Forgiveness is something we all need. And yet it is one of the most difficult things to give. In fact, Jesus makes a strong point that His followers ought to forgive every single time.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
The point was not to do the math and then forgive that precise amount, but instead to forgive every time!
At its core, forgiveness is releasing the debt someone owes because of their guilt caused by wrongdoing.
In this regard, we are to forgive someone every time, just as God has forgiven us of all our sin.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
So the more we understand the depths of God’s forgiveness of us, the more power He gives us to be able to forgive others in any circumstance. However, while we are to forgive others unconditionally, that does not imply that we are to trust unconditionally.
Forgiveness and trust are two entirely different things.
Forgiveness is given, trust is earned.
When someone does us wrong we are to look back at how God has forgiven us as the motivation to forgive others, even if we feel justified in withholding it. We are to be generous and treat forgiveness as a given. By releasing them of the incurred guilt we are refusing to let bitterness take hold of our heart. Bitterness and resentment are poison to us. Forgiveness, then, does not only do good for the other person, it does us good too. On the other hand, trust is earned. Trust is fragile. When trust is broken, it is okay for there to be a path to reconciliation, and in some cases permanent boundaries to protect yourself.
Trust involves the future. When you give someone your trust you are putting yourself in a vulnerable future state (depending on the level of trust they have). You can forgive someone without trusting them. Forgiveness does not necessarily restore the relationship to the same status (that is reconciliation).
Reconciliation implies that there was a rupture of the relationship and through forgiveness being given and trust being rebuilt, reconciliation takes place.
Reconciliation repairs relationships by joining them back together, either to the state they were before or potentially even stronger! So, reconciliation is about the present status of the relationship.
We always need to forgive, but there might be instances when we need to put up some healthy boundaries to protect ourselves. Again, forgiveness does not equate to trust.
What are healthy boundaries?
Here is part of it:
Healthy boundaries can prevent conflict from becoming even a bigger issue with more emotional weight and collateral damage. Healthy boundaries are like a hedge of space that gives us distance from the conflict and the person with whom the conflict is with. Importantly, boundaries speak to actions we will or will not take, not actions we demand other people take. Saying “you may not talk to me that way ever again” is not a boundary because that tries to control how other people speak. Saying “I will hang up the phone or walk out of the room the next time you speak to me that way” is a healthy boundary because it states what action we will take.
In summary, it is just as important to remember a contrast of what forgiveness is and is not. Forgiveness is not excusing the other person’s behavior. It is not deleting a memory. It’s healing a memory. Forgiveness is not making the other person right. It’s making us free. It is not necessarily trusting them immediately. Trust is rebuilt over time and requires a track record. Forgiveness is not allowing them to continue to hurt you. It doesn’t mean you have to continue to include the person in your life.
We understand this is a complex issue with a variety of applications based on the situation. It is always wise to consider speaking with a godly, Christian counselor who can help you navigate these things. But the bottom line is this, we need to find a way to forgive others. And God will always lead us that way if we will go to Him. There we will find healing.