Forgive and Reconcile?Posted: November 10, 2011
There are a lot of misconceptions about forgiveness. These misconceptions make people hesitant to forgive. That’s a big problem. In this blog post, we’ll clear up the misconception that forgiveness entails reconciliation. Forgive and resume the relationship: That’s not necessarily true.
Forgiveness is a command. It takes only one person to forgive. You. Reconciliation is a goal. It takes two people to reconcile. You and the other person.
You can forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness. You can’t be reconciled to someone who doesn’t seek reconciliation.
Take the unfortunate example of the battered wife. Her husband hits her. Apologizes. Hits her again. Apologizes again. Hits her again. And on and on the cycle goes.
What is the wife obligated to do? She is obligated to forgive her husband. She is not obligated to continue the relationship. She is not obligated to subject herself to continued violence. She is not obligated to seek reconciliation apart from the genuine repentance of her husband.
What constitutes genuine repentance? The fruit of genuine repentance is a change of behavior discernable over a period of time. In this example I would council the wife to separate. I would council her to remove herself from the abusive relationship. I would suggest they seek counseling together. I would suggest she attempt reconciliation if her husband repents. I would suggest she wait to move back in until he proves himself over time. How long? As long as it takes to regain trust in the relationship.
If the abusing husband does not repent, if he is unwilling to earn trust slowly over time, if he tries to let an “I’m sorry” restore the relationship, then it’s not the wife who fails to seek reconciliation; it’s the husband. He’s the barrier to reconciliation, not her.
Forgiveness is given. Trust is earned. When trust in a relationship is violated it takes time to rebuild. And in some cases it may never be rebuilt.
This is an extreme example, but it displays an important principle. Forgiveness is a command. It takes one. You. Reconciliation is a goal. It takes two. You and the other person.
This is a very important distinction. Some people withhold forgiveness because they think it means they must resume the relationship with the offender. But that’s not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness simply means letting go of the hurt they caused. Forgiveness does not mean allowing yourself to suffer abuse from another.
So forgive. Forgiveness is not an invitation to suffer abuse from another. Forgiveness is the release to stop the abuse. Their past offenses no longer need keep you down. Their future offenses don’t need to be suffered. Forgive. Reconciliation may not be possible. Forgiveness always is.