Both forgiveness and trust are crucial in healthy relationships, but the two are often confused. This confusion prevents people from forgiving and moving on.
Hopefully this article can bring a little clarity. I want you to be a forgiving person. But I also want you to be wise in your relationship decisions. You can do both!
What is forgiveness? Here are just a few ideas from the Scriptures:
Forgiveness is an essential component of the Christian life. We forgive because God commands it and because He has forgiven us.
. . . and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
–the model prayer, Matthew 6:12
Forgiveness is letting go of anger, bitterness, and the desire for revenge. It is honestly wishing God’s blessings upon those who have wronged you:
Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”
Forgiveness is trusting in the sovereignty of God—believing that His purpose will be fulfilled in your life, regardless of what others have done to you.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
–Genesis 50:20 (Joseph’s words to his brothers who sold him into slavery).
Forgiveness, however, is not the same thing as trust.
Jesus commanded us to forgive everyone, but he didn’t command us to trust everyone. In fact, Jesus himself didn’t trust everyone. Consider this passage from John’s Gospel:
Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.
Jesus was the most forgiving, loving man who ever lived. But he knew he could not trust all people—he understood human nature.
Let’s put all of this together: Forgiveness should be freely extended to all, but your trust must be earned. Do you see the difference?
In other words, God commands me to forgive those who have harmed me. I must not seek revenge—I must let go of the hurt and anger. But God does not command me to immediately trust those who have harmed me.
This is where many people get confused. They believe that in order to forgive, they must completely trust the one who sinned against them (as if nothing happened). This is simply not true.
I’ll give you an extreme example. Suppose a young woman has an abusive boyfriend. I would advise her to forgive the abuse, but also to end the relationship and avoid the abuser. Continuing the relationship (and the abuse) would not glorify God.
Trust is a fragile thing. Once it has been broken, it must be restored. Hopefully this can happen after we forgive. Unfortunately, there are times when trust is broken beyond repair. This has happened to me and to those I’ve counseled with. In these cases, my advice is to forgive and move on—without attempting to restore the relationship. There is no contradiction here—we can wish blessings on someone from a distance, without putting ourselves in harm’s way.
Be quick to forgive, but slow to trust. These steps are necessary for healthy relationships and a healthy soul.
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