Tag Archives: Religion & Spirituality

Forgiving the Unforgivable: Is it Foolishness?

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Forgiving the Unforgivable

I’ve been talking about forgiving the unforgivable. I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s the goal if you want to follow the Way of Jesus. If you don’t then it might be too much of a risk, even foolish.

To forgive the unforgivable assumes that God exists and will empower you to do something beyond yourself. Forgiving the unforgivable goes beyond self-preservation to loving your enemy and blessing your offender.

Forgiveness Precedes Repentance

Recently I’ve been reading Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf. It’s a study in giving and forgiving. Volf makes a case for not only forgiving the unforgivable but forgiving BEFORE your offender shows any signs of contrition or repentance. He says that repentance is the consequence of forgiveness not the condition for it. That is, when someone experiences forgiveness they may in turn change for the good.

The forgiver, following God’s example, offers forgiveness as an act of grace. Not every offender will receive it. That is their loss. But the forgiver makes the offer. If the offender receives forgiveness it gives them a chance to reclaim their life. It frees them from the fear of accusation and judgment and allows them to start over. Forgiveness makes rehabilitation possible. Without it there is no reason for them to change. They continue in their wrongdoing.

The Bible affirms this when it says that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. God’s forgiveness provokes our transformation. (See Romans 2:4)

Volf does offer a disclaimer. He said offenders may not repent even when forgiven. Then he says…

Forgiveness does not cause repentance but it does help make repentance possible. page 186

Is Forgiving the Unforgivable Foolish?

I’d imagine that this kind of talk is mere religious theory to some and pure foolishness. Surely no one would say these things if they had suffered abuse or the effects of genocide. This is what theologians talk about but no one actually does.

I totally agree with that sentiment. Being a skeptic at heart I’d be the first to say that very thing. But I’m convinced that Jesus knew what he was talking about so I’m leading this discussion to help us conform to what he said is true and not what feels is true. I think there is a life in God that few have encountered because we can’t believe it exists. But we haven’t experienced it because we haven’t dared to try.  I’ll speak more on that in my next post.

Note: One of my readers suggested that I encourage people struggling with issues of forgiveness, abuse, guilt, etc. to get counseling.  I agree. Sometimes the answer is straight forward. But rarely.  You may need someone to help you sort it out.

Question: Do believe that forgiving the unforgivable is possible? Please take a second to leave your comment below.

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How To Forgive: Set Boundaries

How to Forgive: Set Boundaries

This is part two in a series on How to Forgive.  In part one I said that you need to BE THE HERO.  The second idea I have for you is to set boundaries. The thought here is that it’s really hard to forgive someone if they are still offending you.

I talked to a couple of people this week that not only had people actively offending them but these people were inciting others to offend them as well (mostly family members). I told them both that they have to get some distance between themselves and these people…they have to bring some separation… otherwise it will be just too hard to forgive. They can’t be listening to these people. They’ll drag them down.

It’s at times like this that you have to immerse yourself in the words of God more than ever. Make sure your worth as a person and your identity comes from God and not what people say about you. This is the topic of my book, Healing the Hurts of Your Past.

You might be in a situation where you are continually offended by the same person in the same way.  No matter how many times you’ve confronted them and forgiven them, they don’t seem to get it – and it’s getting harder and harder to forgive. They just keep hurting you over and over.  What do you do then?  My word of advice for repeat offenders is to set boundaries.

Boundaries give consequences for bad behavior.

People often ask, where are boundaries in the Bible? Let me give you a couple of examples.   The apostle Paul was teaching in a synagogue.

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him… Acts 19:8,9

Paul gave his heart and soul to these people every day for three months but some people didn’t respect him or his ministry. They trash talked him. Finally, Paul said, “That’s enough. I won’t allow you to speak to me like this anymore.” And then he took action to create space. Any time you see a consequence in the Bible you are seeing boundaries in action.

Another example from Jesus of boundaries is when he told his disciples to “shake the dust off your feet” if people didn’t accept their message. In other words, don’t bear their abuse, just move on to someone who cares.

Are you too nice?

The reason that some of us have so much trouble forgiving is that we allow people to keep messing with us. We are too nice. Many of us justify it by saying that we are Christians and Christians have to be nice. But that’s typically just a cover for your fear of confrontation. Am I right? You are afraid to say anything. But it’s better to say something out of love than be “nice” and have a heart full of hate toward someone. Sit your offender down and say,

What you are doing or saying is not okay. If you keep it up I’m going to find  ways to put distance between us.

I have more to say on boundaries. Look for my next post on this topic.

Question: What’s the hardest thing about setting boundaries for you? Leave your comment below.

This post was adapted from my book, STUCKhow to mend and move on from broken relationships.

  • Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part three) (readingremy.com)
  • How to Forgive: Be the Hero (readingremy.com)
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How Do I Forgive My Ex?

How Do I Forgive My Ex?

Last week I posted pieces of a message I spoke called “Defining Forgiveness: What it Is. What It’s Not”.  The message is a part of a larger series on Restoring Broken Relationships that I’m giving at my church.  Both at church and online the messages are having an impact.

In the coming week I will share pieces of a new messages on How to Forgive. But to start I want to share parts of an email sent to me last week from a woman who was able to forgive her ex-husband. I hope it encourages you if you are in a similar situation.

I am so amazed by how prayers are answered.  I have been asking God to bring someone or something into my life to show me signs or give me direction.  I was stuck in the mud; I had only healed to a certain point and leveled off.  It wasn’t enough, so I prayed for more direction.   

I listened to your message last night about forgiveness.  Every word of this hit home with me on such a deep level.  Your definition of what forgiveness is, but more so the definition of what it is NOT, was so meaningful.  In fact, I had such a feeling of peace.  I understand now what forgiveness is and how it relates to God, and that was such a missing link for me.

I realized today that I wasn’t angry anymore.  I thought before that in order to let go of the anger, I had to trust my ex, or excuse what he did.   I can’t trust him, but I can choose not to remember like God wrote in the Old Testament.  I can allow him to build trust.  I can let go of the anger and feel peace.  It’s over. It’s all in the past. I realized that if I want to move forward and excel in life, this anger has got to go.  So I let it go and God has helped me do it.  My shoulders feel relaxed!   

I know it will be a continuous process and through prayer I am achieving the strength I need.  My ex was here tonight to pick up the kids and I told him about this.  I told him that I forgive him.  It was a powerful moment.    

I am eager to move on with my life. I understand it’s a process, but I made a huge leap out of the mud I was stuck in.  I wanted you to know that.  I feel fantastic!  The grace of God has left me at a loss for words.

It was great to read this. I hope to read many more like it! Please share these posts with people who are struggling to forgive.  You can learn more about forgiveness in STUCK.

Question: Do you have a story of forgiveness?  What was the tipping point that enabled you to forgive?

  • Defining Forgiveness – Three Things That Forgiveness Is (readingremy.com)
  • Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part three) (readingremy.com)
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Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part three)

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Defining Forgiveness

This is the fourth of four posts on defining forgiveness. It has been great to see how many people have read and forwarded these posts.

Here’s a brief recap. So far I’ve defined forgiveness as…

  • giving up the right to get even
  • giving up the right to have your offender solve your problems
  • letting go of the past and moving into the future

Then I started to give five words for what forgiveness is not:

  1. Forgetting
  2. Excusing
  3. Trusting
  4. Reunion

Today I’m looking at the fifth word; conditional.

Forgiveness is not conditional.

It is not based on the other person.  Sometimes people tell me that they’d consider forgiving if they could get an apology but “the guy isn’t even sorry for what he did”.  They might point out verses that connect forgiveness with repentance. For example, Jesus said…

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. Luke 17:3

There are other verses like this too. But we have to look at the entirety of scripture. I know some people teach that you don’t have to forgive unless your apologizes but I think it’s a bad teaching for two reasons.  The first reason is that unconditional forgiveness is God’s model for us.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

God didn’t wait for us to clean up our act before he sent Jesus into the world. He took the first step and it was unconditional.

The second reason forgiveness shouldn’t be unconditional is pure logic. If forgiveness is conditional that means my offender controls me. As long as my offender doesn’t apologize I am chained to them emotionally and they can always “jerk the chain”. Let’s just take this to the extreme. Let’s say my offender wants to really mess with me and so they say…If I don’t apologize then Remy will stay angry and become resentful and bitter. Remy will think about me the rest of his life. Ha, ha, ha.

Forgiveness sets you free.

But forgiveness changes that. Forgiveness sets me free. It gives me the “trump” card…the last word.  Lewis Smedes tells us that…

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.  

This is especially important to understand if you are a victim of abuse or betrayal. The temptation is to live in the past, obsessing about what was  done to you. But what you need more  than ever is to win back your life. You will do that by forgiving.

I hope this series of posts helps you understand forgiveness a bit better…what it is and what it isn’t. But my real hope is that you’ll do it.  And here’s a secret; when you finally let go of the past that’s when your future opens up. Forgiveness is a word that releases you into your future. But unforgiveness keeps you stuck in your past.

Father we need to confess that even though forgiveness is central to who you are and what it means to follow Jesus, we are often slow to forgive. We have a thousand excuses why we don’t need to forgive. Help us to let go of our anger, let go of the past and move into the future that you have for us.  

Please take a moment to forward this post on Facebook, etc. Thanks.

Question: What kind of questions still trouble you about forgiveness? I’d like to try to answer them in the coming days.

  • Download the full podcast or text of the message “Defining Forgiveness” here.
  • Defining Forgiveness – Three Things That Forgiveness Is (readingremy.com)
  • Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part one) (readingremy.com)
  • Defining Forgiveness: Forgiveness is Not Trusting or Reunion  (readingremy.com)
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Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part one)

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Forgiveness is Not Forgetting or Excusing

Yesterday I started to define forgiveness with three explanations for what it is.  But today I want to bring more clarity by describing what it is not.

One of the reasons so many people refuse to forgive is they think it’s more than what I’ve already described. So here are two of five things that forgiveness is not.

1. To forgive is not to forget.

Some people think that all you have to do to forgive is just forget what happened. Maybe someone has said that to you. Just forget about it. What’s the problem? Why can’t you get over it!  Then they will quote the Bible where God said… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Jeremiah 31:34.

These people say you just need to do what God does…forget. But when offended people hear this they shut down. They often say… if forgiving is contingent on my forgetting then I can never forgive because I’ll never forget what was done to me.

Look back at the verse from Jeremiah. It doesn’t say that God forgets our sin. It says he chooses to not remember it. That’s a big difference. The truth is…when it comes to the big hurts in life, we don’t forgive and forget. We forgive what we can’t forget.  We can forget the little offenses. It’s the big offenses that stick with us. The big offenses need something more powerful than forgetting. They need forgiveness.

2. To forgive is not to excuse.

I’ve seen many people recoil at the thought of forgiving because they think that if they forgive it will send the message to their offender that what they did wasn’t really that bad.  This is especially true for victims of abuse and betrayal. But that’s not what forgiveness is about.

God doesn’t excuse us. He doesn’t minimize what we’ve done. The Bible gives us many examples of this. Listen to what Peter said to a group of people…

You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.   Acts 3:13-15

Peter’s accusation couldn’t be any stronger. Yet he still offers forgiveness.

Now, brothers and sisters, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders…Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…Acts 3:17-19.

God’s forgiveness doesn’t excuse what we did. And neither should ours. Two authors put it this way…Forgiveness acknowledges that moral violations in relationships are wrong.  But forgiveness cancels a debt that a person legitimately owes rather than simply lets the person off the hook.  Forgiveness does not wink at the moral violation (condoning) or deny the offender’s responsibility (exoneration).  Forgiveness chooses to cancel a debt that is serious and real.  To Forgive is Human, p. 33

If you are afraid that forgiving someone will communicate the wrong thing to your offender then you need to be clear just like the Bible is clear. Outline the severity of what they did but let them know that you won’t hold it against them. You won’t treat them like less of a person or with any less dignity.

Tomorrow I will look at two more words that forgiveness is not. Learn more in the book STUCK.

Question: What are some reasons you’ve used for not forgiving? Leave your comment below and please consider “sharing the knowledge” with others.

  • Download the podcast or text of the full message “Defining Forgiveness” here.
  • Defining Forgiveness – Three Things That Forgiveness Is (readingremy.com)
  • Moving On From the Hurt (readingremy.com)
  • Why Can’t I Forgive? (readingremy.com)
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Defining the Pain of Shame

Defining the Pain of Shame

Defining the Pain of Shame

The Bible is right. Somewhere… somehow… something went seriously wrong. We lost our way and fell short of what we were created to be. The result? The pain of shame.

None of us are perfect, yet… we long for perfection. When we miss the mark, it feels bad. For some, it’s a fleeting twinge of pain that comes on occasion. For other’s, it’s a stabbing pain that stalks them daily.

That’s shame.

The Pain of Shame makes you feel defective.

Someone described shame to me once as feeling like “damaged goods”… like you are a dropped product in a store and so you get removed from the shelf and tossed in the back, waiting to be thrown out. You’ve lost your value. And because of that you have this overriding sense of not belonging, not fitting in.

The Pain of Shame means living in fear of exposure.

YOU know that you are defective but the game of life is to keep other people from knowing it. It’s bad enough to BE flawed, but it’s doubly bad to have the world gawking at your flaws, either shaking their head in derision or laughing at your futility. Shame drives you to stay one step ahead of being exposed.

The Pain of Shame means living in fear of rejection.

If you are convinced that you are flawed and don’t fit in, then it’s only natural to fear the rejection that follows exposure. Who wants to associate with a loser?

It’s no wonder that shames causes so much pain.

The Pain of Shame comes from the lies we believe.

Where there are no lies there is no shame. It’s the lies of shame that cause us to leap from the idea of “damaged” to “worthless” or from “flawed”to “forgettable”.

To escape this pain of shame we must find a source outside of ourselves that defines our worth. If we return to the God that created us we’ll find that he’s not there to condemn us but give us the value that he always intended for us to have. That’s where healing begins.

Healing the Hurts of Your PastQuestion: What causes you the pain of shame? Leave your comment below.

revised: 12/1/17
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