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When It Seems Impossible to Forgive

When It Seems Impossible to Forgive

Sometimes loving from a distance is the best we can do
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When you have been deeply hurt or betrayed by someone—perhaps by a husband who is repeatedly unfaithful or a relative who is abusive—restoring that relationship can be complicated. While the Bible is clear that we are always to forgive people who harm us, forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean that we go back to relating as if nothing ever happened. A severe offense or a pattern of abusive behavior breaks trust, and a relationship cannot be close unless trust is rebuilt.

A severe offense or a pattern of abusive behavior breaks trust, and a relationship cannot be close unless trust is rebuilt.

The Bible gives a practical example of a godly man in an abusive relationship who had a forgiving heart, but he also kept his distance and set healthy boundaries. I'm referring to David and King Saul.

King Saul was not in his right mind. His mind was so twisted by jealousy and rage toward David that he was determined to kill him. While Saul and his men hunted down David, David hid, calling on the Lord for protection. In fact, many of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible were written as David hid from Saul.

There were a few times when the Lord allowed David to be in a position in which he could get rid of Saul once and for all. David's friends encouraged him to kill Saul, which many would have said he was justified in doing. But David had a sensitive heart toward the Lord and refused to harm Saul. Instead, he extended mercy and showed humility.

David had every reason to seek revenge, but instead he trusted God to carry out judgment against his enemy. He said, "May the LORD judge between us. Perhaps the LORD will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you" (1 Samuel 24:12).

Saul responded to David's kindness with repentance. The great king of Israel wept aloud and admitted, "You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil." But Saul's attitude didn't last long as he took some of his best troops to hunt David soon after this incident (1 Samuel 26). After David chose not to kill Saul when he received another opportunity, Saul confessed to David, "I have sinned." Then he offered to restore the relationship with David, "Come back home, my son, and I will no longer try to harm you, for you valued my life today. I have been a fool and very, very wrong" (1 Samuel 26:21).

Even so, David did not trust Saul. He had seen such remorse in him before only to be in the crosshairs once again. The Bible says that David went on his way, and Saul returned home.

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Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional. She co-founded Authentic Intimacy (www.authenticintimacy.com) and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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Sandra Day

July 20, 2014  7:47pm

This is very freeing for me. I believe my mother is a classic narcissist. Growing up, it was all about her. She had a day-care at home - she used to leave me to watch them while she went to her Tri-chem, candle making and ceramics classes. I was twelve years old at the time. I've been desperate for her approval and given thousands of dollars over my adult life to her to "help" in her times of need. It's always all about her - she's a chronic liar, denies she's said hurtful things, and a chronic manipulator. She's rarely sorry and rarely apologizes or takes responsibility for her actions. I've realized she is not willing to change. I am struggling with bitterness and anger at the wasted years and effort on my part & her shallowness and the realization that she just doesn't care. I would be happy if I never saw her again. Happy and at peace. I was just wondering how that fit with the teachings of Jesus. This gives me insight that I'm not obligated to continue a relationship with her.

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yully kusnadi

July 03, 2014  1:37pm

I agree with Pat Witman. What can we do i distance is not optional ? My blood is boiling just to see his face and can no longer tolerate the abuse and misbehaviour. I admit.... i cant forgive, i dont want to forgive, i am so angry.. even i said in my prayer that i dont want to pray for him. Help me God....

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Pat Witman

June 28, 2014  7:47am

This is much more complicated in a marriage. Absent physical danger, I find nothing in the Bible that allows me to put my husband at a distance. The betrayal has been immense, but we are still in the same household. And while he says he is repentant, he is weak and continues to ignore the boundaries I've set and the commitments he made.

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