Forgiveness Isn’t Permission
JUNE 29, 2023
I’ve screwed it up so bad sometimes. I have zero right to withhold forgiveness from anyone.
I mean, I try to figure out a way constantly, but then I remember Jesus. Crazy, upside-down forgiveness is God’s way of doing things. And he tells those who follow him that it’s their way now too. With that said, I’ve seen Christians use that truth as a way to prop up abusers and excuse their support of toxic people.
Sometimes, church people guard our beliefs (right or wrong), because we’re afraid to question them for fear we might be disrespecting God. “Don’t think about it!” is the immediate response our brain gives to any question we might have about those beliefs. Now, truth is truth, and you don’t go around stapling addendums to truth without making it a lie. But we’ve got to understand that while the truth remains the same, our depth of understanding of that truth can grow. Checking to make sure we, or our leaders, got it right is pretty darned important.
The point being: our current understanding of our sacred beliefs isn’t sacred.
I think maybe that’s what happens (or doesn’t happen) with forgiveness. We (rightly) believe we’re all on equal footing before God when it comes to sin, and, therefore, in equal need of salvation, so we can—in our gratefulness—be compassionate toward other sinners, and forgive as we have been forgiven. But, for some of us, that means that when anyone says anything that even sounds like they’re not serving up the same grace God gave us, we get defensive.
We don’t seem to understand we can forgive and have boundaries too.
I’ll Give You an Example
Let’s say you’ve had the same babysitter for a while, and she’s been a great sitter. The kids love her and she sometimes even bakes cookies for you. Great cookies. Then, one Thursday night after another one of Jerry’s awful work functions, you come home to find her boyfriend has snuck in to watch a movie. After a long talk, you’re convinced it was a stupid mistake that even the boyfriend regrets. You forgive, eat a cookie, and decide to keep her on.
Now, same situation, except instead of a boyfriend watching Netflix, you find out she’s been selling ecstasy out your back door. All sorts of strangers have been slipping your babysitter cash for drugs while your kids watch cartoons in the next room.
Neither situation means we forgive or love this girl any less, or that we think ourselves even an inch above her. It does, however, make us responsible to other families who might use her services. It means there’s consequences, too. You obviously fire the girl to protect your own household. Not out of spite, but in an effort to protect yourself and other people from this girl who has a toxic sin in her life. You actually do these things out of love for this girl by protecting her from hurting herself and others. She doesn’t want that at the moment, and she’ll see it as a personal attack, and maybe hate you forever, but you’re serving her with these actions.
The point being: Someone can say they’re sorry and still be dangerous.
Forgiveness isn’t Pretending
Now, the issue is that some people will think forgiveness means covering up the problems revealed by the sin. To get far deeper than babysitters, I’ve seen this with rape, spousal abuse, and other equally horrible things. They seem to think that if we don’t always let abusers back into relationships or jobs they’ve shown they can’t handle, we’re not being good forgivers. Look, we can forgive even king-sized sins with large fries and that person can sometimes go on in relationship with us and flourish. But then there are people who either have weaknesses they truly struggle with, or weaknesses they’re not willing to repent of, but get away with it because of our misguided guilt.
Our sin shouldn’t define us. Even very public sins shouldn’t become how we define people. But when a person shows you they have a continuing temptation to use and abuse others, believe them and act accordingly. Don’t let them watch your kids, talk you out of another hundred bucks, guilt you into more responsibility, break your heart; don’t vote for them, make excuses for them, or pretend they aren’t as dangerous as they are simply because you weren’t the victim this time. “Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves” (Mt 10:16). To forever withhold forgiveness is unacceptable for the Christian. But to deny that a person who has shown themselves to be a serial abuser in any way with no obvious change shouldn’t be allowed into a position where they can hurt others again. That makes us complicit in the abuse.