A fourth problem we have with forgiveness is that we don’t understand how to set boundaries. There are people who are toxic to us or to others, for a variety of reasons.
Forgiveness does NOT = letting that person back into your life in the same way that they were before.
Forgiveness does NOT = letting that person hurt you the same way again. YES, forgiveness makes you vulnerable. But you control your vulnerability, and you control the access you give that person to your life.
If someone has abused children, for example, the church may forgive and restore him to fellowship. But restoration does not in any way require that he be trusted in the same way that he was before. In fact, forgiveness does not demand that he be given ANY access to children. Trusting him in those settings is triumphalistic foolishness. That’s going through life with a “Kick me!” sign taped to your back.
It’s failing to understand how deeply damaged we ALL are by our sins. It’s also failing to appreciate the deep damage that some sins cause. Yes, sin is sin is sin. Yes, we are all sinners in need of grace, and nothing I say here implies anything different.
That’s all true. But some sins damage the victims more deeply and profoundly than other sins. Sexual sins especially, sins that demean and distort the victims’ sense of self and God, … the damage from those sins is incredibly deep.
So: boundaries. Who sets the boundaries? The victims of abuse set the boundaries.
Teaching the victims of these sins that they need to “forgive” their abuser is problematic. Yes, they DO need to forgive …
- but only with a good definition of “forgiveness”, one that doesn’t minimize the damage done to them,
- and only as they’re able (forgiveness is a process),
- and only as they’re ready,
- and only with boundaries that protect them from further abuse.
Churches that pressure “forgiveness” as part of church discipline, who rush to closure, are abusing their people and making the damage of abuse exponentially worse.