Apologies and Forgiveness

Yesterday, Mr. Great-heart and Braniac sang in their school’s choir at the church where their school is located. They were cute, as ever, and I was reminded why I haven’t ventured into a church lately.

I don’t want to get into a detailed exposition on the exposition, but I do want to comment on the part that has bothered me for quite some time. Namely: How the church views apologies and forgiveness. Because I’m fairly certain I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s off kilter with the bible.

The pastor used an illustration of a married couple. The wife committed adultery. She claims to be extremely sorry and wants her husband’s forgiveness. The husband is not sure he can forgive her. The pastor in the story has this charming advice for the two of them: Go to church and read the bible.

I have developed the intestinal fortitude after 45 years of this to be able to sit through until the end, but I had to mentally roll my eyes.

It’s not that I have anything against church attendance or bible reading, it’s just that the pastor in this story is completely clueless. What should have been said was:

“OK, wife, what if your husband can’t forgive you? What if you have hurt him so terribly he just can’t get past that? And what if, even if he can forgive you for the sake of forgiveness, he can never trust you again?”

The wife’s answer will tell everyone exactly how sorry she really is. And it will show the victim, the husband, that the pastor actually understands the situation.

You see, we have the whole thing screwed up in our heads. We think people should just forgive and move on. There are a lot of reasons for this, and most of them are not biblical at all, but selfish. You see, we generally don’t want to deal with the pain of others so we make them the bad guy, ie, You. husband, are so horrible for not forgiving your wife and taking her back after she was screwing around with your best friend (or whomever, does it really matter?) therefore we brand you the greater sinner in this situation and have compassion on your wife because you won’t forgive her. (We are really messed up, eh?)

I am not kidding when I say I have heard this story my entire life…only in reality, let’s face it, it’s the guy who cheated and the woman who’s expected to forgive and accept him simply because he says he loves her more than them (yes, I’m referring to that scene in Selma). Men generally get a free pass on divorce in conservative churches. But I will not go into a feminist rant at this moment.

We ask the wrong questions because we view forgiveness incorrectly. When, after all the abuse of 21 years, my husband tells me I need to forgive him (yes, he tells me that) what he’s asking me for is more than forgiveness. He’s asking me to 1) morally justify the sins he has committed against me and my children; 2) trust him even though he has yet to prove himself trustworthy; 3) continue in the abuse.

I know he’s not sorry because he cannot accept that I cannot trust him. He tells me I am unmerciful and cruel and mean because I refuse to give him the trust he has destroyed. He tells me I’m unmerciful because I want a divorce so I don’t have to live in this abuse any more. He tells me I’m cruel to try to take his children, children he never wanted, away from him. These are not the signs of someone who truly understands just how horrible his sin is and is actually sorry.

The question to ask the person who is asking for forgiveness is, as I said, How will you feel if that person doesn’t forgive you?

And, the answer to that simple question will tell us whether the person asking forgiveness is truly sorry. Yes, they could lie about it, but there will be further tests of their words. If you really choose not to take them back, or, in my case, tell them you need them to leave you for a while, separate until you can work through your problems, and put up boundaries to protect yourself and your children, then they ignore those or tell you that you are unmerciful for wanting that, as Stan has done to me repeatedly, then you know they are lying.

I think our problem inside the church goes even further. We want people to forgive everything because we think God forgives everything. And we forget that we are not God. God can see the heart, we cannot. To ask a person to stay with their spouse because the spouse says “Sorry” seems, to me, the epitome of arrogance. We must recall that God DOES NOT forgive if we are not truly sorry.

It’s really simple, people. We are not God and we should not expect others to be God. And, more importantly, even God withholds forgiveness if He knows the person is lying. And His unforgiveness is a whole lot more serious than mine.

2 thoughts on “Apologies and Forgiveness

  1. I have 2 questions that can be rhetorical if you choose. 1) Do you think you might read in to things based on previous experiences? and 2) Do you think maybe you go to “the wrong” churches? Many things you say you have heard from pastors I can honestly say I have never heard and I’ve regularly attended quite a few churches since birth. No judgement, just asking.

  2. Until PFB, I have always attended ultra-conservative churches. I think that within the context of being ultra-anything you run the risk of becoming a complete legalist where love is not your first priority. (Same thing goes with the far left as well, oddly enough.) Compassion is secondary in a lot of churches because the letter of the law is the most important. I don’t think it’s that way in the church where the kids go to school, obviously, but I do think the simplicity of the sermon illustration is the type of thing that shows a person may not have thought through the complexities of the situation. Going to church and reading the bible will not solve all the problems of a marriage anymore than it will cure you of cancer, but when we say things like this, it’s exactly what we’re thinking. Life is far more complicated. Simple anecdotes won’t change that and seem painfully dismissive. And yet within ultra-conservativism that is the solution to everything.

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