Long ago, some friends of mine once told me that the boy I was dating at the time was a cheater. Like any self-respecting person, I broke up with him. Deep inside, I discovered a bit of relief that I could leave. Of course, he was sorry, he was terribly sorry. He didn’t know why he had done it. Please forgive, forgive… he loved me. He wanted to make things better. He wanted to make it up to me.
But I had made up my mind. I wouldn’t allow him to treat me like that.
That Sunday, the pastor preached on forgiveness.
“When God forgives us, he wipes the slate clean. He forgets our sins — as far as the east is from the west. He puts us back in the original place before we sinned. That’s what forgiveness is — giving the person the original position they had before they sinned against us.”
Like any God-fearing, preacher-listening person, I went back to my boyfriend and made up with him. I “forgave” him.
It was a disaster.
Cocaine and pot-addicted, risky driving resulting in accidents, stealing cars for joy rides, police encounters, and failing classes were just a few of his self-destructive behaviors.
But I just prayed for him through it all.
It wasn’t until his world began to close upon me — he was proposing marriage — that I made my escape. I needed out. I needed the geographical distance. I needed a plausible excuse to break it off. Those words from the preacher (so I believed) had made it impossible for me to break up on any grounds while we were in the same city.
I wanted to travel. My mom convinced me to go to college in the midwest. I went. And I broke up with him — strangely, not because of the many sins he had committed against me or because of the dangerous life he led and sometimes brought me into — but because I was going away and it would be difficult to have a long-term relationship.
I remember the vast relief of escaping his downward spiral as I flew away from my hometown. I didn’t miss him at all. I just felt glad, glad, glad I was gone, gone, gone.
After reflection, I thought about how wrong those choices were. I could have forgiven my boyfriend without returning him to “his original position.” Sometimes, to please God, raised on stories of miracles, encouraged to “have faith”, we throw away the reason and sense that is also God-given. We affront the logic and natural law in a martyrdom that harms us and does nothing for the kingdom of God. In fact, it completely baffles unbelievers, painting us into the corner of uneducated idiots.
This is not the first time that Christians twist God’s words to cause inexplicably stupid, even cruel or diabolical, behavior. When Elsa was young, I put her into AWANAs — a Christian program filled with games and scripture memory. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
It was until the police arrested the AWANAs game director for raping a teenage girl at church camp.
I know that these things can happen to anyone and anywhere. Predators put all their ingenuity into appearing like a good guy and placing themselves in positions where they have access, acceptance and trust. That’s a given in this fallen world.
What is astounding to me is this man had a past and the church knew about it!
In the name of “forgiveness,” these church leaders decided to “give the guy a second chance.”
WITH MY DAUGHTER! WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S DAUGHTERS AND SONS!
I … was … livid.
I was flabbergasted. I could not understand how well-meaning people could risk the precious innocence of children for a bet on a possible redemption of a predator. Forgiveness, yes. Another chance with children? Never. I thought of Jesus’ words,
But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Christians are waking up to how people, especially abuse victims, can misconstrue scriptures on forgiveness. In Donald’s storyline conference, there were several good definitions.
To forgive is to release someone from the obligation of who you want them to be and accept who they are.
He added what forgiveness is not: condoning unkindness, forgetting something painful happened, excusing poor behavior, a dramatic spiritual epiphany, denying or minimizing hurt, reconciling with the offender, and giving up your feelings.
And he added what forgiveness is: it’s for you and not the offender, taking back your power and not giving it up, about your healing and not about the people who hurt you, a trainable skill like learning to throw a baseball, getting control over your feelings, becoming a resilient hero instead of a permanent victim, and a choice.
This definition I like even better:
Forgiveness is accepting the burden somebody has given you while setting them free from any obligation to make amends.
This definition accepts that something terrible has happened to you. But what do you do about it? As long as it rankles, the poison is still there. Waiting for the offender to remove it results in a slow death. We have the power to clean the bite, and after a while, recover and go on. We do not have to rely on anyone but our partnership with Christ to continue the journey. This sort of freedom founded in truth sets us free.