Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.
One CAN forgive and NOT create or restore a relationship with the person(s) that they forgive.
Think of forgiving as having three aspects. The first two are essential if you are to free yourself from the burden of being chained emotionally to the person or people that hurt you. The third is optional and does not have to occur for you to have peace within. It isn’t even required by God, though some Christians seem to think it may be.
The first step in forgiving is to decide to assign the other person value again. Rather than thinking of him as evil, degenerate, or the devil personified, instead make a conscious decision to categorize her as a flawed human being.
It’s easy to hate and carry bitterness toward someone that we think of as subhuman. Admittedly, some people have done things that appear subhuman. I’ve only known one serial criminal personally. He was a very charming and talented young man who secretly kidnapped and raped teenaged girls, usually videoing the ordeal. He murdered the next to the last one he abducted. The last one, by the grace of God, escaped. That led to his capture and conviction. At his trial he cowered under the defense table in a fetal position making sounds that sounded anything but human. Demon possessed? Who knows? For the girls he seized and raped, I imagine he might come at night as a monster in their dreams. For the parents and others who loved the girl he killed, there likely will be no one in their lives who will match the level of evil he committed. I, of course, do not know how those people feel; I’m guessing. I do know this, though. If they allow themselves to see him as evil, rather than a flawed human, forgiving is nearly impossible.
If you’re thinking, “He doesn’t deserve forgiving!” you won’t get an argument from me. However, their forgiving him does NOT free him from the legal, moral, spiritual, and emotional consequences of what he did. He faced the courts and will be in prison until he dies. He will face God at that point. Those hurt by him who forgive him do not in any way negate or change those things. Their forgiveness is not to free him; it is to free them….free them from having him continue to haunt their lives through their own emotional pain of hate. You want to consider who deserves what? They don’t deserve to be chained to this man for a single day by having him live inside their emotions. They deserve to be free. To do that they must forgive so that they can move on. Let the courts do their jobs and let God do His.
If they mentally decide to put him into the category of a flawed human, they can find at least some compassion. Not justification. Not affection. Compassion that is at least enough to see him as flawed and that the real enemy is never a flawed human. As Paul would write it to the Ephesians, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against those spiritual forces at work in those who are disobedient. Don’t waste your time or degrade your life hating another human. There is true evil but it is not one of us humans, even when we do evil things. Things we will pay for in this life. Maybe the next. God sees all and He decides that part.
The second thing required is to decide not to take vengeance. There is a difference in vengeance and justice. Justice demands that the law be fulfilled. Vengeance is trying to make the other person hurt as badly as you do. That’s why it never fulfills. You can never be sure that the other person hurt as badly as you hurt. To truly be free from another, no matter what level of pain they caused, make a decision not to seek vengeance. In the case of the young man I mentioned above, those families wanted him prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That’s justice. If they had tried to cause him deeper pain by doing something to hurt him or the ones that he loved (assuming he was actually capable of love) would only bring more hurt to the vengeance seeker.
Not seeking vengeance means making the conscious decision not to hurt the other person. It means giving up the right to hurt them, though you may have every right to do so. Demand justice if you wish; that’s okay. Forgo vengeance.
One more illustration. What if one spouse cheats on the other and the hurt spouse decides to divorce. He has that right if he wishes. That’s justice. Causing undue emotional or spiritual harm on the unfaithful spouse by purposely destroying her reputation, her children’s view of her, and the like would be vengeance. It only does harm. It is not justice. It does not bring peace to the spouse seeking vengeance. It creates more pain within him as he seeks to do harm.
What is the third, optional step?
I’ll share that in the next blog in the series.