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Society’s new narrative on forgiveness already needs revision

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I saw a Facebook post this week that caught my eye. It read, “So many people from your past know a version of you that doesn’t exist anymore.”

The meme was spot on. We all grow and mature. As we do, we come to regret the things we have done.

I responded, “Which is why it is so horrible to see people being held accountable in their 40s and 50s for things they did in their teens and early 20s.”

I have written about this in the past because it seems as though a wide swath of people truly believe that someone should not be forgiven of stupid things he or she may have done in the past IF someone else was impacted.

One woman responded to my comment with, “When they’ve done things that have had lifelong consequences for another person or persons, it that not terrible?”

To answer her question, yes, of course that type of situation is terrible precisely because of the long-term impact it can have on someone else. It does not mean that a repentant person should not be forgiven of their mistakes.

If the new standard is that we can only be forgiven of those things we’ve done which HAVE NOT had lifelong consequences for other people, then we’re opening a giant can of worms. We would need to add these new “unforgivable” offenses:

  • Are you a parent with children who got divorced and deprived your kids from growing up in a home enjoying daily contact with both parents? Trust me, kids don’t just “get over” their parents’ divorce. It dogs them the rest of their lives.
  • Have you ever been married, but had an affair? That can rip open a spouse and cause lifelong pain.
  • How about breaking up your marriage and another person’s marriage because you’ve found “true love?” When you count children and the innocent spouses, how many people suffered as a result of that decision?
  • Have you ever belittled another person with intentionally hurtful words, even as a teen? Depending upon who made the comment and what was said, it can impact someone for the rest of his or her life. Words often cut deeper than physical wounds.
  • Have you ever spanked a disobedient child a little too hard?
  • In middle school or high school, have you ever pummeled another person – or been part of the crowd cheering on the attacker?  Broken bones heal, but it takes a long time to heal a broken spirit.
  • Have you ever set up a coworker for failure or shed a negative light on his or her character or work? What if you got someone fired when he or she didn’t really deserve that?
  • Have you ever judged someone unfairly – or wrongfully accused someone of improper behavior – without knowing all the facts? Those slanderous words can permanently devalue another person.
  • Have you ever been in relationship or friendship with someone, and then suddenly ignored that person as though he or she never existed? Being abandoned, or “ghosted” as it is called today, can stay with someone for many years.
  • Have you ever been in an intimate, physical relationship with someone who is not your spouse, knowing that person wanted you to commit to a permanent relationship, only to for you to break it off completely? Do you think that person felt used or worthless for many years afterward?
  • Have you aborted a child, or paid for an abortion? That action had deadly consequences for the unborn boy or girl, and the decision to terminate the pregnancy may haunt the mother or father for years.

The truth of the matter is that every single one of us has done something to someone that had a long-term negative impact on that person.

Because we tend to grow more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, God never wastes a mistake.

Whether you are a Christian or not, you are definitely not the same person today you were even five years ago, let alone 20 or 30 years ago.

We should be quick to forgive others, especially when they mature and realize how their words and actions may have impacted us or other people. Even if they never realize the impact their words and actions had, we should be quick to forgive them anyway.

One of the joys of being a Christian is to find forgiveness for the mistakes we have made in the past – whether or not the person we hurt chooses to forgive us or not. God forgives, and that’s all that matters.

Many Christians remain locked in prisons of their own making by dwelling upon mistakes they made in the past. Because others won’t forgive them, they can’t forgive themselves — nor can they imagine God forgiving them either.

They are wrong.

There is nothing any of us have ever done that goes beyond the capability of God to forgive us. If you’re like me, you’ve done some incredibly stupid and selfish things in your life.

But, when we agree that what we did was wrong, God forgives. Always. Without fail.

As a result, perhaps, we should be quick to forgive others, too.

2 Corinthians 5:17 makes this promise: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

We really aren’t the same person we were years ago. We are completely different. God does not count our mistakes against us.

So before we jump to declare any person’s words or actions to be “unforgivable,” remember that when God forgave that person, he or she remains forgiven into eternity – regardless of what shallow-minded, prideful, arrogant and “sinless” people may think.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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