One of the most damaging religious lies around forgiveness is that obedience to God means “just getting over it.” Forgive and forget.
As if forgiveness is a microwavable instant solution to harm. We are told grace is sufficient, and if we still have hurt to deal with, it means we haven’t really forgiven… Or maybe even that we don’t have the spirit at all!
If I’m a small business, and I forgive you a significant debt… My books may be in the red. Sure, I’ve forgiven you. It’s no longer your responsibility to fix this. However, I’ve still got a problem I need to address. I will have to make plans, adjustments, and work harder to restore the financial loss.
Or what if I am your neighbor. I have a beautiful house, and do my best to care for it. Then, one day, you throw a ball through my front window. The window shatters into a million shards of glass.
You are unable to fix it, so I forgive you the debt. Which means I take on the responsibility myself. Forgiveness isn’t magic. It is a huge gift because it has a COST. The person who forgave willingly took that cost on themselves. I now carry the responsibility of fixing my window, and until it’s fixed, I am the one suffering the discomfort of cold winds blowing through my house. You are forgiven… Because someone else is paying the price for you.
Isn’t this exactly what God did? Mankind could never repay the debt of sin. God took our debt on Himself. When He forgave us, did the debt just magically disappear? Into the ether, poof. Just gone. As if it had never happened in the first place.
No. Jesus forgave us by taking on the burden of our debt… and PAYING it himself. Suffering for it. Agonizing for it. Dying for it.
Forgiveness is a gift because it isn’t free.
Do we look at Jesus on the cross and say “Hey! You said you forgave me! So why are you trying to make me feel so guilty by hanging there in agony? Watching you carry my burden is making me feel uncomfortable. You’re just rubbing it in my face. You know what? Suffering on that cross is just proof that you don’t forgive me at all.”
Of course not! The Cross is the price of grace. It was not cheap.
But that’s the way we treat forgiveness in an abusive marriage. The church today wants the fast answer. Cheap grace. We look at the wife and say “If you forgave him, then you wouldn’t still be hurting. If you forgave him, then you wouldn’t need boundaries. If you forgave him, then you wouldn’t keep burdening him with your feelings. Watching how much you are hurting from what he has done is making him uncomfortable. That’s not very loving of you to subject him to that. If you really forgave him you wouldn’t inconvenience him by paying this debt.”
Forgiveness without the cross.
We demand that she keep forgiving, keep taking on the debt of the continued abuse herself… and at the same time FORBID her from handling that debt. So emotionally and spiritually she keeps going further and further in the red. Deeper and deeper in debt. She has voluntarily released her abuser from helping to heal the hurt, but the hurt still needs to be healed. Now it is her responsibility. But when she tries to take responsibility for fixing the damage and healing her wounds, we throw guilt and shame at her, and tell her she is sinning against God.
What does paying the cost, and restoring the damages of emotional abuse look like? It looks like setting up boundaries to have space to heal. It looks like seeking support. It looks like giving less. It looks like leaving the kids with your husband and spending an evening with girlfriends. It looks like alone time. It looks like crying, and expressing hard feelings. It looks like pouring what you need into yourself. It looks like taking a class, reading a book, starting a hobby. It looks like backing away from intimacy with the person who harmed you, to focus on healing that wound. It looks like learning how to advocate for your needs, say no, and have your own back. It looks like personal growth and development. It looks like chasing a passion, accomplishing a goal, leaning into purpose (as you define it, not as someone else defines it for you.) It looks like needing more help. It looks like letting the laundry backup, eating a frozen meal, and declining sex, to spend time reading a good novel in a bubblebath.
But what does christian culture call it when a wife does these things? Selfishness.
And what about when she does these things IN RESPONSE to being harmed? Unforgiveness.
And then it goes even further to tell her that her husband’s continued abuse is actually her fault, because she is trying to heal instead of “serving him.”
Would Jesus ever tell a woman to let her neighbor continually damage her house, forgive him and take on the responsibility for making repairs, and yet FORBID her from actually fixing the damage because the noise from the repairs annoyed that destructive neighbor? Would He tell her the continued vandalism was her fault, because she willfully insisted on making repairs? That if she would only stop trying to maintain her house, the neighbor would stop damaging it more? Leaving her no choice but to suffer exposure to the elements, in a house that was continuing to be torn down around her?