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COUNSELING

When to Say, "I Forgive You"

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
We can only grant forgiveness to an offender when he or she repents and asks for our forgiveness.


Christainity.com -

The Forgiveness Series – Article 18 of 71

The sixth deception that many Christians believe concerning biblical forgiveness is the assumption that when we forgive an offender before God, we must go to the offender and tell him or her, “I forgive you.” God has not authorized us to do that for our offenders. The case study of “The Grunge Kid” demonstrates how we should treat our offenders after we forgive them before God, and explains why we should not tell our offenders we forgive them until they ask for our forgiveness.

The sixth deception that many Christians believe concerning biblical forgiveness is the assumption that when we forgive an offender before God, we must go to him and tell him, “I forgive you.”

This is a very common misconception. I frequently hear it in my counseling appointments.

He wrote a letter to his father that made matters worse.

Recently a man, who had been going to a psychologist for three years, came to me for counseling. (I cannot imagine why anyone would need to see a psychologist for three years.) The psychologist, after having counseled this man for a few weeks, instructed him to write a letter to his father and to confront him for all the ways that he had offended him when he was growing up. He told me, “I wrote that letter to my father. It was five pages long. In the final paragraph, I expressed to my father that I had forgiven him for all the horrible things that he did to me when I was a kid.” There had been a lot of anger and conflict in his family. He said, “Dr. Dunlap, it has been almost three years since I wrote my father that letter, and I haven’t heard from him to this day.” That didn’t surprise me. He had dealt with his father’s offenses in the wrong way.

She asked me if she should tell her grandfather that she had forgiven him.

After I completed the counseling process with the 15-year-old girl who had been sexually molested by her grandfather, she phoned me one day with a question. She asked if she should approach her grandfather at an upcoming family reunion to tell him that she had forgiven him. I told her that while we must forgive our offender before God whether or not he repents, we only can grant forgiveness to an offender when he repents and asks for our forgiveness.

Jesus tells us in Luke 17, “If your brother offends you seven times a day, and seven times a day he comes to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” I explained to her that she could not tell her grandfather that she forgave him. God has not authorized us to do that for our offenders. Her grandfather had never acknowledged the fact that he had done anything wrong. If she had sought him out to tell him that she forgave him he would either have been infuriated at her suggestion of his guilt, or he would have thought, “Well, I’m off the hook. She’s forgiven me.” Nevertheless, he certainly was not off the hook. He was not off the hook with God, first and foremost, and he was not off the hook legally.

God tells us that we must treat our enemies with kindness.

Most counselors I know would have told her: “Don’t ever see your grandfather again. Avoid any family gatherings that you think he might attend. If he arrives unexpectedly at a gathering, leave immediately. Never again put yourself in a position to interact with him.”

Is this, however, the biblical approach?


The Bible gives us very specific guidelines for how we are to treat our enemies.


Jesus tells us in “The Sermon on the Mount” to love our enemies and to pray for them. The writer of Romans 12 instructs us to feed our enemies if they are hungry and to give them something to drink if they are thirsty.

So we worked out a strategy for how she should greet her grandfather each time she encountered him. Her parents were always to be at her side. When she approached him, she was to extend her hand to greet him courteously and respectfully. She had a great time at the family reunion. She was able to relate to her grandfather without bitterness and resentment in her heart. Everyone was amazed at the transformation that had taken place in her life.

 




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