“I know that forgiving someone who hurt me is part of my recovery process, but does forgiving completely mean that there are no consequences for the person at fault?”

In Total Forgiveness, Dr. R. T. Kendall addresses the issue of how we treat others after they have let us down or mistreated us. There are consequences that sometimes cannot and should not be removed when we forgive. In his book, Kendall talks about a situation where a woman forgave a rapist and also decided to testify in court in order to stop him from raping again. In that case, judicial consequences were meted out along with forgiveness. There are other examples given as to how relationships are affected when someone mistreats or abuses us. Forgiveness does not cancel out all consequences.

And it certainly does not mean that we must put ourselves in an unsafe situation or maintain an unsafe relationship.

You may decide that the depth of a friendship needs to change because that person cannot keep confidences. A change in relationship does not mean that you have not forgiven the person. You can let go of the blame and not hold the wrong against the person, and still allow what you have learned about that person’s character to change the way you choose to relate to them.

If you learn that they cannot be trusted to follow through on a commitment, then it is necessary to take steps to protect yourself. You can forgive them yet decide not to rely on them for important things. Forgiveness does not mandate that you trust all people for all things or that there should be no consequences for wrongful behavior.

Resetting Boundaries

You need discernment about the person and the issue to be forgiven. Hopefully, the person will recognize the wrong they have committed and will seek forgiveness and reconciliation. If the issue is small or the matter was only a misunderstanding, there may be no need to establish criteria for the restoration of trust. But for more serious situations, it is wise to communicate criteria for the restoration of the relationship after having communicated forgiveness.

Forgiveness is necessary for you to be free from the black hole of bitterness. It is a process that demands wisdom and grace. Forgiveness will help you make some decisions that are hard to make. You may need to learn more about assertiveness and more about your own need for forgiveness. You may decide to trust that person again. Or you may decide that the person needs to earn your trust. In cases of abuse, you could well decide that it is safer or healthier to cut all ties.

Forgiveness doesn’t equal trust. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a need to establish clear boundaries or re-evaluate the relationship. Forgiveness will challenge you to grow – to love more deeply and to learn more about life and interacting with people. But, more importantly, forgiveness will set you free!

The ability to forgive is rooted in being forgiven ourselves. As children of God, we have been forgiven and are commanded to forgive. Forgiveness is at the very heart of grace; it is a cornerstone of faith. God doesn’t leave us to fight our own battles and he doesn’t ask us to forgive in our own strength either. Pray for the grace to be able to forgive. Ask God to soften your heart and then trust that the Spirit is giving you the ability to forgive.

updated August 2019

Photo Credit: Madison Bersuch