Needed: Clarity on Forgiveness and Reconciliation

reconciliationThere is probably no teaching so messed up among Christians as the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation. Some subjects may come close , but this one has to be at the top. Rather than clarity and sound counsel, Christians often get mixed messages on the subject from pastors, counselors and articles, making difficult situations worse.

Related to the subject of forgiveness is the issue of reconciling with those who have injured us. Separate issues, but sometimes not treated as such. I will give you just one example of why sorting this out, particularly as Christians who are commanded to forgive others, is so important.

Years ago, a relative in my extended family targeted me for harassment and extreme emotional abuse.  I was barely out of my teen years when he decided specifically that I would make a handy weapon to get back at my father for some long held grievance.  It wasn’t hard to see why I was targeted. With the advantage of age,  I completely get why I was the one, and not one of my siblings. I was sensitive and easily hurt, quick to react and eager to please. I was also too inexperienced and young to know what was really going on behind it all. The extent to which the relative meddled in my private life would shock. He even involved my two little boys.  It went on for eleven years at its worst.

Finally, deciding that the self-created drama and excitement of provoking and harming someone who had never done anything to him was getting old, the perpetrator gave a lukewarm, “Sorry we (he had his wife and son participate as well) got involved.”  Not, “I’m sorry I targeted you in the most vicious fashion possible with  ongoing lies, gossip, slander and meddling. We behaved in an evil fashion and harmed you terribly. I am sorry, will you forgive me?” Just, “Sorry we got involved.”

Young and eager to do the right thing, I reached out, invited the perp and his family to our home, fed them from our table, and tried to let the emotional harm stay behind in the dust. But the story did not end there. It was not long when the trust and attempts at involving these people back in my life were met with further betrayal. This happened several  times in the next few years. Needless hurt once again occurred, trust shattered, emotional pain inflicted. A familiar set of dynamics surfaced,  distracting me from my primary calling as wife and mother and causing old wounds to reopen.

So what had happened?  Hadn’t I rushed to forgive like Jesus? Hadn’t I spent years trying to show that I had put the past in the past and moved on in love?  I recently came upon an article that was tremendously helpful in understanding what had happened in this particular situation.  It also shed a clear and helpful light on other situations I have struggled with as a Christian who wants to live in the light of forgiveness, and, yes, see reconciliation. ( I have seen precious little of the latter in my  life. I can count the time on a couple fingers of  one hand where I have seen real, true healing of relationships. Hatred and pride are the default settings for most professing believers today.)

The excellent article I have linked to below points out something very basic. Letting go of the wrongs that people have done to us is one issue. We are called to do this. We also have to do it or become sick with anger and grudge holding. But reconciliation is something else entirely. THAT is predicated on repentance by the offending party. Real repentance. Not a pragmatic, fake “sorry.” Going back to the so-called apology by the person who targeted me, with the advantage of years gone by, I see now what the problem was. The entire “apology” was a non-apology. The only thing the person was sorry for was that poking me with pins like an insect on a display board was no longer entertaining and had actually screwed up any hope of having family gatherings, something he decided he wanted after all. It served his purposes to say a quick sorry. And I was naive enough to buy it

We must forgive people, but one thing we cannot do is force reconciliation, no matter how much we yearn for it. Those who refuse to see the harm their behavior is doing when confronted with it and instead chose to marinate in the raw sewage  of hate cannot be allowed back into our lives. When those involved claim to be “Christians”, they make an ugly mockery of the Savior they claim to follow. We reward those who mock Jesus when we rush to embrace those who aren’t in the least sorry for what they have done. In fact, many don’t even see that they’ve done anything wrong at all.

Something else happens when we try to force reconciliation.  We bring on ourselves the time- wasting, unprofitable distraction of endless relational drama and emotional chaos. Narcissists, bullies, sociopaths who are in our lives can literally serve as human wrecking balls. They produce false guilt in those who long for reconciliation and healing. Their projection of their sin onto their victims is one of the hallmarks of this kind of person. They are divisive, and they enjoy what destroys a normal person. These people need to be removed from our lives permanently if at all possible. Satan lives in the tumult they create. We are called to peace as believers.

I know there are those reading this blog who are struggling with this in their lives. The article I referenced by April Kelsey is excellent and gives biblical examples. I would also warn, as a side note,  that some things that comes out of the “biblical counseling” movement need to be taken cautiously. Much of it is simply not biblical at all and strengthens abusers rather than get to the core of these situations that can destroy lives—lives intended to bring glory to God, not Satan.

A quote from Kelsey’s article:

When Joseph’s brothers show up at the palace where Joseph is governor, Joseph doesn’t even reveal to them who he is. Instead, he sets his brother Benjamin up as a thief and threatens to enslave him to see how his brothers react. Only when Judah, the one who sold Joseph into slavery, offers to take Benjamin’s place for the sake of their father does Joseph reveal his identity, extend forgiveness, and invite his brothers to be reconciled (see Genesis 44).

Here is what Joseph didn’t do:

– Joseph didn’t hop the first chariot down to Canaan when he became governor.

– He didn’t show up at his brothers’ house and request a private audience with his abusers.

– He didn’t say, “Forgive me for being angry all these years over my enslavement. It was wrong.”

– He didn’t say, “Despite how you might feel about me now, I want us to have a good relationship.”

Joseph didn’t even allow himself to be alone in the same room with his brothers until he saw that they were fully repentant.

The same scenario plays out in many other Bible stories. Reconciliation is only offered when the offending party demonstrates true repentance.

Those who do not repent are not entitled to reconciliation…

Read the whole article here.

And, I would add, trying to force reconciliation, because you want it so much, will ultimately  end up in failure and further spiritual damage.





13 thoughts on “Needed: Clarity on Forgiveness and Reconciliation

  1. Ingrid says:

    I saw this meme on Facebook today on a narc abuse recovery page. Nails it. Absolutely nails how these people and their enablers behave. They are cruel to others, cutting family members out, scapegoating, etc. Then when there is an emotional reaction to the pain they have engendered, they point and smile and say, “See? What a whacko she is.” It’s diabolical. That’s why no contact is so critically important. You cannot reconcile with active perps who have no conscience.

  2. Ann H. says:

    I wish I could put into words how SPOT ON you are with these blog posts! It’s like you know my mother-in-law personally! We finally stopped playing the “trying to reconcile” game after the incessant hate and attacks continued no matter what we did. Now that we said we couldn’t handle being treated like that, she has turned our 23yo son against us as she promised she would when he was 16yo. She has even joined forces with her ex-husband (my father-in-law) to strengthen the hatred group against us. And all the while we were told we shouldn’t cut contact, that we need to “bear with one another” because Jesus wants us to get along. I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t even “get along” with unrepentant evildoers. So thank you thank you thank you for validating that no amount of kindness from me or my husband will make my MIL grow a conscience. Our life still has pain because of what she’s done with our son, but there’s so much more peace than ever before. I wish the church would get this through it’s head.

  3. Ingrid says:

    They all have the same playbook, because their inspiration comes from the same source – the enemy of souls. God gives these people over to their pride and the first thing to go is a conscience. The second thing to happen is an impenetrable blindness to their own sin. I am talking total blindness. So they operate sometimes even under the great delusion that they are doing God’s work in all the evil they do. They are convinced they are right. You can point to something they clearly did and they will smile and deny it, and the moment you leave the room they will begin lying about you, saying you “attacked” them, etc. etc. as you brought their behavior to light. The same playbook, the same response when challenged: deflect, deny, triangulate, gaslight, and all the rest. It becomes highly predictable. And if you get too close to them for some honorable purpose or hopes that they may have softened, you will get splashed with the acid they fling and leave with burns, rhetorically speaking. That’s why going no contact is critical.

  4. healingInHim says:

    Such an excellent article. It’s very painful to endure the entrapment of false reconciliation when precious grandchildren are offered as bait. 😦

  5. Lynn says:

    This is so spot on! At least you got a fake apology. Having gone through a truly horrible experience at the church I was a longtime member of, not one person, (not even a pastor) has come back repenting and trying to have true reconciliation. i tried to do the forced reconciliation with some, and just like you stated it was a complete waste of time. It was gaslight central as people tried to act like nothing was wrong or had occurred. I finally came to the conclusion that these folks by their actions have told me that they didn’t want a true, authentic relationship with me and really didn’t care about me. Once I understood that, it made things a lot easier to process in order to forgive and move forward healthily.

    Many Chrustians consciences have been seared, and it explains how one can do/say some of the most devilish things CONSISTENTLY, and then feel no need to apologize, repent, come clean, etc. it blows my mind because the Lord has been on me like white on rice, about various things and the conviction was strong. I had to act.

    You are right though. Whatever is not dealt with in a true, biblical fashion will pop up again. Why wouldn’t it? Satan still has a foothold! He is still operating in that relationship because sin has been hidden and covered over, instead of acknowledged and addressed, so it can be healed. Romans 12 tells us that our love should be sincere, and to me we are far from that in a lot of cases.

  6. healingInHim says:

    Lynn – Your comment was spot on, too! Been there many times and although my faith in Christ never wavered I was very confused as to what “church” was meant to be when the Lord saved me in my early 20’s?
    The church ‘sins’ only compounded the ‘sins’ I was expected to cover up for concerning relatives.
    I have mentioned many times how grateful I am to a loving God who has allowed me to have internet access. It has provided me with a community of true believers until He settles me into a body. I’ve had to walk away from the local ‘c’hurches as they are part of the abuse and false reconciliation mind-set. The more I ponder and have lived with false reconciliation, it is apparent just how it’s evil roots spread and grow like a nasty perennial that needs to be severed.

  7. Carolyn says:

    This is spot on. Forced or false reconciliation is too often pushed by churches (including by pastors), all in the pretense of “keeping the unity of the Spirit”. But that reconciliation never works because it is never genuine.

    It cannot be said enough, while we are to always forgive those who sin against us, we cannot reconcile with them until the offender has GENUINELY REPENTED.

    To reinforce what Ingrid said:
    “Sorry you were offended”, “Sorry I didn’t mean to hurt you”, and the ever-so-popular “Sorry I got caught” heart posture are not marks of genuine repentance. Real repentance involves taking ownership of the exact offense, with no excuses. Ingrid gives a great example about what her relative *should have* said if there had been genuine repentance.

    The second step of real repentance is making it right… to correct slander, the offender will publicly clear and restore the victim’s good character and name. Something stolen should be paid back and then some (think Zacchaeus). Broken promises will be kept. Lies must be replaced with truth. Careless words will be replaced with consideration. And so forth. As John the Baptist said, bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

    For serious offenses (sins that enter into criminal activity) – not only will the offender have to pay a debt to society with jail time, but the offender must also forfeit any of their “felt rights” to the victim. The onus is on the offender to confess sin, and humble themselves to accept their consequences. The offender should never demand to be trusted again. Trust can be re-estabilished but it takes proven character over time. Often times, the demands of the offender are an indication of a lack of repentance!

    Everyone loves the story of David in the OT… because of God’s mercy for David’s enormous sins of adultery, murder, and lying. Yes, David was forgiven, and cleansed of his unrighteousness, but there were consequences, and they were severe. The sword never left his house. David accepted those consequences, albeit through grief. Yet he still praised the Lord. Proof of his contrite heart.

    I’m personally sick of the way I’ve seen (and experienced myself, unfortunately) so-called forgiveness and reconciliation handled in churches. The story of Joseph does give us wisdom… as the author said, Joseph did not pursue his siblings, nor did he pretend nothing happened, but he waited on the Lord, and then tested his brothers to see if their heart truly was repentant. He also told them what they did was evil… though God used it for good.

    I have rarely seen genuine reconciliation happen. It seems many prefer the sweep it under the rug method to (as Lynn said) authenticity/sincerity. Like many have said here, it’s all rooted in pride, seared consciences, and the love of many is growing cold…

    Sorry for the tome. This topic is so important, and as Ingrid said, so utterly misunderstood.

  8. Carolyn says:


    For what it’s worth – because words fall so short – I am very sorry that everything you’ve experienced has left your faith so shaken. It takes a lot of courage to admit that. I can truly empathize with struggling to trust the truth of God’s word when witnessing wrongdoing from “within the house”. You are right, you should see someone’s repentant faith in Christ make a genuine transformation in their life… and the church should function the way it is described in the NT. But sadly this isn’t always the case.

    That said, scripture is clear, anyone who is in Christ is a new creation, born again by the Holy Spirit, and their new life – dead to sin and alive in Christ – should be visible and evident. To claim to be saved and live a life contrary to that salvation is the height of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy in the church is a shameful reflection on Christ, a horrible testimony to the unsaved world, and can be very disorienting – even damaging – to believers.

    I don’t know if this will help, but I pray it does. These verses came to mind, in thinking about the challenging trial of trusting Christ when deeply wounded by those claiming His Name:

    1 Peter 1 NASB
    3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

  9. healingInHim says:

    Amen, Ingrid to all you have shared.
    I think the only reason my faith “in Christ” was never shaken is because He must have prepared me for the loneliness of “this walk” while still young. Even as a young girl, I never had many true friends even though I attempted to ‘fit in’. I almost totally ruined myself with that lifestyle until Christ saved me.
    So the loneliness is difficult at times and sadly I’ve prayed, “Okay, Lord. It would appear my task on earth is done. I don’t want to hang on to earthly treasures. I’m tired and worn out. I don’t even know where I should live as the man I married (four decades) no longer wants to be my husband?”
    I feel utterly in limbo because all that I sensed God had equipped me for has now been stripped away. I’m not desired as a wife and mother and even extended family relationships are very questionable. I don’t have many friends because I can’t really partake of what many are into in this small community (the party-spirit, etc) … So, I’ve re-entered the working world but still not sure if He wants me there or where? All I have is Christ and He has provided true companionship through sites like yours, Ingrid.
    Thank you for not giving up on reaching out to many. This is not meant to flatter you but to encourage you as I state that your insight is greatly appreciated by many. I have seen Christ in you and your loved ones.

  10. revengestar says:

    In the Bible forgiveness is granted only to those who repent. Repending means changing yourself and stop commiting hurtful actions. Just an empty fauxpology isn’t enough for that. It is true though that many christian abuser twist biblical teaching so that they can get a free pass and continue to abuse.

  11. lynettedavis says:

    Such an on-point post. I just want to point out a couple of Bible verses, especially for the relative who said Jesus would want us to “get along.” (Have you noticed that the only time abusers use the Bible is for their own benefit?) 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NLT) – How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? And Luke 17:3 (NLT) – If another believer sins, rebuke that person, then if there is repentance, forgive. Thank you for sharing this. This is very important for abuse victims. By the way, I’ve always loved the story of Joseph.

  12. Denise says:

    It’s comforting to see this subject addressed from a Christian perspective. My husband and I have been excluded from our two oldest grandchildren’s lives largely due to the influence of a family member who was also a pastor. We received an apology from him just two days before he died, which we accepted. Now what? The damage is done, and continues under the influence of another family member who is also a “Christian”. People who cause havoc in families and hide it with fake affection and piety are the most dangerous. We have tried to “get along” but these people will not budge an inch. It’s a horrendous road to travel. Keep shining the light, Ingrid.

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