Unhealthy Forgiveness: Why We Should Not Forgive Misinterpretations

There are times when forgiving only reinforces our pride or blindness.

Think through these situations for a moment: A husband feels hurt because his wife “disrespected him” when she asked a question about a decision he was making but genuinely didn’t understand (and he did not adequately explain). A wife feels hurt when her husband “failed to pursue her” when his plans for their anniversary did not match what she was hoping for (but had never disclosed to him what she wanted). A friend feels hurt when the other friend is “unwilling to invest in the relationship” but “investing” means matching the unhealthy, excessive commitment that the first friend gives to the relationship. In each of these brief vignettes it would be easy for the husband-wife-friend to say, “I forgive you,” and this would healthily remedy the situation. But in each case, forgiveness would be destructive to their own character and the relationship.

 

Consider these uncomfortable statements. Forgiveness is not always a virtue. Forgiveness can be offensive and destructive to a relationship. There are times when forgiving only reinforces our pride or blindness.

Think through these situations for a moment:

  • A husband feels hurt because his wife “disrespected him” when she asked a question about a decision he was making but genuinely didn’t understand (and he did not adequately explain).
  • A wife feels hurt when her husband “failed to pursue her” when his plans for their anniversary did not match what she was hoping for (but had never disclosed to him what she wanted).
  • A friend feels hurt when the other friend is “unwilling to invest in the relationship” but “investing” means matching the unhealthy, excessive commitment that the first friend gives to the relationship.

In each of these brief vignettes it would be easy for the husband-wife-friend to say, “I forgive you,” and this would healthily remedy the situation. But in each case, forgiveness would be destructive to their own character and the relationship.

Why?

In each case the hurt being forgiven was based on a misinterpretation; forgiving would further ingrain this misinterpretation. Accepting this forgiveness offered would add a level of social reinforcement to the misinterpretation.

Consider each situation again:

  • The husband would believe that his communication about decisions was adequate and that anything that aggravated his insecurities was wrong.
  • The wife would believe that a truly loving husband should “just know” what his wife desired and that anything that disappointed her was a sign of a poor marriage.
  • The friend would believe their excessive needy-giving was the Christ-like standard for selfless sacrifice and that everyone else should match their unsustainable level involvement in the life of others.

What is the danger?

If we view forgiveness as only a virtue, then the husband-wife-friend would believe that they responded in “the biblical way” and that any resistance to their overture would reveal hard-heartedness on the other person’s part. Intentional or not, this is a form of manipulation. Even with the best of intentions (which is sometimes true), it contributes to the deterioration of the relationship.

What is missing?

These scenarios reveal a neglect of the guiding principles of Matthew 7:1-5, to take the log out of our eye first. When we fail to properly take into account or role in a relational hardship, even our most biblical practices become destructive rather than helpful. Self-awareness is an essential component of applying the Scriptures to our life and relationships as God intended.

If we do not see ourselves or the situation rightly, we are not applying the Bible to our life or our situation. We are applying the Bible to a figment of our imagination.

That is what is happening is each situation above. Forgiveness becomes a way that the husband-wife-friend tries to force the other person to live in their “alternative reality.”

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