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Forgiveness and Accountability

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counseling
We have not forgiven someone simply because we no longer hold him accountable for his offense. -

The Forgiveness Series – Article 10 of 71

The commonly held belief that biblical forgiveness occurs because an offended party has made a choice to no longer hold the offender accountable is not only incorrect, but it is also a deception that can destroy our lives. Using a case study of a troubled marriage, this segment explores forgiveness and the issue of accountability.

The third deception regarding biblical forgiveness is the belief that biblical forgiveness has occurred because the offended party has made a choice not to hold the offender accountable for his offense. I encounter this deception more frequently than any others—almost on a daily basis—because this definition sounds right to many people.

There is one definition of forgiveness that just won’t go away.

I have often had the opportunity to teach a course on developing people helping skills at a local Bible institute. The purpose of this course is to teach volunteer Christian counselors the necessary information, and skills, necessary in counseling their friends and family members. Each term when I begin the section on forgiveness, I ask them to write a definition of what it means to biblically forgive someone. Then we read their definitions aloud to the class. In every group of students several people write, “Forgiveness is not holding the offender accountable for his wrongdoing—not bringing up his offense to use against him.”

When the wife got nervous and sought out an attorney, her husband was not happy.

One of my cases involved a wife who came to me for counseling because her marriage was in trouble. She was a delight to work with. She eagerly completed all her homework assignments, and she sought to implement all the advice that I gave her. From time to time, she would ask her husband to join her in our counseling sessions, but he stubbornly refused to come for help. He told her repeatedly that she was the cause of their marital problems, and he was glad to see that she was “finally taking some action to straighten herself out.”

She and I eventually reached the point in the counseling process where it would be nearly impossible to save their marriage unless he agreed to come with her for counseling. As often happens in these kinds of situations, the wife panicked. She spoke with a lawyer, who was a member of their church, and asked him to draw up a proposed financial agreement that she and her husband could follow should they decide to get a divorce. They had three young children, and the husband would be required to pay alimony and child support.

When she approached her husband with these facts, he suddenly agreed to come to me for counseling. It probably comes as no surprise that he was not smiling when he barreled into my office. He was also not very open to receiving help. I noticed that he was carrying a yellow legal pad in his hand. I realized that I was face-to-face with “The List Maker.”

He began to read his list of offenses, hardly stopping to take a breath.

Faced with the prospect of paying alimony and child support, he had armed himself with a legal pad, 18 pages of which were filled out in small print. On these pages, he had not listed a single thing that he had done to offend, hurt, frustrate and irritate his wife. Instead, he had recorded everything he could recall that his wife had ever done to offend him.

He introduced himself, sat down on my office sofa and started to read his list aloud to me. I knew in an instant it was going to be a long hour.


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