Does Forgiveness Mean Going Back?

"So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."     (Luke 17:3-4, NIV)   

Luke 17:4 tells us to forgive a transgressor if he repents and asks for forgiveness. However, repentance can become confusing in domestic violence, because repeated pleas for forgiveness followed by broken promises are often a part of the pattern of manipulation, control, and denial. Does forgiveness mean we must endure repeated abuse? Does it mean a victim must return to an abusive relationship? No.

According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, forgiveness means "to cease to feel resentment against; to grant relief from payment." Some people have described forgiveness as:

  • Inwardly letting go of the issue
  • Not desiring to punish or extract payment from the transgressor
  • Leaving God to deal with this person, as He certainly will

If we look at forgiveness this way, we see that forgiveness is not the same thing as trusting someone and resuming a relationship with them, which is reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24). Turning to Webster's dictionary again, we see that reconciliation means "restore to friendship, harmony, or communion; adjust or settle; to accept." We don't accept sin from others, we are to rebuke it (Luke 17:3) and to try to correct it (Galatians 6:1).

Correction of a sin sets the stage for restoring a relationship. If correction does not take place, it may be appropriate to limit your association with a person who willfully persists in sinning against you:

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; an if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."   (Matthew 18:15-17, NIV)

Jesus, David, and Paul all left dangerous situations rather than allowing themselves to be abused by people who were out to harm them (see Luke 4:28-30 9:23-25; Acts 9:23-25 14:5-6; 1 Samuel 20:30-34,42). In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus taught that we should stay away from those who persist in abusing us, after we have made an effort to resolve the situation.

Repentance is not the same as being sorry or making promises. John the Baptist, in preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins, emphasized that repentance must be accompanied by righteous actions (Luke 3:3,8-14). He specifically said that manipulation, coercion, and false accusations (so common in domestic violence) must cease. Repentance that is true and godly is recognized by the actions ("fruit") that result from it (Luke 3:8). Jesus also used the concept of fruit when He taught that actions reveal what is in the heart (Matthew 7:16-20). True, heartfelt repentance is proven by action.

Discussion Question:

If you are separated from an abuser, what actions would this person have to take before you could feel safe returning to the relationship?

Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy