Forgiveness Isn't Consent
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
I typically begin with a story. But, there are some hurts we can't speak about. The underlying pain may be so profound that discussing it stirs up trauma. Our wounds might be the result of actions from people we love and respect, and so we don't feel like we can speak about our pain without hurting someone we love.
In my case, my hurt was tangential to someone I loved being abused. It's not my story to tell. I wasn't the victim, but my agony and fear for her caused real pain in me. My anger over what had been done ate me alive. I went to bed each night afraid that I might receive another middle of the night phone call. I spent my waking time so mad at the injustice that had been done to this woman I loved that it stole my joy. I felt imprisoned by my righteous indignation. It took up more space in me than I wanted to give it.
I felt God ask me to forgive the person who had abused my loved one. I couldn't.
God, what they did is wrong. It isn't okay. I can't act like it doesn't matter.
So, God taught me that forgiveness is not an endorsement of wrong behavior. Forgiveness is not saying, "it's okay!" Forgiveness says, "This was wrong. I have been wronged. What has happened is unacceptable." Forgiveness doesn't require that we change our standards. Forgiveness is saying, "What you have done is completely wrong. I have every right to hold it against you. But I choose not to hold it against you anymore."
But I just couldn't.
I'm not convinced they're sorry.
So, God taught me that forgiveness is not an exchange. It is not my response to someone's repentance. I don't have to forgive someone just because they regret their behavior. And they don't have to regret their behavior for me to forgive them. Forgiveness is a supernatural act, which means it does not come naturally to me. It is not something I ever really want to do, or even something I am able to do on my own. I believe God has to empower us to forgive. I have tried to forgive things without God's help before, and as much as I tried to lay down my offense, I discovered that I kept picking it back up. I said I wouldn't hold someone's actions against them anymore, but I still did.
Forgiveness isn't an exchange between myself and the person who wronged me. Forgiveness is a partnership between God and me. I didn't want to forgive this person who hurt someone I loved, because I didn't think they deserved forgiveness. I was pretty sure they weren't really sorry. God showed me that the forgiveness He was asking me to give was more for me than for them. I was bound up by my anger. I was the one imprisoned. Forgiving this person would set me free, so even if they didn't deserve my forgiveness, I had to extend unmerited grace to them in order to set myself free from the rage that their actions had set loose in my life.
Still, I wouldn't let myself forgive them. It made me feel too vulnerable.
But God, they could do this again!
Yes! Yes, they could. And honestly, odds are pretty good that they probably will. God taught me that forgiveness does not mandate trust. When someone is dangerous, forgiveness does not mean that you trust them and put yourself at risk again. You do not.
You don't forgive someone because they are better. If we had to wait for everyone to improve themselves before we forgave them, forgiveness would not exist. I felt God encourage me to forgive this person, to see their brokenness apart from God. I felt God show me the spirits and principalities who I was allowed to wage war against so that I could set down my weapons against this flawed human. And, I felt God encourage me to lay down my offense while keeping my guard up. I did not need to trust this person. I didn't need to see this person. I did not need to speak to this person. I had every right to protect myself and others from this person. Forgiving them did not strip me of any of my ability to protect myself from future hurt, it just stripped this past hurt of its power inside of me.
Forgiveness does not require disclosure by you, or acceptance by them. In my case, I felt like God told me that I never even had to tell this person that I had forgiven them. Forgiveness, in this case, was between God and me. God will lead you in how to move forward after you forgive. The nature of your relationship with the person you have forgiven is a unique decision that God will help you make. God may lead you to restore a relationship as if a wrong had never occurred, but He is just as likely to ask you to end a relationship, forgiving the person in your heart, setting both of you free, but then moving forward in that freedom away from a situation that puts you at risk of new trauma.
Okay, God. I don't even know how to begin to forgive this person. But I'm asking you to help me. I don't want this thing that happened to keep haunting me. The anger I'm holding onto is exhausting. I am willing to lay down my right to hold onto this hurt, but I need your help because I can't imagine ever being free from this.
I felt skeptical. I knew I couldn't forgive. But I was willing to try to forgive if God would help me. And He did. A woman I loved had been put in the hospital. I legitimately feared for her life for years after this event happened. My whole world was a giant ball of trauma for months, but then God encouraged me to forgive. My love for God motivated me to forgive a person I felt no love for. When God helped me forgive them, I felt a massive weight lift off of me. Fear and anger quit dominating my thoughts. I still felt those feeling sometimes, but they didn't control me anymore. I could overcome them.
We often rob ourselves of the freedom we deserve because we misunderstand what forgiveness really means. So, to recap:
Forgiveness is not consent. Forgiveness does not endorse a wrong behavior. Forgiveness is not permission for someone to hurt you again. Forgiveness does not mandate future trust. Forgiveness does not prevent you from protecting yourself. Forgiveness is not an exchange. It does not have to be disclosed to the offending party or accepted by them. Forgiveness is not an act of will-power. Forgiveness is a supernatural act, empowered by God, as the Holy Spirit leads us because forgiveness sets us free too.
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.