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?
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