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Dr. Don Dunlap


The Man Who Was Exactly Like His Father

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
A lack of forgiveness impacts our lives long after hurt subsides. -

The Forgiveness Series – Article 9 of 71

This second installment of Case Study #1 in Dr. Don Dunlap’s series on forgiveness explores how lack of forgiveness produces negative effects in our lives long after feelings of hurt subside. The husband in this case believes he forgave his father years ago for the anger his father displayed, but he admits he has never gone through a biblical process of forgiveness. Supported by counseling, the husband goes through the biblical process of forgiveness and experiences a desire and power from God, as he never has before, to overcome the life-dominating sins of harshness and anger.

In Case Study #1, a wife came to me for counseling because she had decided that she could no longer live with her husband’s harshness and anger. When he realized that he was losing his wife, the husband finally acknowledged the seriousness of his problem.

The wife believed her husband had not forgiven his father for his anger.

As we began the first counseling session, the wife made an interesting comment that gave me insight into her husband’s problem. She told me she believed that the sin of anger was deeply rooted in her husband’s family. His father was a very angry man who had treated his mother harshly and who had consistently demonstrated angry attitudes towards him and his siblings. When, for example, his father was unable to get a confession from his children for some wrong that had been committed, he would line them up and spank them all to make sure that he had “gotten” the guilty party.

The husband did not agree with his wife’s theory.

When I suggested that we needed to take a closer look at how his father’s anger had influenced his life, he strongly objected to my idea.

“I haven’t had a conflict with my father since I moved away from home 25 years ago,” he protested. “I love my father. I have a better relationship with him now than I ever had growing up, and I am certain that I don’t have any resentment or animosity towards him.”

He continued, “I honestly don’t believe that my problem with anger has anything to do with my father. I will listen to what you have to say, but I don’t think it applies to my situation.”

He had not truly forgotten the offenses from his childhood days.

Part of the process of biblical forgiveness involves enumerating exactly what the offenses are so that a person can consciously and deliberately forgive each offense. When we came to this point in the counseling process, I asked him to list the specific offenses that his father had committed against him while he was growing up. He answered, “I don’t think that I can remember any.” Yet two-and-a-half hours later we had written several pages of offenses. He hadn’t really forgotten the vacations that they had taken as a family when his dad would get angry in the middle of the trip and take them home several days early. He hadn’t forgotten the tears in his mother’s eyes when his father would shout angrily at her. He hadn’t forgotten what it felt like to be unjustly disciplined for things that he had not done.

Although this husband had been a successful Christian leader for many years, he went through the biblical process of forgiving his father for the first time in his life. In the weeks and months that followed, he experienced a desire and power from the Lord, as he never had before, to overcome the life-dominating sins of harshness and anger.

This man, who had vehemently disagreed with my initial suggestion concerning the root cause of his anger, came to clearly understand the fact that he had believed a deception regarding forgiveness. Despite his belief that he harbored no feelings of hurt or bitterness towards his father, he had never, prior to the time we met together, biblically forgiven him. He realized for the first time that his lack of forgiveness had produced negative effects in the lives of his wife and children long after his feelings of hurt towards his father had subsided.

Once he understood how his anger was crippling his family, he was eager to expose the deception that he had believed, and he was ready to implement the principles of genuine forgiveness.


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