Forgiveness Once-Removed

By Kersley Fitzgerald

I don't often harbor unforgiveness, but when I do, I do it right. It's been six years since I found out about my friends' divorce. He betrayed her in a particularly vicious way. I knew enough about him to trust her story, even though others didn't.

I was thinking about the situation the other day, letting the righteous anger rise in my chest. It surprised me a bit how strongly I still felt about it. Baseball bat to the head strongly. I figured I'd always feel that way.

Until today. A question we got in to the Q&A system made me stop and think. How do you forgive someone for something they did to someone else? And do you have to?

I realized that I did have to. Sort of.

I don't have the authority to forgive him for something he did to her because he didn't do it to me. I am not a figure in that relationship between the two people.

So what's the deal?

The action hurt me, too. The action made me feel betrayed and unsafe. Someone I thought was a friend showed he had a really horrible character. And it put me in the position of having to defend my friend—which is not bad, but it's a situation I never should have been in. If he hadn't done what he did, I wouldn't have had to feel all these emotions that I never should have had felt. Even my purest sympathy for her causes me pain.

For these feelings, I do need to forgive him. His actions did hurt me, and I need to deal with that.

Righteous anger feels so good! It's so rare that we get the chance to feel real anger that's completely justified. But then James 1:16-17 says, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." Even if my anger is justified, it's only going to do good in a very, very small way. My calmness will show the righteousness of God more. Anger's like Nyquil—it doesn't bring healing or restoration, it just makes you feel good.

My anger with him will not help her. It won't help her recover. It won't help her forgive. Everything she needs from me can be more easily given without anger and bitterness. My anger will either feed hers or, if she's trying to forgive him, make her feel isolated because we're going in different directions. That's really not helpful. It's much more healthy to model forgiveness with reasonable repercussions and join with her in the process of restoring her heart.

They say that not forgiving someone makes you captive to them. I can see the same thing in my relationship with my friend. By not forgiving him and what he did to her, I am forever linking the two of them in my mind. I'm not seeing her as an independent woman who can live a life free from the emotional bondage that her pain created. Unless I forgive him, when I look at her I'll always see her as his victim—even if she herself has moved on. That's not who God created her to be, and I have no right to think of her that way.

Withholding forgiveness when a friend is hurt gives you the best of two worlds. You get the emotional fire of the anger, but because the offence isn't about you, it's selfless and giving. That's what I thought, anyway. The truth is different. Our anger won't help our friend—it won't protect, heal, defend, or bring peace. It will just encourage unhealthy feelings that imprison us and how we see our friend.

Photo credit: Kersley Fitzgerald

TagsChristian-Life  |  Personal-Life  |  Personal-Relationships

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Published 11-11-13