Forgiveness is such an instrumental aspect of healing and yet, something I have had to work to completely understand.
What does it mean to forgive? What does forgiveness look like?
I am reading a book called "Bold Love" by Dr. Dan Allender and Tremper Longman. Dr. Allender is also the author of "A Wounded Heart" (see book resources), which I have referenced before. Allender talks very pointedly about forgiveness and has a take on it that I haven't necessarily wrapped my brain around before. I am still processing through it, but I wanted to share some of his thoughts on the topic.
At the heart of forgiveness is a deep desire for reconciliation. A desire that the person would turn from sin and live for God. As you process through the hurt you have experienced at the hands of another person, do you want "wrongs to be made right"? Do you want them to find redemption through Christ? Or do you want them to pay?
Allender writes that forgiveness is neither "unconditional or one-sided" (161). In order to receive forgiveness from the Lord we must repent. Allender suggests the same is true in our human relationships. Repentance is key to restoration and reconciliation with the one that hurt us. "Forgiveness involves a heart that cancels debt but does not lend money until repentance occurs" (Allender 162).
Why is repentance so important? Without deep, life redirection or a heart change, many return to the same sins and addictions. Some are sorry - that they got caught - but not repentant and grieved over their sin. We can work through the hurts and betrayals of another, but I don't know whether we can actually forgive and reconcile with them completely unless they have the desire to change. This idea does bump up against more traditional ideas of forgiveness.
It would be easy then, to view the one that hurt you as "the enemy". Easy to see their sin and blame them for everything. However, knowing that we are all sinful, it is necessary to look at our own part and acknowledge our own sin in the relationship.
Allender says, "Evil in another ought to serve as a mirror to better reflect evil in our own eye" (200). This is a reference to Matthew 7:1-5 which talks about judging others and taking "the plank out of your own eye". I really appreciated this reminder because I feel like ultimately, taking this perspective helped my husband and I to grow through the crisis. When I was able to look at my own "plank" then I was able to love and understand my husband's struggle better and offer him grace.
If your spouse has repented and is trying to make the necessary changes then you must learn how to forgive. "Reconciliation is not to be withheld when repentance -- that is, deep, heart-changing acknowledgment of sin and a radical redirection of life -- takes place in the one being rebuked" (Allender 162).
Allender's definition of forgiveness is "to cancel the debt of what is owed in order to provide a door of opportunity for repentance and restoration of the broken relationship" (160). So forgiveness, according to Allender, requires a "hunger for restoration" with the person that hurt you, "revoking revenge" and allowing God the final judgment, and "pursuing goodness" by "words and deeds - by praying and blessing, and by turning and giving" and "loving them boldly" (220).
So maybe "forgiveness" comes down to our attitude, desires, and motivation toward the person we are trying to forgive. I have said before that forgiving isn't forgetting. Forgiveness doesn't magically make what happened leave your memory. We are to forgive "not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:22). But you don't want forgiveness to enable someone who is unrepentant to continue treating you and others in the same sinful way they have been. "Love, in many cases, is a covering over of the offense with long-suffering patience. Love may pardon an offense, but it does not ignore the ugliness and arrogance that blights beauty...covering it over is not another word for pretending it doesn't exist" (Allender 184).
Like I said, a very interesting take on biblical forgiveness. If you are trying to understand what forgiveness looks like for you I would recommend reading both "Bold Love" by Allender and Longman, as well as, "Choosing Forgiveness" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
1. This Is My Solemn Vow