Morning friend, 

We’ve had quite a robust and controversial discussion on forgiveness on my FB page. Is forgiveness Biblically required when someone isn’t sorry? Does God command it even if someone isn’t repentant? Do we have to clean up our sin before God forgives us? 

If we don’t forgive, is our spiritual life impacted? And is God’s forgiveness of us dependent on our forgiving others? There was a lot of discussion and debate and I would to hear your thoughts as today’s reader is struggling with forgiveness and still protecting her legal rights.

Question: I’ve learned about you through my local “Divorce Care” group. I am going through a divorce of 33 years. My spouse left shortly after purchasing our forever home in 2019 and moved in with a younger girl from our church. I am trying to do what Christ calls forgiving, but I’m easily confused by forgiveness and pursuing my financial legal needs. I have an attorney, however, I would have to say it’s all about the $ (which we don’t have). How can I forgive yet pursue what is financially mine without sinning against God? There is such a fine line between forgiveness and still protecting myself. 

Answer: Biblically I don’t think there has to be a fine line between forgiving someone who has harmed you and protecting yourself. When someone harms you, forgiving him (or her) doesn’t mean you automatically trust him or allow him to continue to harm you, does it? For example, if someone raped you, in time, you might forgive that person so you don’t get eaten up with bitterness, but you wouldn’t hang out with this person or ever allow him near you, right? Biblically he is classified as an enemy and although Jesus tells us to forgive our enemy, even love our enemy, he doesn’t ask us to trust our enemy or give them a moment to harm us further. 

Your husband betrayed your trust in the worst way. Promising a future together and then abandoning you and committing adultery. This is painful and traumatic for you. I admire you for even wanting to forgive him. But forgiving him doesn’t mean you can or should trust him to be fair in the divorce settlement. He wasn’t honest with you when he was having his secret relationship while buying your forever house together. 

God gives us legal authorities in government to protect us against those who might harm us (Romans 13). Your husband has already been selfish and harmed you emotionally. What makes you think he wouldn’t harm you financially if he had the chance? 

The law protects you from his financial selfishness. However, your own misplaced theology and false guilt may make you feel sinful or selfish for receiving what is legally yours to receive. Your lawyer is there to make sure that the law is followed, just like a police officer is present to protect you from those who might seek to harm you if they could with no consequences.

I wonder if you believe (or have been taught) that forgiving someone means removing boundaries, consequences and restoring complete trust for the one who has sinned against you? But even Jesus didn’t trust certain people because he knew what was in their hearts (John 2). The consequence of what your husband has done is broken trust. [Tweet “Consequences aren’t necessarily legal punishment, but they are real, and sometimes permanent.”] The consequence of your husband’s deceit and adultery is that trust is broken. Please don’t feel guilty about that. You didn’t do it, he did. [Tweet “Broken trust is not because you didn’t forgive or trust God enough. It’s because of what your husband did.”]

In the Old Testament, women had no legal rights in that culture. Yet God gave them rights to protect them against a husband’s selfishness. For example, in Exodus 21:11 Moses wrote:

If a man, who has married a slave wife takes another wife for himself, he must not neglect the RIGHTS of the first wife to food, clothing, and sexual intimacy. 

If he fails in any of these three obligations, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. Exodus 21:11

A slave wife was the lowest of wives. Yet God said she was entitled to the rights of a wife (without feeling guilty). And if her husband failed, she was free to leave (without guilt or payment).

In this culture, you are legally entitled to half your marital assets. There is no shame or guilt in receiving what the law says you are entitled to. That is God’s provision and protection for you. 

Friend, when have you felt guilty (or has someone guilt-tripped you) after forgiving someone because you weren’t willing to trust or reconcile or lift negative consequences?

22 Comments

  1. Lynn on January 27, 2022 at 10:58 am

    My heart goes out to this woman, as I was in her shoes 6 years ago. After 32 years of marriage, my spouse told me he wanted a divorce. At the time I wasn’t aware of his double life, but he has been having a long-term affair as well. Fortunately my church recommended a good divorce attorney, and I highly recommend the following:

    1. Get recommendations for a divorce lawyer. Read the Yelp reviews. You want someone to represent you well. Go with the one that is professional even if it seems financially out of reach. Meet them first. You will need to pay a retainer.

    2. Go with a divorce attorney in your county, as that is helpful that the judges or masters have a relationship with the lawyer.

    3. Do not make any agreements with your husband. My ex wanted to settle 50/50 on everything. He forgot to mention he had a small pension, and he hoped I wouldn’t recall that he had it. I ended up getting 60% of our assets, which when you calculate the house, pension, investments, etc. it was far worth my legal investment.

    4. Don’t be nice and let him guilt you into thinking you have no rights. My ex was very angry, especially when my attorney was able to get an alimony form of payment from him prior to the divorce! ( I forget what the legal term is, but this is where a lawyer is helpful.) I used this extra money to pay off my car loan quicker, pay my attorney while we were moving through the process, and it was a little cushion I needed.

    5. It is overwhelming to have your entire world turned upside down. Mingle with other single women and do things together. My new friends and I would get together for movie nights, art fest outings, mini weekend trips, etc. They were the best form of support and encouragement. God will bring these sisters to you, but reach out as well. Do not sit at home alone every weekend. Force yourself to go out as it gets easier. Open yourself to new hobbies or talents. Invest in your spiritual and social development.

    6. You will be surprised at how God can work through this. I thought I had no purpose, as if my role of wife was the only role God had for me. But a few months after my divorce, due to addiction in the life of my son and his wife, I ended up being granted custody of my grandchild. It seemed that God was asking too much of me! But that child gave me purpose. She needed a safe and secure home, and I needed a reason to get up each day. Two years ago I married a sweet, Christian widower, who signed up to grandparent this child with me. I have been redeemed! You will be too!

    • Lynn on January 27, 2022 at 8:05 pm

      One more thing I wish to add:
      Try for a lump sum settlement on alimony rather than having it paid out by your ex monthly. You do not pay taxes on a lump sum settlement, while you will be taxed on monthly alimony as it is viewed as income. Also, if your spouse were to lose his job after these arrangements are made, you also will lose out on the alimony payments.

      • Pam on January 27, 2022 at 9:50 pm

        Thank you for sharing.

    • Kim on January 27, 2022 at 11:00 pm

      Lynn. THANK you sooo much for your advice! I am so happy that God has given you such blessings. I am STILL married and not yet legally separated but in the process of mediation. This all began in 2019 and we are STILL in the process. I am hoping to be able to stay in this home awhile as I have a handicap and do not currently work. 33+ years , age 57 and starting over is very hard BUT GOD. His eye is on the sparrow and I know he has a plan. God Bless you

  2. Jay on January 27, 2022 at 1:36 pm

    Well said, Leslie! So true! When a man will betray a woman with the most sacred part of the marriage; lie, cheat, gaslight, sexually and Psychologically abuse the wife during the marriage, what would keep him from doing all kinds of harm financially during a divorce?

    My ex lied in court and took so much from me after leaving me for another woman 20 years younger. Our court system is flawed and even the judges tend to look at the divorce as 50/50. I think a divorce is rarely 50/50, it only takes one person to destroy the marriage. Our courts need to change and recognize when one person is being robbed after years of marriage. Too many women (and children) are left without a home and financial means to support themselves for the first few years after divorce.

    Hope her lawyer is a great one!

  3. JanetLee on January 27, 2022 at 2:01 pm

    The book Forgiving what you can’t forget By Lisa turkerstHer book is very helpful about forgiveness

    • Free on January 30, 2022 at 8:53 am

      Personally, I’ve not struggled with forgiveness. Mental illness is beyond our control and so is someone else’s free will to choose Satan’s luring leadership rather than the Lord’s leadership. Any bad behavior was not of his doing, nor directed at me, rather it was just one big spiritual battle. Nothing was personal, the Holy Spirit protected me and gave me clarity. I never took the abuse to heart, I just had a front row seat to demonic activity. Guess God thought I was strong enough and privileged enough for an inside view of the battle. Cool!

  4. Dee on January 27, 2022 at 3:01 pm

    After a 10 year marriage the female pastor of our church who married my husband and myself abandoned me saying “ I I am worried that you will not be in right standing with God if you do not give Howard $100,000 or more”. Her husband is also a pastor at the church and my husbands best friend. As I am a new Christian I didn’t understand what that meant but I knew in my gut that that is not what God wanted for me as I did buy a new house a half an hour after selling my old house and God orchestrated the entire transaction. It is the home of my dreams and is far more than I ever thought I would ever have. God is so good. I understand now from my new church that that is a legalistic view and it is not the truth in gods word. We have a prenuptial agreement where both of us take from the marriage what we put into the marriage and he brought nothing financially into the marriage and did not work during the last five years of the marriage and only made minimal income the first five which barely put the roof over his head and food on the table besides paying for all the bills which I had to cover with my full-time job working 40 hours a week and my full-time pension. I was forced to sell my home because he refused to move out and except the offer that I had given him which was $30,000 when I did not have to offer him anything.
    I have forgiven him but I will not forget the 10 years of emotional and verbal abuse and his destructive behaviour when he became very angry. I am a people pleaser and I understand that I have a lot of work to do on myself to stop attracting people who are needy. I can’t fix them only God can. Thank you Leslie for all that you do for all of us you have made such a difference in my life.

  5. Rosie on January 27, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    My husband wants a divorce after 20years.. his way of divorcing me is telling me he’s done and for me to move out.. move on!! I was a Stay at home mom for 15years and in process of immigration status.. he left me alone in our Immigration appointment to finalize it because I wouldn’t sign off on my rights (him as the sponsor and to bonafide marriage) in his mind he left me to be without status and be deported.. by the grace of God, immigration officer allowed me to file a self petition under domestic violence and just now I retained a divorce attorney to get what I need. He would tell me that if I ask for anything I was ruining our children’s future because house and anything he has was for them. I struggled with that for a long time, I was willing to let him keep it all but after he left me stranded I realized I have to do what I need to do.. and God is opening doors for me to get the help I need.

  6. Suzanne on January 27, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    Such great advice. I was struggling with the guilt of pursuing what is mine. However, when I learned that my name was on none of the marital assets except our house deed, AND he had changed his will to leave me nothing, I realized how vulnerable I’d allowed myself to become due to mis-guided trust and guilt. I hired an attorney and am finally protecting myself from his financial deception; just one more area that fits the pattern of his behavior over the years. I felt greedy when I realized that the money was the final straw but with your help saw that God didn’t want me to be destitute in my old age and the laws protected me only if I actually sought legal help.

  7. Philomina on January 27, 2022 at 10:35 pm

    This story does not surprise me in the least. As a scholar of gender relations among my own Black immigrant communities, this pattern of “guilt-tripping” is very common. Many religious and community leaders blend their versions of cultural and religious dogmas which are often patriarchal to silence women into non-action. The victims’ inner turmoil about what is right and what is wrong is conflated by threats of being stigmatized or ostracized by community or church members. It’s hard to go it alone in a new homeland!

    But Leslie’s Godly wisdom has emboldened some of us to rightly divide the Word of truth!

    • Leslie Vernick on February 1, 2022 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks Philomina for your input. Yes many people “blend” what they want with what God says into some sort of theology that works to their advantage and to the other person’s disadvantage. So glad you are here.

  8. Kimberly Grau on January 27, 2022 at 10:46 pm

    Leslie, I am so thankful for your answer to my email. I value your advice and there are several in our divorce care who have encouraged me to reach out to you. I would like to express to you that I have been praying about this subject for awhile. God has used you and your wisdom to answer my question. Thank you! May The Lord bless you and your ministry. I will be sharing your advice with several in my group. 😊

    • Leslie Vernick on February 1, 2022 at 12:49 pm

      Glad you found it helpful.

  9. Judy on January 29, 2022 at 5:43 am

    Hi Leslie: thank you for your hard work and articles to help people like me trying to sort out God’s ways and good and perfect pleasing will. I am troubled by forgiving but not trusting. Did, Jesus not trust Peter who denied Him 3 times, when He said, to Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church?

    • Autumn on January 30, 2022 at 8:45 am

      Dear Judy, you are not Peter and you are not dealing with Jesus. Some biblical teachings are not to be taken out of context. I imagine your situation is about a marriage or another intimate relationship. Seek scriptures that pertain to evil, fools, liars and sinners. I think that kind of topical search will answer your questions and give you clarity.

    • Leslie Vernick on February 1, 2022 at 12:49 pm

      I agree with Autumn, Judy, you are not Peter, but you also aren’t Jesus. Jesus had the ability to “know a man’s heart”. You do not. All you can do is listen to his words and watch his actions. I think your husband’s actions show that he is not trustworthy. You can forgive his deceit and infidelity, but I would not trust his words or his intent.

  10. Maureen on February 1, 2022 at 8:11 am

    In my situation my husband questions my forgiveness because I will not consider reconciliation (I left 6 months ago). He assures me he is a changed man, is deep in Bible study, recognises how badly he treated me and has apologized. I have seen this change a number of times over the years, so I am not willing to go back, even if it is real this time. He believes God is directing us to reconcile, so questions who is leading me. I truly believe God led me out of our marriage because He loves me more than He did our marriage and He does not want me to risk further harm by returning. Am I wrong?

    • JoAnn on February 1, 2022 at 12:33 pm

      Maureen, My question to you is, do you love him? Does he love you? Sometimes with abusers, all they want is a housemaid and sex partner. So, why does he want to reconcile? You have learned over the years that you cannot trust these so-called heart changes. Let him start over with someone else, but it seems to me that you are done trying with him. It’s ok not to reconcile, even though you have forgiven him. June Hunt has some helpful material about forgiveness, and in it she says, “Forgiveness is one way. Reconciliation is reciprocal….Forgiveness is extended even if it is never, ever earned. Reconciliation is offered to the offender because it has been earned… and is conditional.” And it takes time to prove trustworthiness, and six months isn’t long enough.

      • Maureen on February 2, 2022 at 9:46 pm

        June Hunt has some great resources, thank you JoAnn.

    • Leslie Vernick on February 1, 2022 at 12:47 pm

      I believe that permanent broken trust is a consequence of repeated failures to be reliable in what one says. So he’s “said this before” and failed to be reliable. Proverbs warns us not to put our confidence in unreliable people. It’s foolish. (Prov 25:19). The fact that he doesn’t acknowledge this and keeps guilt tripping you shows me he hasn’t changed all that much.

      • Maureen on February 2, 2022 at 9:42 pm

        Thank you Leslie for confirming the way I feel. I am only starting to find my true identity in God, slowly rediscovering the person He created me to be. Although I feel some guilt and pressure to return to my husband, I really do not believe God intends me to undo what I have accomplished by reconciling with the man who changed me.

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