in that last bit of the book. Here are just a few of them.

Forgiveness benefits the victims more than the perpetrators. Likewise, unforgiveness hurts those refusing to forgive more than those who are unforgiven.

“I am the one [imprisoned] if I withhold God’s grace by failing to forgive when wronged. … Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” (page 251)

“When you forgive someone who wronged you, you set a prisoner free, and then you discover that person was you.” — Louis Smedes, “The Art of Forgiveness”

Forgiveness can be taught. It is a way of life lived in a full knowledge of grace.

“[Momma’s] goal, her driving purpose every day, was to become more like Jesus, to conform her heart to His heart. He forgave, so she forgave. He loved without placing conditions on His love; she loved others with the same fervor. He extended grace; she did the same.” (page 258)

Forgiveness is an ongoing process. Just because you or I may forgive the offenses in our past doesn’t mean the wounds fully heal. Memories can plague and torture. When they do, we must choose whether to forgive again or to dwell in renewed bitterness.

“To love and forgive others as I’ve been loved and forgiven by Jesus, I have to guard what I allow to take root in my heart. If I open my heart to self-pity, anger, grudges and unforgiveness, I give the enemy of my soul an invitation into a very expensive home — a home purchased by the blood of Jesus. But as I become fluent in the language of heaven, as I open the door of my heart to Jesus and in His strength forgive others, that’s when I’m set free.” (page 260)

I highly recommend the book. Follow this link to learn more about it.

TALK TO ME: How do you live a life of forgiveness? How do you keep bitterness from taking root?

Talk to me!

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