This question often arises: “If I forgive, then does that mean I have to continue to accept the bad behavior?”
The answer is an unequivocal “No!” Forgiveness does not require us to continue to put ourselves in harm’s way, whether that harm is emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical abuse. Unrestrained anger is abuse. I think if we could understand that concept and truly believe it, we would change the way we act on our anger.
Again, anger itself is not sinful. God’s anger is mentioned over 450 times in scripture, and yet He has never sinned. It is only when we choose to behave inappropriately in our anger that we are guilty of sin.
It is often the offender who expects, once he has been forgiven, that everything will immediately return to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. He feels free to behave, once again, however he pleases, often repeating the same offense and expecting, once again, to be forgiven. The mistake he makes is that he doesn’t understand repentance, which is to turn around and walk the other way. It is completely forsaking the behavior that hurts or offends others. We want forgiveness, but we also want not to have to change. The other person, after all, needs to accept us just the way we are, and simply keep on forgiving us.
That’s asking an awful lot from those who are expected to tolerate being hurt, betrayed, deceived, over and over again. At some point, we need to establish uncrossable boundaries with strong consequences.
Psalm 34:15-19. “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
Remember that forgiveness is simply giving up one’s right to demand justice. It is not an acceptance of continued mistreatment. Proverbs 29:1. “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” There comes a time when even God Himself will no longer strive with a man who has a stiff, unyielding, hard spirit. I don’t know when that moment comes, but I do know that once he has crossed the line too often, he will not have another chance with God. Those who abuse others in their anger have stiff, hard, unyielding spirits. They have no compassion for those they hurt; their only concern is getting their own way. They justify their tantrums, feeling entitled to throw fits whenever they feel they’re not being treated according to their own overblown self-regard.
I often tell my clients that you simply cannot reason with an unreasonable person. Instead of talk, sometimes there needs to be action. It would be wonderful if all parents would teach their toddlers than tantrums are not acceptable and that they must learn to control themselves. Sadly, too many parents are intimidated by the anger of a strong-willed child. They placate him, giving in to his rage, creating a potential monster who will continue to use his rage as a weapon as long as it gets him what he wants. And don’t forget, there are all kinds of tantrums. A silent, pouting tantrum is just as much a tantrum as a raging, screaming fit.
Women who are abused by a man who will not control his rage, but uses it instead to control her, must decide at some point that she has had enough. No matter how often he says he’s sorry and will never do it again, he usually does repeat the behavior. No woman is required to stay in harm’s way. She doesn’t have to divorce him, if that is not an option in her beliefs, but she doesn’t have to live with him, either.
Other kinds of abusive situations include a child in the family who uses his temper to control everyone else. Isolation is the best bet for this child, especially when he is small and easily controlled physically. Typically, when the audience leaves, the show stops. There’s no fun in throwing a tantrum when no one is there to witness it.
It is true that we are to forgive “seventy times seven.” That is, every time the memory recurs, we are to forgive and let go of our desire to demand justice. However, that seventy times seven does not mean that we must endure someone’s angry rage 490 times. We are responsible for our behaviors, and we need to be held accountable when we cross a line.
God never gave anyone the right to continue angry, abusive behavior simply because the victim has forgiven him. I John 1:9 says that when we confess our sins, He forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Being cleansed would indicate a change in direction, a different mindset and a different behavior. If those things do not happen, then we can only infer that there has not been true repentance.
I may forgive you for ongoing rotten behavior. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stick around and continue to endure it. Forgiveness is not permission for you to keep on mistreating me.
4 thoughts on “Anger: Beyond Forgiveness”
Thank you so much for this refreshing, liberating look at anger. While I did ‘separate’ from the situation of abuse by family members, I struggle with the FEELING that I need to somehow bring about reconciliation. Any thoughts?
Lindy, I’m glad this was helpful to you. The first thing that comes to mind is that you were a target of abuse partly because you tend to feel somewhat responsible to make everything okay. Sometimes, you just can’t. And in this case, just from the little information you’ve given me, I don’t think it’s your job. Reconciliation needs to be sought by those who erred, not necessarily by their victims. This is especially true if the offenders have never acknowledged their fault toward you. The Bible tells us, in Matthew, that if we are offended we are to go to the offender and try to make it right. If that procedure ultimately fails, and the abuse continues, you are absolved of further responsibility.
Be careful about following your feelings. Our hearts are easily influenced by a false sense of guilt, and it is my experience that the victim often feels guilty. That’s one of the reasons the abuse can continue. If we believe that what we feel MUST be the truth, we can end up in a boatload of trouble. Truth is often the exact opposite of how we feel. I’m wondering if these same family members you have separated from are behaving as if it’s all your fault. If that were true, then you would have a responsibility to mend fences. If it isn’t all your fault, if you are the victim, then maintain the separation until or unless they come to you sincerely apologizing for their behavior. Then wait for a LONG time before you allow them back into your life. Abusers typically don’t change, because they don’t think they’ve really done anything wrong!
Sorry for the lengthy response. This is a topic I see every week in my work. Kind of a soapbox of mine 🙂
Lindy asked a question that often, too often, occurs in family relationships. It seems as if “waiting for the person to blink” just has to happen sometimes in order for a conflict to be resolved. Thank you for your sage advice–and free!