We hear it frequently in client interviews. They share how someone has abused or mistreated them in the past, and they now want to visit the offender to tell them that they have forgiven them.
Is that always a good thing to do? Is it helpful? For whom?
Forgiveness, the act of extending it, is an essential part of the preparation process for deliverance. Apart from that, the doctrine of forgiveness is an integral element of Jesus teachings. It’s also an important element when two or more people are working together to rebuild a relationship.
Let’s get some elementary housekeeping out of the way. We teach that forgiveness is a decision that is not dependent upon emotions, which cannot be trusted. For more articles on how we cover this topic, visit our website and enter “forgiveness” in the search bar, or click here and we’ll do it for you.
Bottom line: God commands us to forgive those who have transgressed against us. It is a non-negotiable in the Kingdom of God. We can address how we get there and how we do, but we must do it– forgive those who have wronged us.
Is it necessary to extend that forgiveness face-to-face to that person (or via Facebook, text message, Instagram or some other electronic medium)? Must we tell them, let them know, that we have forgiven them?
The answer is an emphatic “No!”
Let me clear: this is for specific situations where the offended person unilaterally, and unexpectedly, reaches out to the one who has offended, typically after some extended period has passed.
When reconciliation is underway, and both parties are actively involved, it is very appropriate for the wronged one (for example, a spouse who has been cheated on) to offer that verbal olive branch to the perpetrator.
Therefore, we are only looking at the unilateral, unanticipated action of the abused one who chooses to reach out on his or her own, usually months or even years later.
Not only is it unnecessary, but we also recommend against doing that unless some particular and careful safeguards are in place. You will want to understand your motives and be very confident that God has instructed you to do that. If He has, it’s because a divine plan is in place.
Forgiveness is a Choice
Forgiveness is a one-way release of that person to the Lord. It does not condone, nor absolve what they did. The one who forgives purposes, by an act of free will, to release the perpetrator to God so they can be free. We do not need to do it face to face. I want to present the case that we should not typically do it that way.
I had a client (Joanne) in her early twenties who had turned her back on her father. She felt compelled one day to call him and tell him that she had forgiven him for not being there when she was younger and ignoring her now. Joanne was not prepared for the blowback; her father lashed back by telling her he withdrew because, in his view, she only reached out to him when needed money.
He believed that his now adult children saw him as an ATM machine and showed no interest in him or his life. He had spent a lot of time overseas and had been away on assignment for extended periods of their formative years. Unresolved anger from both parties characterized the central element of this relationship.
See how badly this simple gesture unfolded? This woman believed she needed to go to her father with this declaration of forgiveness for HER benefit, with no forethought about how it would be received.
What’s the right way?
If you want to approach someone to extend forgiveness, I suggest you begin by asking him or her to forgive you for what you have said or done. Be specific – for not calling, for not coming over, for not responding to emails or letters, whatever the case may be.
Dig deep in your memory bank; you can come up with instances and specific situations where the other party may have taken up an offense.
Ask for forgiveness and then be quiet. The situation may improve or deteriorate from here. If it goes well (remorse or repentance expressed), then you may be able to seal the deal by letting the other know that you too have forgiven.
If the party reacts negatively, you probably need to engineer a graceful exit. It’s not the time for a parting shot. You tried; you asked for forgiveness for your misdeeds, and now you have an opportunity for seeds planted by the Holy Spirit to grow and bear good fruit in the other person. Have faith; it may take time but take comfort in knowing that you have done the right thing before the Lord.
Forgiveness is a powerful yet tricky endeavor. It’s vital for healthy spiritual growth and because of that, the demonic realm labors tirelessly to derail the process.
Forgive others. Ask forgiveness of others as the Lord leads. Be very careful and wise if the Lord leads you to tell others that you have forgiven them.
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