There is a reason why forgiveness is so often hard. This is because it’s incomplete. Forgiveness is a relational concept, meaning that it’s bilateral at least. Two or more parties must be in agreement for it to occur. Otherwise, the best we can hope for is acceptance—which is very necessary.
So, the reason why a Christian person—one who’s commanded to forgive—will struggle often to forgive is the other offending person does not accept their side of the wrong. When there is a lack of penitence on the other person’s side—something with which we cannot control—there is little that can be done regarding forgiveness except to simply reach acceptance.
We’ve done all we could. It’s all God expects of us.
The Impossibility of Grasping Oil
There is a principle in Proverbs 27:15-16 about a ‘quarrelsome wife’ that is equally applied here. (I don’t subscribe to unfair gender biases, by the way—it is likely there are just as many ‘quarrelsome’ husbands.)
With the quarrelsome one there is no peace—it’s like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand. One is impossible; the other—equally—is impossible to contain.
“Forgiving” those who will almost certainly hurt us again is probably not possible in an entire sense. What we must strive for is an acceptance of the situation, and of the hurts caused. It is only when we reach this place of acceptance that we can truly achieve our side of offering true forgiveness. (Another article I wrote, Confusing Love for Trust, also might help when it comes to ‘who to trust’.)
Achieving a Vital Compromise
This is a most important thing to note: our part of the process for relational forgiveness is to adhere to the Kübler-Ross grieving process (which has five stages: denial >> anger >> bargaining >> depression >> [finally] acceptance) to achieve personal healing.
We allow ourselves these stages. It is important that we feel, at truth, the anger and depression if they’re there. The very best is to just simply allow the lament to occur; it’s normal and it’s necessary. It’s only when we’re still stuck at denial that we achieve trouble for ourselves.
From this space we can do our side of the forgiving. Without it we’ll forever struggle. It’s important to understand that true forgiveness (which from one side only is acceptance) can only occur when we’ve allowed God to heal us through courageously entering and following-through-with the grieving process. This can actually be done speedily and skilfully with practice.
This is a vital compromise. It’s not an insufficient or ill-preferred compromise, which many are. This compromise, where relational forgiveness is found impossible (because the offender refuses to be forgiven), is critical to the peace of the offended.
No longer will they feel they can be tormented by someone who chooses the ‘upper hand’. Indeed, reaching acceptance is the upper hand.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.