Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation
"Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."1
Following a series of Daily Encounters on "Forgiveness," a number of readers wanted to know if forgiving another person meant that we have to forget what has happened; or to love and stay with them if they are abusive; or to trust them?
The answer is no, no, no! Let me explain further.
When we have sinned, we need to be reconciled to God,2 but while reconciliation with others is the ideal, it isn't always possible—and sometimes not to be desired. Some teachers argue that forgiveness isn't possible unless the offending person admits what she/he has done and asks for forgiveness of the one they have hurt. If this were true, many of us would be stuck for life for the fact that many people do not, or will not, admit that they have done anything wrong, let alone apologize for it.
Forgiveness is dependent only on the person who has been hurt. Reconciliation is dependent on both the offended and the one who has offended.
One reader, whose husband was an alcoholic and physically abusive and dangerous when drunk, wanted to know if forgiving him meant loving and trusting him. Whew! She was in quite a predicament. However, the most loving thing she could do, was to confront him and let him know that she was not going to tolerate his behavior any longer.
Furthermore, unless he gets into recovery, and overcames his alcoholism and abusive behavior, she needs to separate herself and the children from him, and not return until his counselor can assure her that she and the children will be safe to live with him again. If she keeps tolerating his abusive and destructive behavior, she becomes part of his sickness.
In cases like this, the first thing victims need to do is to get professional counsel and help because some of these abusive husbands can become very dangerous.
And unless destructive and/or toxic, abusive people repent and change their ways, it is wise to avoid associating with them wherever possible. As the Bible indicates, it just isn't possible to live peaceably with all people.
Suggested prayer, "Dear God, in all my relationships, please help me to forgive all who have hurt me, to seek forgiveness where I have hurt others, and give me the wisdom to know when reconciliation is or isn't advisable or possible, and give me the courage to do what I need to do no matter how painful or frightening it may be. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus's name, amen."
1. Romans 12:17-18 (NASB).
2. 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV).