The Problem With Forgiveness

In a recent sermon in my Tightrope parenting series, (link) I spoke on the issue of forgiveness. My message was based on Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18. My working definition from the challenging parable of the unforgiving servant was this: "Forgiveness is immediate, complete and continual toward those who offend us."  I presented the following three unavoidable principles of life:

  1. Life is NOT fair.
  2. Injustice hurts.
  3. Forgiveness is hard. 

The problem with forgiveness is there are situations that cause a lot of confusion. I wanted to follow up on the issue here because there is the remaining question many people have of how to balance forgiveness and discipline/consequences.

Can we as parents forgive and still execute discipline?
When parents deliver consequences are we being too hard and unforgiving?

Here are some thoughts to consider that I hope will give some needed clarity on this all-important subject.

  1. Our job is love. You role as parents is to built on giving love in its various forms. This means, at times, your love will need to be expressed in firmness, discipline and enforcing consequences. The Bible is clear that this is one of the ways our Heavenly Father loves us. Hebrews 3:6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” To show firmness, discipline or enforce consequences is a vital act of LOVE that parents MUST give their kids.
  2. Discipline functions independently from forgiveness. As parents, we will face many situations where our children offend or do wrong. In these situations, we must forgive immediately, completely and continually. This allows for ongoing loving relationship without the nasty elements of unholy anger, retaliation, meanness or bitterness causing additional problems. Once we forgive, we can, with clarity for the good of our children, deliver appropriate discipline and consequences.
  3. Discipline should ALWAYS be formative. Our focus is always “training and trajectory.” Remember if we attempt discipline simply out of anger or frustration we are no longer training…the punishment becomes more about us than the good of our children. We MUST offer appropriate discipline in light of our children’s offenses so they can learn and grow and not continue in the offensive behavior.
  4. Forgiving others…outside of parenting. Many of our most hurtful situations involve people beyond our kids. How does forgiveness and consequences work in those situations? 
  • Forgiveness is a matter of NOT giving what is deserved. Forgiveness is an act of mercy. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18) Jesus uses financial debt to make the point clear about offenses. When we are offended we feel the other person “owes us.” According to Jesus you are expected to forgive the “debt” caused by the offense. I do not believe forgiving every debt requires that we resume a trusting relationship with the offender. Forgiveness is immediate, Trust is NOT.   
  • In many cases the nature of the offense and the character of the offender precludes future relationship. For instance, in the case of adultery, I have seen the offender repentant and broken over his sin and full restoration of the marriage happen over time. In other cases I’ve seen the offender show no signs of repentance or brokenness toward his sin making restoration of the marriage impossible.  
  • If the offender shows a lack of repentance or “hardness of heart” it is wise to keep a safe and healthy distance even after you have forgiven the “debt.”  
  • The variations are innumerable so each situation should be handled on a case-by-case basis – in other words, do take what I just said (wrote) as license to quit your marriage or disown some family member. Be aware that your emotions can be very sensitive and you need the clarity and guidance of a godly person you trust to help you know the steps to take. 

I hope this helps. Please leave your comments below.  

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Posted by Andy Savage at 3:00 PM
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