Posted by: Botolff | April 2, 2009

“Knock knock.” “WHOSE THERE?” “Forgiveness.” “FORGET IT!”

I went to a conference over the weekend.  It was at the conference that I ran into Steve Diehl.  I wasn’t so sure I was going to appreciate much of what Steve had to say at first.  You see, Steve and his wife are co-founders of Forgiveness Ministries. I know I can be a bit cynical, but frankly, a lot of Christian people who talk about forgiveness Forgiveness Ministriesgive me the willies.  There has been a lot of re-traumatizing and re-abuse that has been cultivated in the name of “forgiveness.”

After a few short conversations with Steve, I felt like I could lower my shield a bit and let his words get past my armor.  They did.  Simply put, Steve breaks forgiveness down into two categories…Personal and Relational.  As close as I can understand Steve’s perspective right now, Personal Forgiveness means acknowledging that the price for all sin has already been paid for by Christ on the cross.  To exact revenge on someone is in essence saying that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough.  That there needs to be more blood, because Christ’s didn’t take care of things. In other words, to personally forgive is to suspend our punishment on people who have sinned against us.  To let God be God instead of trying to take their job.  Not at all to deny or withhold our anger or other emotions in light of what has happened; or even to feel like we need to keep the secrets that have been poured into us by abusive people who, out of an attempt to avoid their own shame, expect us to carry their shame in silence.  But instead, to have the freedom to tell the truth, and do it in a way so as to beckon redemption to the table.  The scriptures say be angry, but don’t sin.  At the heart of sin is the desire to take God’s place.  Personal Forgiveness is learning to surrender that.  Not to pretend or deny, but to relinquish.

Relational Forgiveness is all together different.  This element of forgiveness, according to Steve, is repentance based.  Relational Forgiveness is dependent on the perpetrator’s willingness to repent, and make their own sorrowful surrendered movement towards restoration with the victim, leaving room for the victim to decide the level of relationship that they believe is healthy and safe for them to have.  This has to be done with others surrounding the perpetrator to keep him/her accountable for their commitment to repentance and restoration.  Relational Forgiveness doesn’t require the victim to be in relationship with the perpetrator on any level apart from repentance; and if true repentance takes place, the victim is given the freedom to decide what level of relationship they will enter into, if at all.

For so long in the church we have put the pressure back on the victim to “forgive”, instead of putting the pressure where it belongs…on the perpetrator to repent.  We get mad at the “whistle blower” and point fingers at them for pointing out the violence taking place in an abusive system.  It happens in abusive families all the time.  Often, “black sheep” are the ones, through their actions, who are setting off flares that something in the family system isn’t healthy.  But so often, they are labeled “black sheep” and either ignored, or sent out to pasture, so the system can keep on rolling.  We have got to begin to accept that none of us is bent towards surrender.  We are bent towards control.  Some much more than others.  Which means it takes extra effort to call all of us to repentance.  But instead of exacting more punishment on the victims, we MUST learn to put exerted effort into flushing out the perpetrators and addressing them…excuse me…addressing us.

It’s time to call the spade a spade folks.  One of the questions I think we need to be asking is…do we know what a spade looks like, or have the spades convinced the rest of the deck that they are really hearts…in Jesus name?  I’m convinced we will never be able to tell the difference until we can name the times when we have been the perpetrator ourselves, as well as the victim.  Do we know the difference?  Or do we just trust that everyone who says they follow Jesus, including ourselves, have been able to check our Image bearing deceitful hearts at the door?

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Responses

  1. Wow, Jamie. That is an intense thought.

    I think that forgiveness is often used as a manipulative ploy to to let perpetrators off the hook. That is wrong. However, it is equally wrong for a victim to continue carrying a perpetrators baggage. Forgiveness can free a person who has been wronged. So, whether a person gets what they deserve or not is meaningless to me. I forgave them, and by doing so, exorcised them, and their deed(s), from my life.

    Forgiveness is freedom for the wronged.

  2. Wow! You always put a zinger in there!

    I really liked the separation of forgiveness – personal and relational! It clearly explains what I’ve kind of been thinking – that somehow I need to free myself from the wrong that’s been done to me, but at the same time, what do I do with an unrepentant perpetrator. This makes sense!

    It was hard to handle the part about Jesus already paying the price for ALL sin – I mean, halleluljah for me, right?, but I still have that feeling of wanting justice done. Just because Jesus paid for sin, does that mean that we’re off the hook for what we’ve done. Now I know the answer is “no,” but as I was reading it, that’s how I was feeling. But then you got around to the part about letting God be God and not trying to take his job, and that makes sense and I felt better.:) Let myself “off the hook” of revenge and allow myself to revel in the freedom that I don’t have to take care of it.

    Anyway….thanks! Good post, good thoughts!

    Now the question, how do you know when and if you’ve personally forgiven?…

  3. Sounds like some great wrestling over the subject. One thing that Steve mentioned was, like for Adam and Eve, there are consequences for our actions. Technically we aren’t “off the hook,” because our actions WILL reap results. I also don’t believe that we are just called to “let go and let God” per se. I believe we aren’t given the authority to be the final judge, but we are given the opportunity to speak up against what has been done…especially if we have been silenced by perpetrators. It is glorious though, knowing that we don’t have to carry the weight of “taking care of things.” That’s freeing to me.

    As for when we know that we’ve personally forgiven someone? Maybe it doesn’t happen once, or even just happen. Maybe it’s the continual reminder that we we need to hold the tension of the desire for revenge against the desire and call to love. I’m not sure I can know that I’ve personally forgiven someone, because it may not take much to trigger my attempt to take it all back into my own hands. Maybe that’s why Jesus says to forgive 70 x 7 times. Maybe that plan wasn’t for the perpetrator, but for the victim. Maybe we’ll need to surrender our desire for revenge over and over and over again.

    What I am struggling with now is what does it mean to speak the truth in love? I believe we have the freedom, and maybe in some regards the call, to speak up to the atrocities committed against us. How do we do that without exacting revenge. This is one of my biggest dilemmas fright mean.. Thoughts?

  4. […] for it.  I have offered personal forgiveness, but relational forgiveness requires repentance (see the difference between the two in a previous post).  Otherwise, people are just asking for resignation, which is an attempt to get a victim to just […]

  5. […] for it.  I have offered personal forgiveness, but relational forgiveness requires repentance (see the difference between the two in a previous post).  Otherwise, people are just asking for resignation, which is an attempt to get a victim to just […]


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