Probably one of the most overused “to-dos” or mandates in the American church and Christian counseling is that of forgiving one another. When someone is struggling with some issue in life and there is a sense that another person has hurt or offended them, then what is commonly taught is that “You need to forgive them” before you can feel better or be healed. Granting forgiveness towards one who has hurt you can either come from your heart or your head. Where it comes from determines if it is life giving or lifeless.
In my experience walking with women for 20 years primarily coming out of severe childhood abuse backgrounds, I have not yet once had Jesus require forgiveness to be spoken/granted prior to their healing coming. Why would that be the case if the scriptures seem to paint a different picture, a different requirement? Could it be our understanding of the scriptures needs to be re-evaluated? Could it be that we have so become a people living out “right behaviors” in the name of “obedience” that we have totally missed the heart of God behind every so-called command found in scripture? We are masters of sin-management, living not from the heart but out of sheer determination from our heads. Jesus’ comments on the subject were given in the framework of the Old Covenant still. There was a major shift of paradigms after His finished work thru His death, resurrection and ascension. The dividing line in the scriptures is not the Old Testament vs. the New Testament, rather the Old Covenant vs. the New Covenant. The New Covenant began with Christ’s finished work thru His death, resurrection and ascension.
The Apostle Paul’s words on this topic in the epistles are “forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Hmmm…our forgiving one another will flow from us when we have experienced His forgiveness towards us. No more mandates or conditional responses on His part. We are forgiven!
Love is the same way in the believer’s life. Jesus said since we love Him we will keep the commandments. He didn’t say that our keeping the commandments is the signpost of our love for Him. Obedience never precedes love when it comes to living out of relationship with God, ourselves and with one another.
Back to forgiving one another, let me paint a common scenario, a person has had something painfully done to them by another person. Typically the first response by others is “You need to forgive that person if you expect God to help you.” Now the assumption is that the person has taken up an offense towards the one hurting them. That’s an assumption but not necessarily the case. If I know “Bob” has hurt me, I feel that pain in my heart; I may go directly to Jesus and ask Him to bring healing and wholeness back to my heart. What I have seen as I have walked with others is that as Jesus brings healing to these women out of severe abuse backgrounds, “Bob” is either no longer an issue or forgiveness flows freely from a healed and whole place in their heart.
Why might forgiveness not even be needed? Several thoughts, when a child is hurt by another, especially an adult in a position of trust, the child often concludes in that event that they were somehow at fault and therefore really don’t have anything against the perpetrator. “Adults are right, children are wrong” type belief. Now as that person grows up with unresolved pain from past trauma, the adult may take up an offense against the perpetrator which is quite common. Again, in my experience I have never had Jesus ask or require the adult to resolve this “unforgiveness” prior to Jesus doing His work in their heart.
Could we as well meaning adults when offering our counsel from “the scriptures” be trying to play Holy Spirit here in convicting the adult “to do” what is a commonly required practice among believers? Forcing forgiveness to be spoken by the adult can take place with lip service but I can virtually guarantee you that as long as the wounded heart is still in place, relational pain unresolved, the adult will continue to feel like forgiveness hasn’t taken place towards the perpetrator(s). So now we have created an environment ripe for the enemy to bring his tirade of accusations against the adult. The adult feels bad for still hating the perpetrator, has forgiven him multiple times and yet something inside doesn’t feel right because the pain remains, that is because no healing has occurred.
The other problem that arises is for the adult to “grant forgiveness” from their head as the “proper Christian behavior to do”, this causes an offense against their own heart. We teach forgiveness isn’t a feeling it’s a choice of the will. What that teaching is really saying is: ignore what your heart is feeling, choose to live out of your head, fulfill the sin-management program of proper external action and then everything will be fine. It NEVER works but actually in the long run makes things worse. This belief in the church against feelings and emotions, that they are somehow bad, “don’t let them control you” is not of God nor found in the scriptures. We have once again defaulted to where the Tree of Knowledge is supreme and emotion is faulty and weak.
So when we live by the “I should or have to forgive” behavior, that part of the heart that was severely abused still has painful emotions around the one who hurt them. That child part of our heart is often sad, mad and even feeling hateful towards the perpetrator. So now the adult steps in to forgive and therefore dismisses the little one’s feelings. Besides the trauma the little one has already experienced in the past, now the little one has just had added to their little heart a huge dismissal, “I shouldn’t feel this way”. Honestly young places in the heart have very little if any cognitive concept of what forgiveness or unforgiveness really even is. We teach our children when hurt by a sibling, “Johnnie you need to say you’re sorry. Susie you need to forgive Johnnie.” What is the end result usually, the “right behavior” was accomplished, lip service was paid most likely from their heads, not their hearts but we as parents stand proud. At the youngest of ages we are teaching them to dismiss what their little hearts are feeling, stuff the pain away, ignore it but God forbid if they don’t say the “right” words or act out the “correct” behavior. Not only do we want them to dismiss their own little hearts but we are totally dismissing their hearts also. How might we better present to each one involved how to receive from Jesus what they need from Him, His life, the Tree of Life? Why don’t we get Jesus involved in the moment to do some “heart surgery” for the one hurt? Are we more comfortable avoiding the heart issues because we don’t like facing our own heart issues as parents? Christian behaviorism rules!
I have been around adults where every other comment from their mouth is “I am sorry”. They sound like a broken record. Wonder where they have learned that response…
I suggest a different approach when we find we have “unforgiveness” towards another. Why not give Jesus the opportunity to address our heart issues first, let Him bring resolve, reconciliation, His redemptive work applied, then I can guarantee you forgiveness will flow if it even needs to be expressed. Don’t deny how His Spirit is using your heart to be the signpost for that part hurting inside; an opportunity or might I say an invitation by Jesus to bring life, bring healing, bring freedom to us once again. When we avoid pain at all costs we are therefore avoiding the very thing Jesus wants to resolve most within us, that part of our heart hurting so. Jesus is ready, waiting and wanting to bring a greater experience of His love, His forgiveness to each of us. As we experience Him more and more in everyday life, He truly does become that for us, LIFE!
Relational Prayer Ministry – Tom Gale – Colorado Springs, CO – 719.278.4343
©2010 Thomas Gale. All rights reserved.