Stick with me here. I’m going somewhere with this.
There’s an interesting thing that happens when we forgive people for the wrong reasons. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. It’s absolutely not good, but the reaction, and the story we tell ourselves, is extremely interesting. And almost all of us have done it.
There are two things that tend to happen.
Someone does you wrong. They spitefully use you. It really doesn’t matter what happened, whether it’s large or small or even if it was real or imagined.
Regardless, you feel slighted and angry.
You’re full of righteous anger.
That anger gives you a lot of energy.
Because you know you are in the right (whether you are or not), you hold onto that anger and resentment.
You’re not going to get pushed around. You’re strong. You’re angry. That hurt keeps you going, and that’s a good thing because they are going to pay for what they did to you.
They hurt you and they’re bad. You, though, are strong. In your mind, you’re hurling all sorts of angry thoughts and feelings at them, plotting your revenge.
And they don’t care.
Looks really don’t kill and no one has yet come to a bad end simply because they’re hated. Otherwise, this would be a very empty planet because all of us are hated by someone.
The only thing happening in this scenario is that you’re angry and miserable, your life is focused on that person you despise, and you can’t have healthy relationships because that ‘ghost’ is constantly showing up.
We’ve established that that is the path towards misery and depression, right? You understand how that works.
So let’s switch it around and change things a little bit. Change the reaction.
You’ve been hurt. The pastor said something on Sunday that was just … well, how could he? You feel betrayed and angry and can’t think of it without tears. With everything he knows about you, and then to say that to you, in front of everyone. You saw the look of shock in faces.
That’s okay, you tell yourself. You’ll forgive him. DEEEP breath … okay, he’s forgiven.
Now, don’t you feel benevolent and righteous? You’re such a good person, certainly a much better person than that pastor. He said that awful thing to you, accused you of … well, you’ll forgive him.
You’re still angry, of course, After all, who wouldn’t be?
But you’ve chosen to be the better person and forgive him for those terrible things he said. (After all, isn’t that what the forgiveness series has been teaching for the past week?)
Clearly, he just needs prayer, the poor soul.
God has promised to forgive us IF we forgive others, and you want your blessing from God. So, you’ll be selfless and choose to forgive that awful thing the pastor said. God will reward you for being so selfless, so righteous.
It’s not up to you to keep accounts. The Bible says so. God will keep score.
It really was awful, though. Every time you think about it, you pat yourself on the back for being the better person, the true Christian, by forgiving.
Can you see the serious flaw here?
This isn’t actually forgiveness! It certainly isn’t selfless and there’s nothing remotely Christian about insisting that you’re going to be ‘the better person’ and let God do the punishing! Instead what you’re doing is expecting a reward for your ‘good’ behavior and you’re just finding another way to wish harm on the person who hurt you.
It’s just that by pushing it out onto God, you’re making yourself feel better about your lack of forgiveness! You’re not fooling God, by the way, just yourself!
Granting false forgiveness – “Well, I’ll be the better person and forgive you, but God will deal with your punishment!” – is no healthier than choosing not to practice forgiveness. Both are dangerous paths to walk and neither one benefits you.
If you choose not to forgive, you are holding onto pain and anger and using it as a shield. It walls you off from other, healthy, relationships.
If you choose to offer false forgiveness, though, you’re fishing for recognition and praise for good acts that don’t actually reflect a changed heart. The pain and hurt and bitterness are still there, simply covered in a mask of false religion.
In either case, you aren’t practicing true forgiveness and you can’t move on. When we truly forgive, we get to a point where we can get past the pain and anger and let joy back into our lives. Whether we’re personally plotting revenge or hoping for God to do it for us, we’re still focusing on the wrong thing.
Ignoring forgiveness and offering false forgiveness are both paths that lead to an unhealthy destination.
If you’re looking for a couple of amazing resources that will help you grow in your faith, which go along very well with our study on forgiveness, I can’t say enough good things about these:
My husband and I are working through this fabulous little Bible study and devotional together this spring – and making a commitment to doing it each spring. We Choose Rebirth is for couples who want to renew their relationship. Like this Forgiveness series, it will challenge you in ways you may not have expected!
Restored & Renewed is a fabulous Bible Study, geared toward women. With beautiful printables that affirm our worth in Christ, colouring pages to help us relax and so much more, this devotional, Bible Study and journal package are just what you need to renew your soul in just a few minutes a day.