“What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”
~2 Corinthians 2:10b-11 (NRSV).
Tough love is apt for a lot of situations, but we sometimes take it too far. When people are left out in the cold long enough they’re easily “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow,” (verse 7) and this generally leads them to a bad place; a place where Satan welcomes them due to their self-condemnation, fretful anxiety, depression etc.
We’ve all had these situations where someone withheld their forgiveness over a wrong we caused. Even though we knew deep within that we’d done the right thing by repenting of it with immediacy, we still somehow drove those nails of condemnation into our flesh. We needed reconciliation.
The Anatomy of Anguish
This is possibly the rock bottom for any relationship. Where someone comes back in genuine repentance for a wrong and they’re not forgiven, indescribable spiritual anguish is experienced.
Taken deeper into the world of the unforgiven one, there can be all manner of self-harming self-talk. Someone with a strong mental and emotional constitution may not be perturbed, but most are, especially if the relationship is one that we care about.
The anguish that is felt is driven deeply into the psyche and very being of the person in question. They fixate on the matter and on how impossible it is to be relieved of this burden. As the situation contends, helplessness and hopelessness are experienced. And all this is one thing; enter the remotest interaction with the aggrieved person and shame—the worst human emotion—is the reflex response.
It isn’t long before this issue turns the very identity of the person in a negative direction; one for them not easily resolved. Anguish, as a response, has become habit, and neural pathways have been firmly established to reinforce the now default thought patterns.
Satan has welcomed this person into his fold. The father of lies is quick to point out every condemning thing. He’ll erode the confidence and self-belief of a person in record time.
All this for withholding forgiveness over an extended time.
But, perhaps we’ve missed Paul’s point. Expelling someone to cause them to repent is one thing, but leaving them out for exposure to the spiritual elements is another thing entirely.
Whenever God forgives for a repented-of transgression—and sin is most fundamental against God—there is instant forgiveness. God doesn’t tarry. There is no delay. Grace is known that instant for the very reason we discuss.
But there’s a fine line between being forgiven—and knowing forgiveness—and not accepting we are forgiven. Time and the forgiver’s true intent are two key watch points for the person being forgiven.
People are to mirror this instant grace of God’s, always prepared to issue the benefit of any doubt. Besides this is how we learn in love; discipline is a great motivator, but only when it’s underpinned by genuine love.
Love forgives quickly where remorse is evident.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.