Have you experienced forced forgiveness?
They could be right. However, forgiveness is voluntary, not forced. There are other issues taking place in the person’s heart that need prayer and a touch from the Holy Spirit but forcing them to forgive is not the spiritual or emotionally healthy solution.
Have you ever experienced “forced forgiveness?” Forced forgiveness could be a term you haven’t contextualized before reading this blog, but it does exist in our relationships.
Have you experienced someone telling you to "just move on" or "you need to forgive" or “forgiveness is for me, not them”? Most likely, we’ve heard this response or articulated it to someone. Doing so can be construed as forced forgiveness. Our Heavenly Father does not force us into forgiveness; at least, I haven’t found Biblical references or principles to substantiate that. Whether forgiving an offender or receiving forgiveness because we have offended, we will have to respond willingly and authentically to receive our Heavenly Father’s approval.
Forced forgiveness is not a spiritual principle or practice. It is a scaffold for an emotionally unhealthy experience, such as when a person will not forgive his offender, cannot forgive himself for his offense, or cannot find it within his heart to let go of the offense.
We should be careful following popular forced forgiveness taglines such as:
- They didn't mean it
- Just get over it
- That happened years ago - just forgive them
- It's family. We forgive family
- Oh, you're still mad about that?
Usually, these taglines come from a person’s individual beliefs about when and how forgiveness should occur. Granted, our Heavenly Father desires for us to forgive quickly (we can find a plethora of guiding Biblical principles in this area), but He doesn’t want us to force ourselves or others into forgiveness. How ironic? Forcing anything in our lives is not characteristic of God.
There does come a point in our lives when holding on to unforgiveness not only cramps our lifestyle, but it also hinders our Heavenly Father from forgiving us. We can become immune to unforgiveness. We can convince ourselves that forgiveness isn’t needed. They’ve moved on and so have we. After a lengthy time of disregarding an offense and becoming immune to it, we can become callous. Even worse, we simply can’t remember the offense anymore. All we know is we no longer have a relationship with that person, and once we did.
Forced forgiveness is also used to pressure us into allowing an offender back into our life without addressing the personal injury. Many people tell us that we must forgive as an act of obedience to God, pray that our emotions catch up, and we will feel better about the person over the passage of time. I can’t find this formula in the Bible that undergirds this kind of advice.
Even though God tells us we must forgive to be forgiven, do we think He is saying, “You better forgive even if it means forcing yourself?” This doesn’t reflect our Heavenly Father’s character. He commands obedience to forgive because doing so reflects that we are like Him, and we follow Jesus’ teachings – voluntarily, willingly, authentically. And we must also let go of harboring the offense – voluntarily, willingly, authentically.
There is Biblical room for us to forgive, according to Biblical principles and practices, yet not resume the relationship with our offender. We shouldn’t deny ourselves forgiveness or to be forgiven because we don’t want a relationship with the person. Resuming the relationship is not forced upon us; however, it is God’s will that we live at peace with all people, and that we love them like Jesus loves (we can sort out whether to resume a relationship is appropriate with the Holy Spirit’s guidance).
When people tell us what kind of relationship we should have with someone else, they're (usually unknowingly) violating our boundaries. I believe that is why it feels painful to hear them say “just forgive. You have held on to this offense far too long.” They could be right. However, forgiveness is voluntary, not forced. There are other issues taking place in the person’s heart that need prayer and a touch from the Holy Spirit but forcing them to forgive is not the spiritual or emotionally healthy solution.
We have all been hurt by the words or actions of someone, but holding on to that pain, may mean we are the one who pays the price. We cannot shake off every offense immediately. We shouldn't suppress that some offenses didn’t happen.
How about this statement for a reality check? Many of us are living with hurting and healing (simultaneously) because of past offenses.
Through Holy Spirit's unfailing power working on us, forgiveness is possible (and healing of our deep inner wounds are too), even if reconciliation sometimes is not.