By Neil Schori
Matthew 18: 21-22~
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Forgiveness is simple…at least until someone offends you. It has been said that when one person forgives another, he unlocks a prison door and lets himself out. I believe that because there have been times in my life that I’ve held grudges against another person and I’ve discovered that while I was busy fostering misery and bitterness and resentment, the objects of my wrath continued living life as if my feelings had no bearing on their lives. I would bet that you’ve experienced that in your lives, too.
But forgiveness has become convoluted. Abuse victims are often further victimized by being told that they are “unforgiving” because they don’t welcome back their abusers. The truth is that forgiveness has very little to do with welcoming back anything into our lives. It is simply a step that God expects us to take.
The best leaders lead by example and don’t expect someone under their authority to do something that they would not do. Jesus told us to be forgiving, because he is forgiving of all of our wrongs. And we show what we think of his grace by the grace that we offer others.
But there is another step in maintaining good relationships that has nothing to do with forgiveness, and that is reconciliation. Reconciliation cannot happen without forgiveness, but forgiveness can happen without reconciliation. So how does true reconciliation take place when great wrongs have been done in the context of our intimate relationships? That can only happen when the offender demonstrates true regret and a changed life. And that can only be proven over a significant period of time.
In the Gospel of Matthew 3: 8-10, Jesus had some harsh words for the religious leaders of his day~
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
What does that mean for us? It means that when someone hurts us and asks for another chance to be in our lives, that their sincerity (or lack thereof) will be demonstrated by how much their actions change toward us. The evidence (fruit) of repentance is changed behavior.
Abuse victims need to forgive their perpetrators. Abuse victims also need to be very slow and cautious and wise when considering reconciliation. Can it happen? Yes. But this is not to be hastily determined because your lives hang in the balance.
If you need help sorting through your particular circumstances, you can reach out to me. I’d be honored to help you.
Neil Schori is the Lead Pastor of Naperville Christian Church and takes an active role within the church to assist victims of intimate partner violence. To learn more about Neil, please visit his website and blog: http://neilschori.com