FORGIVENESS is so very hard when one party denies there’s a problem. The transactions of truth that are so necessary in forgiveness lay forever incomplete. Forgiveness is a relational concept, meaning that it’s bilateral at least. Two or more parties must be involved for it to occur. Otherwise, we can only hope for acceptance — which is very necessary.
So, the reason a Christian — one who’s commanded to forgive, by the way — may struggle to forgive is the other offending person does not accept their side of the wrong. Note the wording there? The other offending person — conflicts are always two sided; the only exception is abuse. A mature Christian has an openness to see their own fault.
When there is a lack of repentance on the other person’s side — something with which we cannot ever 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. That, and be ready to forgive them.
The Impossibility of Grasping Oil
There is a principle in Proverbs 27:15-16 about dealing with someone who is problematic (in this case, quarrelsome) by nature.
With the quarrelsome one there is no peace — it’s like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand. One is impossible to do; the other — equally — is impossible to contain. We have to accept the physics of our world. Otherwise we’d be tormented.
“Forgiving” those who may almost certainly hurt us again is probably not possible (or warranted) in an entire sense. We must strive for is an acceptance of the situation, and of the hurts caused. Only when we have reached a mature landing of acceptance can we move on to the point of encountering the other person with grace should we encounter them.
It is only when we reach this place of acceptance that we can truly achieve our side of offering true forgiveness. (I wrote another article, Confusing Love for Trust, that 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 basic stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and [finally] acceptance) to become personally healed.
We allow ourselves these stages. We acknowledge, as we process our hurt, that our feelings will be all over the place. We do not expect of ourselves perfection. We acknowledge that we are vulnerable in this area for this time.
We feel, at truth, the anger and depression if they’re there; as they present. The best scenario is to simply allow the lament to occur; it’s normal and it’s necessary. The only problem we need to watch for is when we’re still stuck at denial; there 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. Indeed, this is central to the Christian process of discipleship.
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 an offender refuses to be forgiven because they see no fault on their side of things), is fundamental 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.
When we have forgiven their wrong, and they cannot accept they wronged us, we have acceptance in place of forgiveness. Take heart, God ensures that acceptance feels almost like the peace of reconciliation.
Forgive them their wrong even if they don’t respond. God will bless us with acceptance in time.
Forgiveness, even if it can only be acceptance, is the grace of inner healing.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.