Saturday, October 24, 2009

Forgiveness—What it is and Isn’t

Christians say much about forgiveness. They teach it is the eraser that cements all kinds of relationships. People often believe forgiveness erases offenses, restores trust, brings reconciliation, eradicates emotional pain, heals illnesses, and makes everything hunky dory.

But is this true? Can forgiveness do all of the above?

Well, what IS forgiveness? There is so much conflicting information about it, that I have struggled to know what it is, let alone how to apply it. I finally came to a conclusion based on biblical teachings about money. Using a concrete item makes it much easier for me to understand the concept, which also clarified for me what forgiveness can and cannot do.

Jesus told a parable about forgiving a debt, so I, too will tell a parable.
Imagine that you came to me, jobless and wanting to invest in a business that would provide for your family, and I loaned you $100,000.00 (One hundred thousand dollars). It took me 40 years of scrimping and self-denial to save this money so I could set it aside for retirement. It is also all I was able to save. But seeing your distress, I loaned it to you so that your family would not go hungry, and with the agreement that you would pay me interest so that I, too, would benefit from the exchange.

The first year was interest and payment free, per our agreement, and the second year you made two monthly payments, and then stopped paying altogether. It soon became clear that you had used up the whole $100,000 and now your fledgling business had failed to get off the ground. Then I find out you squandered the money, using most of it for “research” that was actually self-gratification and entertainment. You never did open your business. And now you not only had no money left, I also understood that you didn’t have the morals to be able to work enough to repay it. I could choose to forgive you or choose to remain angry and frustrated the rest of my life as I keep hounding you for payment or telling everyone what a horrible person you are. (I do believe there is room for sharing our grief with a few trusted confidantes, but it is important that we do not emebellish the wrong that was done to us.)

What does it mean to forgive? It means that I do not expect you to repay the debt. It is forgiven. Therefore, I let go of the anger and frustration I felt toward you. However, I may need to take some time to grieve my loss.

Does it mean I trust you? If you have shown yourself untrustworthy, absolutely NOT! Does it mean I am reconciled with you? No. Does it mean I do not deal with emotional pain? NO. In fact, I will have to deal with major emotional pain because I have just suffered a HUGE loss. My entire retirement savings are gone and cannot be recovered. Because of this, I will be unable to retire—ever. My income was low enough in my working years that my social security will never be enough to live on. I will live in pain, still working hard years after I am too frail or ill to keep working. Or I will stop working and constantly be scraping the bottom of the barrel for the rest of my life, forced to choose what needed items I must do without.

The pain I suffer will be so severe I may end up grieving my loss for the rest of my life. It will always be a factor in my life circumstances. Even at a tiny 2% interest on the $100,000, I will bear the loss of $167 a month for the rest of my life. That hurts! It is not small change to me.

Yet Christians teach that if I forgive you, my pain should be gone, and I should be your good friend. They seem to deny that friendship requires trust—a trust that is earned. In fact, they would urge me to be so foolish to loan you money again, if you are still in need and I am able to save enough to loan. This, my friends, is not forgiveness, it is stupidity and foolishness.

The forgiveness pushers fail to understand that it is each person’s responsibility to BE trustworthy—to earn trust. I take that back. They fail to understand that it is each MAN’S responsibility to BE trustworthy. They have very little problem demanding trustworthiness and perfect submission from women.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit


  1. When I was struggling with forgiveness in regards to abuse and utter betrayal in my marriage, the Holy Spirit asked me a question that ended up settling it all for me. He asked how much suffering on my unfaithful, abusive, husband's part "would it take in order for me to feel vindicated and let the offense go?"

    As I meditated on that one, I realized that no matter how much he suffered on account of what he had done to me, it would never be enough to satisfy my sense of justice. He could never suffer enough to take away my pain.

    It was at that point I was able to let it go and forgive him "the debt".

    I no longer feel the pain of abuse and betrayal. Jesus has taken it away. I no longer feel angry or bitter towards my former husband. I have never lost a minute's sleep over the offense since the moment I let it go.

    But because I forgave him, did God require me to remain this brutal man's wife? No. Does he require me to interact with this person who would destroy me if he could? No.

    The Bible says to be at peace with all men "as much as lieth within you." Some men will not allow you to be at peace with them, and the only way to be obedient to the Biblical command is to avoid them altogether.

    That is not unforgiveness. That is simply wisdom.

  2. Well put, Jocelyn! I think it is interesting to read your perspective, since it is so different from my own. My background is Mennonite and my parents were Amish as children. If you recall the horrible crime of terrorism and murder committed against Amish school girls in Pennsylvania, you may also recall how the Amish reacted. They IMMEDIATELY forgave. That is the kind of upbringing I had. It wouldn't occur to me to stay angry or to be vindictive. I was taught that is sin.