(Cover art courtesy of B&H Publishing Group)
What Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean
Taken from Full Circle Parenting by Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins. Copyright © 2021 by Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins. Used by permission of B&H Publishing Group. www.bhpublishinggroup.com.
There is quite a bit of misinformation among Christians about forgiveness, what it requires, and how it works. Christian parents will help our kids choose forgiveness if we clarify what the Bible actually requires them to do. We can help our kids understand:
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. We’ve all heard the cliche “forgive and forget.” If someone means by that statement that we should forgive people and move on with our lives, then fine. But the idea that we’re literally going to forget is incorrect. You can choose to forgive, but you cannot choose to forget. Your son or daughter can’t invoke voluntary, selective amnesia about someone who has hurt them. And they shouldn’t.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean remaining vulnerable. When someone hurts you or betrays you, they are signaling that they are not worthy of trust. They might be able to regain your trust, but forgiveness doesn’t require you to trust them again. If someone is violent or predatory, you can forgive them (live peacefully with consequences and release them to God), but you don’t have to give them opportunities to hurt you again. You can forgive without being friends with them again. You can forgive without liking them again. And you can forgive without allowing yourself to be in physical or emotional proximity to them again. Different situations call for different levels of physical or emotional distance. You can forgive and still protect yourself. Our kids need to understand these truths.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean releasing the offender from any consequences. For example, if someone commits a crime against your child, the offender should face repercussions. Your child may choose to forgive the person, but if the opportunity exists to receive restitution, it is not wrong to take it. Releasing the person to God doesn’t mean you don’t tell the school official, the parent, or the police officer what happened. Releasing the person to God doesn’t mean shielding them from social, relational, financial, or legal ramifications of their actions.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean God is letting them off the hook. Forgiveness actually means believing God’s justice is better than our justice. When we are hurt, it is normal to daydream about what consequences we would like to pour out on our offender. Our kids will have the same feelings and thoughts. They might want to punch them in the face, embarrass them, or socially destroy them. They may have the urge to physically injure or even “kill” them. These are the kinds of things that people think about when we are hurt. Forgiveness is difficult because it means releasing the retribution to God. If we are honest, we are afraid that God’s justice won’t be as painful to our offender as our “justice” would be. But this is foolishness. Think about what God’s justice demanded of Jesus in order to obtain our forgiveness—the cross. Is your justice more violent than the cross? Think about what God’s justice demands of people who are not forgiven by Jesus—eternal hell. Is your justice more painful or long-lasting than hell? God is a righteous judge. He is able to weigh all relevant factors—motives, opportunities, circumstances—all because he can see things we can’t see. Our children can be confident that when they release someone to God, his justice is up to the task. God’s justice should encourage our kids to be forgivers.
- Forgiveness doesn’t require an apology. Many times people who hurt us are not sorry for what they have done. They may not think that what they did was wrong. They may not care. They may not even know we’ve been hurt. It has been said that bitterness is like drinking poison and then hoping it hurts the other person. Forgiving others allows us to gain freedom from bitterness without requiring anything from the person who hurt us. We simply choose to forgive them in our hearts, even if they don’t ask for it, want it, deserve it, or agree that they need it. If our kids are waiting for an apology before they forgive, then the offender is still in control. The one who hurt them in the first place is continuing to hurt them by filling them with bitterness. Forgiveness releases our kids from the offender’s control, and allows our children to move forward with peaceful hearts.
- Forgiveness doesn’t require a cathartic conversation. Some people say that in order to forgive you have to “face your offender.” But that’s just not true. When the offender doesn’t agree that they are wrong, or if they don’t care, it is futile to try to confront them with their sin so you can forgive them for their sin. Confrontations like that are likely to escalate tension and cause even more problems. Of course there are certain relationships where it might be appropriate to say, “When you said this or did that, it really hurt me.” But that conversation presumes the person is ignorant of the offense and would want to make things right. In many situations where our kids are hurt, the best thing to do is simply choose to forgive. The truth is your child can forgive the offender without the offender ever knowing it. The offender’s participation in the forgiveness process isn’t really necessary. We can just forgive them—that’s it!