In a previous post, I tried to carve some distance between “forgiving” and “forgetting.” Although these two things are often equated, they really are quite different. We may forget things but not forgive, and we may forgive things but not forget them. I don’t think a failure to forget is a spiritual flaw or weakness. It is part of how we are made by our Creator. When we forgive someone, we no longer hold an offense against them, but it would take something more than will power to remove it from our memory.
A similar fallacy comes from linking forgiving to trusting. I recently heard a presentation on forgiveness that instructed people to trust and then forgive. The main point of this speaker seemed to be that if we do not trust a person, we have not truly forgiven.
I disagree strongly.
The Greek word most used for “forgive” is the verb aphiēmi. Its basic meaning is “release.” It was used for the act of divorce, to “release” a wife from the marriage contract (only men could divorce in the New Testament world). The word does not imply a long process. In fact, in classical Greek, the word was used for the act of “releasing” an arrow from a bow. Think of that! When an arrow is released, it is gone! Vamoose! Wiedersehen! Zip! Zoom! Now you see it, now you don’t! Gone and quickly far away! We should always be cautious about doing theology based on the meaning of Greek words (especially using information from the classical period), but I think the idea stands. Forgiveness is not a long process. It is a decision made at a point in time to release, to give up any claim to have been offended or wronged by another person. If we are asked to forgive someone and our answer is “I’ll think about it,” we have not forgiven that person. This only comes when we say, “Yes, I forgive you.” And, as the previous post said, this releasing is as much about our own well-being as it is about the other person. When we release the sins of others, we move on and we can begin to heal.
Trust is another matter. If a trust has been betrayed, it cannot quickly be restored. Let me give you an example I have dealt with several times in ministry. A woman leaves an abusive husband who has beaten her several times. At some point she needs to forgive him, to release any desire for vengeance or claim for redress. This is for her own good. She needs to heal from this broken relationship. But when she decides to forgive her abuser, we should not expect her to trust him. No pastor should tell this woman, “Yes, you must forgive him and move back in with him.” Our act of forgiving does not automatically change the person we have forgiven. Trust must be earned. Trust broken may take a long time to be restored. I can forgive a person, even love that person deeply, without trusting him in any important way.
This may sound callous or non-intuitive to some if you, but when I forgive a person, I accept them as they are and hope they will change. I may need to accept a person as untrustworthy. If so, why would I trust them?
There is another part of this, and that is the teaching that I should only forgive those who express repentance to me. I don’t think it works that way. While God asks for repentance as a condition for forgiveness, I’m not sure we should expect this. Many people sin against us, and if we keep score until each has repented in word or note to us, we will harbor countless grudges, accumulating more and more until we die. I don’t want to live like this, and I don’t think you do either.
Christians are people of forgiveness. But they are also person of wisdom and discernment.So when someone claims you have not forgiven because your don’t yet trust a person, don’t believe them.